The Maharashtra government is suddenly in a tearing hurry. A day after the assassination of Narendra Dabholkar, the doctor who was a leading campaigner against superstition and exploitative practices, the passage of the Maharashtra prevention and eradication of human sacrifice and other inhuman, evil practices and black magic bill was ensured by ordinance. Dabholkar himself had recently criticized the government for failing to present the bill for seven sessions. The campaigner for rationalism and scientific thinking, editor of Sadhana and founder of the Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti had helped write the bill, which was first introduced in 1995 and has since been redrafted 29 times. So what is interesting is the government’s ridiculous haste in trying to wash its hands of culpability, however indirect, of the shocking murder. It is now quite safe, too. The irrepressible doctor is no longer around; who will risk his life to see the bill through, undiluted, to its final incarnation as legislation?
The proposed law, as Dabholkar and his peers envisaged it, is against fraudulent practices — physically and financially damaging — carried on in the name of religion. That extreme Right Hindu groups should oppose it is no surprise. The opposition to it by the Bharatiya Janata Party and its kin is not surprising either, since the BJP thrives on the deliberate identification of religion and ‘culture’ with custom and ritual. What the hurry of the state government after Dabholkar’s death exposes is the connivance of the dominant groups in society in the nurturing of such identifications, the overall desire to perpetuate an anti-scientific, blind belief-based state of mind among the less privileged. A fearful people are easier to control, and easier to exploit. The witch doctors and dubious godmen against whom the proposed law is directed are intrinsic parts of this invisible understructure of irrationality. The assassins who killed the man of reason represent the force and spread of unreason in Indian society that Dabholkar and his peers have always seen as a chief cause of its distortions, injustices, cruelty, exploitations and bloodthirstiness. It is only logical that Dabholkar had begun to speak up against caste-based panchayats for their oppression of young people marrying outside their caste.
There is something utterly irrational and shocking in the killing of Dabholkar. It is an extreme expression of the same attitude that ultimately drove M.F. Husain away, that vandalizes artworks and films, destroys galleries and libraries — one famous destruction being in Pune, where Dabholkar died — and encourages sanguinary rituals, sacrifices, exorcisms and witch-hunts. Dabholkar knew what he had taken on. Are people shocked enough to carry on his fight?