Narendra Dabholkar, a 67-year-old doctor and social activist, was shot dead by two unidentified men on motorbikes on Tuesday, August 20, 2013 in Pune, outside of his house while he was on his morning walk.
Narendra practiced medicine for 10 years, but in 1982 he turned into a full-time activist. He was renowned for his more than two-decade-long work. Although he was better known for his crusade against superstition, he was also committed to broader social reform.
In terms of his work against religious superstition, in 1989 Narendra founded the organisation “Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmulan Samiti (MANS)” (also known as “Committee for Eradication of Blind Faith” CEBF), which is dedicated to fighting superstition in India, particularly in the province of Maharashtra. MANS had been campaigning for a law to check the exploitation of people’s superstitions in Maharashtra for a long time. In 1989 at the Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Jahirnama Parishad held that year in Pune, then Chief minister Sharad Pawar had indicated the formation of a law in that direction.
Since then, MANS had carried out several activities (e.g. rallies, sending letters and telegrams, hunger strikes) urging the authorities to take steps towards the passing of the law. MANS has also campaigned against the immersion of Ganesha idols in water bodies, urging people to use smaller idols and vegetable dyes, as well as to use the tanks built specially for that purpose, to avoid polluting rivers and lakes. The organisation has protested against the torture of mentally ill people under the superstitious belief that it will cure them of their illness. As a result of his work, Narendra had reportedly been receiving death threats from different extremist religious groups who considered the Bill as anti-Hindu.
Besides that work, Narendra also created a fund to inspire and support socially conscious theatre artists. The “Samajik Krutadnyata Nidhi” fund (Social Gratitude Fund) is still being used to support full-time social activists in Maharashtra. In 1998, Narendra became the editor of Sadhana, a progressive and socialist weekly magazine in Marathi founded 60 years ago. Narendra was also involved in the movement against addictions, and led campaigns against local liquor dons in various places. He also organised protests against the Maharashtra government’s liquor policy. He was a founder-member of a de-addiction centre, Parivartan, in Satara.
His murder was condemned by members of several democratic, progressive and leftist movements who organized various protests and demonstrations in the city. This prompted the Chief Minister to turn the Bill against religious superstition into an Act, only four days after Narendra’s murder.
Five years after his murder, a key suspect was arrested, just a few days after the Bombay High Court came down heavily on central and state agencies in charge of solving the killings of Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare, a rationalist who was killed because of her campaign against superstition.