Soft-spoken Dr Narendra Dabholkar, killed in Pune on Tuesday, was seen as a true representative of the rich tradition of progressive thought in Maharashtra.
He never allowed himself to deviate from his cause — eradicating superstition — and persisted with social reform and the rationalist thinking.
He crusaded against obscurantism for more than three decades, taking ahead the rationalist movement in Maharashtra started by Gopal Ganesh Aagarkar and justice Mahadeo Govind Ranade, both social reformers of the 19th century.
Dabholkar floated the Maharashtra Andhshraddha Nirmulan Samiti in 1996, but had been active in the pursuit of his ideals since his college days. He practised as a doctor for 12 years and devoted his life to what he thought was necessary for a healthy society.
Impressed by Dr Baba Adhav’s “one village-one-well” movement in the seventies, he also participated in an agitation for the renaming of Marathwada University.
It was his life’s goal to free Maharashtra from the clutches of superstitions. Hence, he undertook activities ranging from starting a de-addiction centre to biofarming. For almost a decade, Dr Dabholkar had campaigned against the manufacture of Ganesh idols made of Plaster of Paris (PoP), pointing out that their immersion was polluting river waters. His appeal was taken seriously by thousands across the state.
Books authored by him are considered an ideological source for activists. He also wrote several articles for various publications.
He was also the editor of Marathi weekly Sadhana for 13 years. Started by Sane Guruji, the magazine underwent several changes under Dabholkar’s leadership, but the focus remained the same.
His conviction also resulted in many controversies. Dabholkar openly challenged astrologers and sadhus in Maharashtra. Activists from the samiti raided several places to expose such sadhus and forced the police take action against them.
He had also and declared a cash prize for anyone who could perform a miracle. Nobody accepted the challenge.