A Martyr of Modern Skepticism: The Assassination of Prominent Atheist Narendra Dabholkar


A great skeptical leader has been assassinated.

This didn’t happen in a tyrannical theocracy. This happened in a modern, supposedly secular nation, with no state religion, and with first-class programs of science and medicine. And still, for the crime of criticizing religious beliefs, questioning them, and subjecting them to scientific scrutiny, a great skeptical leader was gunned down on the street in broad daylight.

narendra_dabholkarFor over two decades, Dr. Narendra Dabholkar dedicated his life to overcoming superstition in India. Originally a medical doctor, Dabholkar spent years exposing religious charlatans, quacks, frauds, purveyors of “miracle cures,” and other con artists preying on gullibility, desperation, and trust. An activist against caste discrimination in India, and an advocate for women’s rights and environmentalism, Dr. Dabholkar’s commitment to social justice was expansive and enduring. But it was his work against superstition that earned him his fame.

India is a huge, hugely diverse country, and much of it — particularly the South — is thoroughly modern, urban, and largely secular. But much of the country — particularly the North — is saturated with self-proclaimed sorcerers, faith healers, fortune tellers, psychics, gurus, godmen, and other spiritual profiteers. In parts of the country, people are beaten, mutilated, or murdered for being suspected of witchcraft, and there are even rare cases of human sacrifice — including the sacrifice of children — in rituals meant to appease the gods.

Throughout this country, Dr. Dabholkar traveled to towns and villages, investigating claims of miracles and magic, revealing the physical reality behind the tricks — and organizing travelling troops of activists to do the same. He didn’t try to persuade people out of the very idea of religious belief, but he was an open atheist, proud and unapologetic. He was the Founder of the Committee for Eradication of Superstition in Maharashtra (Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti). He fought for years for the passage of a controversial anti-black-magic bill in India.

And it was his work against superstition that almost certainly cost him his life.

*****

Thus begins my latest piece for AlterNet, A Martyr of Modern Skepticism: The Assassination of Prominent Atheist Narendra Dabholkar. To find out more about Dr. Dabholkar’s life, work, and murder — and the context it all took place in — read the rest of the piece. And please share it, retweet it, etc. – this story needs to be heard, outside the atheist/skeptical community as well as within it.

Comments

  1. Sameer Marathe says

    India is a huge, hugely diverse country, and much of it — particularly the South — is thoroughly modern, urban, and largely secular. But much of the country — particularly the North — is saturated with self-proclaimed sorcerers, faith healers, fortune tellers, psychics, gurus, godmen, and other spiritual profiteers.

    I think this North – South distinction is not true. Both the North and South equally have their troubles with superstitions, god-men and god-women, casteism etc. I would say that the real divide (albeit a small one) is in urban vs. rural India. In the cities, largely due to efforts by people like Dr. Dabholkar, Narendra Nayak, Basava Premanand and recently groups like Nirmukta etc. the hold traditional religion and superstitions is diminishing. In the villages the situation is quite dire especially for women and those who are considered “low caste”.

    Another issue that Dr. Dabholkar was agitating against was the Jaat Panchayats (Caste Panchayats). These are the extra-constitutional bodies based largely on caste lines that adjudicate disputes among members of a particular caste. They are sort of like Sharia courts but on caste lines. These have no legal basis in India but are still prevalent in many parts and often mete out cruel and inhumane punishment for “offenses” like marrying a person outside of the community. [E.g. see here and here]. In fact few days before his assassination he held a press conference and rally about the Jaat Panchayat issue.

    I suspect that it is the right wing Sanatan Sanstha who is behind this heinous act. But it is also possible that some who were threatened by his agitation against the Jaat Panchayats may be the culprits and police apparently are investigating that as well.

  2. says

    Thanks for writing this, Greta. I admit, I honestly did not know much about Dr. Narendra Dabholkar before. It seems he did a lot to help improve the country my parents are from, and for that I’m grateful. And I agree with you about the comparisons between India and the US. There is this dangerous strain of religious fundamentalism, even though both countries are scientifically advanced.

Leave a Reply