Indian Rationalist Narendra Dabholkar Murdered

Horribly sad news out of India: Narendra Dabholkar, the founder and president of Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmulan Samiti (Committee for Eradication of Superstition of Maharashtra), was shot dead this morning by two unidentified men on a motorcycle.

Dabholkar was one of the leading advocates of an anti-superstition bill that was gaining momentum amongst progressives in Maharashtra. Conservatives and some religious sects opposed the bill as anti-Hindu, but despite that, the government announced a few days ago that it planned to table the bill.

If enacted, the bill would prohibit the following acts:

to perform Karni, Bhanamati,
to perform magical rites in the name of supernatural power,
to offer ash, talisman, charms etc. for the purpose of exorcism and to drive out evil spirits or ghosts,
to claim possession of supernatural powers and to advertise this claim,
to defame, disgrace the names of erstwhile Saints/ Gods, by claiming to be there reincarnation and thus cheating the gullible and God-fearing simple folks.
to claim to be possessed by divine power or evil power and then perform miracles in the name of such powers.
to punish and to beat mentally ill patients in the belief that they are possessed by evil spirits.
to perform Aghori rites.
to perform so called black magic and spread fear in society.
to perform “Gopal Santan Vidhi” to beget a male offspring.
to oppose scientific medical treatment and to coerce to adopt Aghori treatment.
to sell or deal in so-called magic stones, talisman, bracelets, charms.
to become possessed by supernatural powers and then pretend to give answers to any questions in this mental state.
to sacrifice innocent animals for the appeasement of gods or spirits.
to dispense magical remedies for curing rabies and snake bites.
to dispense medical remedies with claims of assured fertility.

Dabholkar was an associate of Sanal Edamaruku, the Indian rationalist who fled India under threat of arrest for blasphemy against the Catholic Church and who was the subject of many death threats, himself.

Police are investigating the murder but haven’t yet named any suspects or the motive.

This is a truly horrific blow to the otherwise strong rationalist community of India. While it could be the catalyst for a groundswell of support for the anti-superstition legislation, it will surely discourage other rationalists from stepping into the spotlight and agitating for real change in the way that Dabholkar did.

Edit: Steve Novella just reminded me of the death of Ajita Kamal, another Indian rationalist who died under mysterious circumstances in 2011. I’m unable to find any updates about the investigation into his death, but if anyone else has any information, please share.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky

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  1. Rebecca,
    The Humanist community in India is shattered by the news of Narendra Dabholkar’s murder. We grieve but resolve to continue the good fight.
    As for your postscript about Ajita Kamal, I am writing on behalf of Nirmukta, the Freethought community founded by him.
    From what we know Ajita’s death was an accident and no foul play is suspected.

  2. Rebecca – I saw a brief exchange about Ajita’s cause of death at Nirmukta recently (in the past couple of weeks or so), confirming that there’s no new information.

  3. Dr. Narendra Dabholkar’s contribution to Indian society can be aptly described by this Jerry Coyne quote

    We’re in a war not for science, but against superstition, which enables nonscientific views.

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