Greta Christina has an article at Alternet about the murder of Dr. Narendra Dabholkar, the Indian skeptic who had spent decades defending rationality and debunking absurd supernatural ideas. He was apparently murdered by members of a fundamentalist Hindu group, about which she has some details.
And it was his work against superstition that almost certainly cost him his life. On August 20, at seven in the morning during his morning walk, two men ran up to him on the street, shot him four times, and drove off on motorbikes that had been parked nearby. He was 67. As of this writing, there has been one arrest made in the case — Sandeep Shinde, a member of the hard-line right-wing Hindu organization Sanatan Sanstha.
A little background on Sanatan Sanstha. They are repeatedly referred to by the Times of India as “right-wing Hindu organization, Sanatan Sanstha.” In 2011, two of its members were convicted of the 2008 bombings of two theaters — bombings that were committed “because the movie and the play showed Hindu gods in a bad light.” (Four other group members were also arrested for the bombings, but were not convicted.) Their literature speaks of converting India into a divine kingdom ruled by themselves, and of “destroying evil by all means, even by laying down one’s life.” Sanal Edamaruku, another experienced debunker of superstition in India (and a longtime friend and colleague of Dr. Dabholkar), described them to me as “a fanatic (or rightly, fundamentalist) Hindu group.”
The organization is a strange blend: a fringe extremist group that nevertheless wields significant cultural influence, like a mashup of Operation Rescue and the Catholic League. As atheist/ skeptical activist and blogger Avicenna (from the A Million Gods blog) commented, “Sanatan are basically one of the many organisations of ‘Hindu Supremacy.’ They are generally called Saffron Terror in India.” At the same time, Avicenna noted, “they often shut down any movie considered progressive” — with the result being that “Indian movies have actually gotten more and more conservative.” But despite the influence that they wield, a campaign to ban the group has been seriously considered by the Indian government — despite the strong religious sentiment in the country, and despite the country’s commitment to freedom of religion, even at the cost of giving religious charlatans free rein.
And when Dabholkar was murdered, Sanatan Sanstha responded by saying that his murder was deserved: that “everybody gets the fruit of their karma,” and that “instead of dying bedridden through illness, or after some surgery, such a death for Dabholkar is a blessing of the almighty.”
An important reminder that militant, violent fundamentalism is not limited to Islam or Christianity.