Nagpur, Aug. 20: Narendra Dabholkar, who had spent his life fighting superstition and was campaigning for a law to crack down on black magic that would be the first in the country, was today gunned down in the heart of Pune.
Dabholkar, 65, was out on his morning walk when two bikers shot him from behind. He took two bullets in his head and one in the stomach while a fourth grazed his forehead, and lay in a pool of blood before police took him to Sassoon hospital nearby where he was declared “brought dead”.
One of the new faces of Maharashtra’s socialist-rationalist traditions, he treaded the path shown by reformers like Jyotiba Phule, Rajarshi Shahu Maharaj, and Babasaheb Ambedkar.
Chief minister Prithviraj Chavan expressed shock and announced a reward of Rs 10 lakh for information on the assassins. “It’s a blot on Maharashtra’s progressive and pluralistic face,” said the chief minister, who had last week promised that the bill to fight superstition and black magic would be passed in the winter session.
Home minister R.R. Patil asked Pune police to hand over the probe to its crime branch. Dabholkar had refused Z-category security despite threats to his life, Patil said.
At least two radical groups — the Sanatan Sanstha and the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti — had allegedly issued threats to him in the past to stop pushing the anti-superstition bill.
The bill, first tabled and passed in the legislative council as a private member’s bill in 1995, has been cleared by the cabinet at least five times but has not been able to get through both Houses of the legislature.
While the Congress and the NCP support the bill — if passed, it would be the country’s first law on black magic and superstition — the BJP and Sena have reservations.
The groups opposed to it see the bill as an anti-faith legislation.
Dabholkar had rejected this argument in an interview two years ago: “In the whole of the bill, there’s not a single word about God or religion; nothing like that. The Indian Constitution allows freedom of worship and nobody can take that away. This is about fraudulent and exploitative practices.”
The latest draft, listed for the winter session, does not get into arguments on blind faith but simply lists the most common superstitions and practices. These include claiming possession of supernatural powers and advertising such claims, human and animal sacrifice to ward off evil or appease the spirits and gods, and selling or dealing in so-called magic stones, talisman, bracelets, charms etc.
Dabholkar had also received threats from Jaat panchayats — panchayats of dominant castes, a relatively new phenomenon in Maharashtra — after he called them unconstitutional and anti-democratic.