On the morning of 20th August, an Indian nationalist Narendra Dabholkar who was taking his regular morning walk was shot dead by a gunman near the Omkareshwar temple in the city of Pune in Maharashtra. The report did not attract the media attention that it deserved and was slid under the carpet of oblivion. It was one of those examples when an activist or whistle blower was shot dead and the media and the masses did not wake up to the killing.
Mr. Dabholkar was an activist in the state of Maharashtra who was single handedly leading a crusade against the alleged godmen like Nirmal Baba and the right-wing religious group called Sanatan Sanstha. The Sanatan Sanstha is a rightwing extremist group based in the state of Goa and was also charge sheeted in the Goa blasts which had taken place in 2008. As such, Mr. Dabholkar was leading his crusade against the so called saffron terror and its promoters. In a reply, the state Chief Minister, Prithviraj Chavan has said that the killers of Narendra Dabholkar are the same persons who were responsible for the killing of Mahatma Gandhi. He also accepted that the killing of the activist is a blot on the state security and administration alike.
Trouble started long back as Dabholkar had been a staunch campaigner against superstition and unorthodox religious beliefs. He appealed to the common masses for progressive thinking by his works of writing which included many books and articles in the prominent newspapers of the state. His anti-superstition campaigns led to the creation of the magazine called Sadhna which promoted progressive thinking among the common masses of the society. His efforts got recognized and rewarded when he successfully campaigned and persuaded the Maharashtra government to pass an anti-superstition and black magic bill amidst protest from various rightwing religious activists and groups. He also condemned the activities of the self proclaimed godmen from the state and pleaded to their followers to adopt the path of rational thinking. On many occasions, he tried organizing meetings and rallies in the famous Azad Maidan but had to cancel them after threats of disruption by rightwing groups like Sanatan Sanstha. Aides close to Dabholkar say that it was not only lesser known groups like the Sanatan Sanstha who had been forwarding continuous threats to Dabholkar but bigwigs like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Bajrang Dal too were offended and threatened to take measures against the atheist whose activities were conceived to be anti Hindu. It is believed that towards the end of his life, Dabholkar was collecting financial details about two renowned godmen from Maharshtra and was very close to reveal their murky dealings.
Sanatan Sanstha group, which is believed to be the prime accused in the murder of Dabholkar has had a history of threatening and terrorizing activists like Dabholkar. Reporters and activists like Kumar Ketkar and Nikhil Wagle have been sent written threats which were published. As a matter of fact, the ATS officer in 2008 investigating the Goa blasts, Hemant Karkare (who was killed in the 26/11 attack) had requested the authorities to ban the group. The group is accused of radicalizing the youth with inflammatory speeches preaching hatred against non-Hindu factions including people like Mayawati and the BSP.
The death of Narendra Dabholkar adds to the ordeal of notoriously silencing the voices of anti-superstition and RTI activists like Satyendra Dube. Although no party or group has been convicted as culprits, it is speculated that there is huge nexus between the trade mafia and the right-wing activists whose policy is to eliminate any roadblocks like Dabholkar has gone unnoticed.
The state for its part also needs to do its bit by providing security and protection to these whistle blowers who are easy targets for the culprits and at the same time need to ensure that the freedom to carry on their work without any restriction is maintained. Simultaneously, the state also needs to come up with proactive measures like banning disruptive groups before they can ring the alarm bell and cause the nation and the society to panic. Hope, the martyrdom of Narendra Dabholkar springs out another hundred and thus carry the torch of the crusade with more vigour.