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Remembering Dabholkar: Better judgement must always prevail over superstition

It is the responsibility of citizens, therefore, to carry forward the work of people such as Narendra Dabholkar, and ensure that superstitions and blind faith do not overtake our better judgement.

editorials Updated: Aug 25, 2018 10:53 IST
Hindustan Times
This undated photograph shows Indian activist Narendra Dabholkar who was gunned down by two motorcycle-riding attackers on Tuesday, Aug. 20 as he was taking a morning walk in Pune, India. The 67-year-old doctor-turned-activist had been receiving death threats for years since he began travelling by public buses to hundreds of villages around Maharashtra state to lecture against superstitions, religious extremism, black magic and animal or human sacrifice.(AP)

It was Jawaharlal Nehru who coined the term ‘scientific temper’ in his The Discovery of India in 1946; but the notion of rationality and the use of logical reasoning in seeking truth and knowledge – religious or otherwise – have existed in India much before that. These ideas go at least as far back as the Kalama Sutta contained in the Buddhist text Tipitaka. ‘Believe nothing merely because you have been told it or because you yourself imagined it; do not believe what your teacher tells you merely out of respect for the teacher…’ says the Buddha in the text. It was the same philosophy that the president of the Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti (committee to eradicate superstition in Maharashtra), Narendra Dabholkar believed in. He opposed blind faith and bigotry and encouraged free enquiry. He was assassinated five years ago this past week.

Even as the investigation into the assassination carries on, the only true homage that can be paid to him is to be wary of falling into the traps of blind faith and superstition. Dabholkar’s project (and that of other rationalists) is to use the notion of logical reasoning to debunk so-called ‘miracles’ by self-appointed ‘god men’. They have tried to prevent extreme forms of blind faith that sometimes go so far as human sacrifice, torture, and suicide. There have been many examples – some very recent – of people believing in black magic and taking these rituals to extreme ends, with no proof that these will lead either to material gain or spiritual salvation. Dabholkar had spent many years fighting to get an anti-superstition law passed in Maharashtra; which was eventually passed four days after his assassination. The Maharashtra Anti-Superstition and Black Magic Act now criminalises actions such as claiming the ability to invoke ghosts, preventing people from seeking medical attention, and assaulting or torturing people in the name of exorcisms.

The notion of scientific temper – which at its core is simply the ability to question everything – is even enshrined in the constitution. In fact, it is one of the fundamental duties of the Indian citizen. Article 51(A) holds that “it shall be the duty of every citizen of India” to, among other things, “develop the scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform”. It is because of the lack of a prevalent scientific temper that so many self-proclaimed god men and women have been able to raise and sustain lucrative businesses, fooling gullible people and offering them quick-fix solutions to their problems. It is the responsibility of citizens, therefore, to carry forward the work of people such as Narendra Dabholkar, and ensure that superstitions and blind faith do not overtake our better judgement.

First Published: Aug 24, 2018 19:08 IST