Mumbai, Aug. 21: The Maharashtra government decided to promulgate an ordinance against superstition and black magic a day after the daylight killing of rationalist Narendra Dabholkar, who had been doggedly fighting for the law in spite of threats to his life.
Although it was not on the agenda, the Prithviraj Chavan cabinet today took the decision after some ministers raised the delay in passing the bill and the need to recognise the overwhelming public sentiment for it after Dabholkar’s killing.
A draft legislation, which was to be tabled in the winter session of the state Assembly, is ready and will be converted into an ordinance, sources said. It will be sent to governor K. Sankaranarayan for promulgating it on priority.
A bill can only be passed in the winter session of the state legislature in December.
The Maharashtra Prevention and Eradication of Human Sacrifice and Other Inhuman, Evil and Aghori Practices and Black Magic Bill has been cleared by the cabinet at least five times earlier, but could not be passed in the face of opposition from Right-wing groups such as the Sanatan Sanstha and the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti and sects like the Warkaris.
On August 7, Dabholkar had appealed to the chief minister to fast-track the law by promulgating an ordinance since the winter session could be the last of the state legislature before the political parties hit the campaign trail for the general election.
While the ruling Congress and the NCP back the bill, the BJP and the Shiv Sena have reservations.
In Dabholkar’s hometown Satara, thousands attended his funeral last night. The chief minister was heckled by protesters who demanded that he push the anti- superstition bill that was first tabled in 1995.
All political parties in Pune today declared a bandh in protest against the killing. Shops and markets remained shut in spontaneous support. Rallies were taken out in Mumbai, Pune and Satara.
But there was not much headway in police investigations. Dabholkar, 65, was shot from behind by two bikers in Pune when he was crossing a bridge on his morning walk.
The police today issued an appeal to the general public to share information about the killers and offered a cash award of Rs 1 lakh in return. The chief minister had yesterday announced a cash reward of Rs 10 lakh for information on the killers.
The Sanatan Sanstha denied that its members were involved in the killing. Spokesperson Abhay Vartak also denied allegations that Sanstha members had at a recent rally in Azad Maidan threatened to “make another Gandhi of Dr Dabholkar”, referring to the Mahatma’s assassination.
“No such statement was made by any Sanstha member at Azad Maidan. The entire agitation was carried out under the watchful eyes of the police and in the presence of intelligence officers. If any such objectionable statement was made, action would have been taken against the Sanstha. These are false accusations made by our critics to implicate us in the case,” Vartak said.
He, however, admitted that seven or eight members had been summoned for questioning in connection with the murder. “But it was for general questioning about their whereabouts. The investigators also telephoned me about my whereabouts. It does not mean that any of us are involved in this,” Vartak said.
Dabholkar, the founder of the Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti that has about 200 branches, had spent his life fighting superstition and had refused Z-category security cover despite threats.