Indian rationalist assassinated

August 20, 2013 • 7:13 am

The International Humanist and Ethical Union, and many other venues, report that a well known Indian humanist and rationalist, Dr. Narendra Dabholkar, was assassinated this morning  in India:

He was reportedly shot four times by two men on a motorbike this morning on Omkarweshwar bridge in Pune, Maharashtra state. He was reportedly taking his daily morning walk when he was assassinated, a route that may have been known to his attackers.

The murder comes days after the state government pledged to re-introduce an anti-superstition bill closely associated with Dabholkar’s work and opposed by many rightwing and Hindu nationalist groups as “anti-Hindu.”

I’d be very surprised if the murder didn’t have anything to do with Dabholkar’s activities:

Dr. Dabholkar, a medical doctor, plunged into anti-superstition work in 1983 and built a concrete movement in his home state of Maharashtra.  He was founder of the Maharashtra Forum for Elimination of Superstition, Maharashtra Andha Shraddha Nirmulan Samiti, editor of Sadhana magazine devoted to propagation of progressive thought, and had served previously as vice president of the Federation of Indian Rationalist Associations (FIRA), an Member Organization of IHEU.

Dabholkar’s work over many years confronted and exposed the fraudulent practices of babas and swamis by explaining the science behind so-called miracles, often used to defraud some of the least well-off members of society of their money or possessions. Dabholkar organised teavelling troops of activists travelling all over the state, and campaigned at a political level with great erudition against superstition and so-called ‘black magic’.

Dr Narendra Dabholkar

An Indian anti-woo activist perhaps more well known to us Sandal Edamarku, whom I met at TAM 2013, weighs in on the assassination at

During the course of his battle against superstition, Dabholkar had received many threats from various groups but had never allowed it to deter him. Edamaruku, the president of an organisation called the Indian Rationalist Association says the threats usually come from those who are perpetrating superstitions and other beliefs.“The rationalist movement has been growing very fast over the last 10 years. I have experienced a lot of threats in my life and so have many others,” he said.

Narendra Dabholkar’s death should be taken as an inspiration by people, who should be encouraged to realise the importance of the struggle against superstition and take inspiration from his struggle, he said.“It is not the victims of superstition who are normally against rationalists but the exploiters who are using superstition and are using the gullibility of people, they are the ones against us,” Edamaruku said.

However, successes are few. Edamaruku pointed out that Dabholkar’s mission ” the anti-superstition bill ”had been significantly watered down and had still not been passed by the Maharashtra legislation.

India is a land steeped in religion and other forms of woo: many people, and, I believe, even the government, plans their schedules using the astrological calendar. Edamarku is on the lam, having fled India under threat of jail for violating blasphemy laws, and has also received death threats.  Apparently the price of rationalism in India can be death.


38 thoughts on “Indian rationalist assassinated

  1. In the US, at least, the people who are taken in by the gurus and astrology – new agers, neopagans and the like – tend not to be violent. If there is going to be (more) violence in defense of superstitions here, it will come from the institutionalized woomongers.

    1. I agree. It’s pretty much a gangland hit. Someone’s threatening your racket so you take him out.

    2. New Agers and the like in the U.S. may not be violent, but in general they are not advocates for the freedom of speech when it comes to offending religious “sensibilities.” They’d probably be more in tune with something like an “anti-bullying” law applied to blasphemy and attempts to debunk pseudoscience.

  2. Coincidentally, I had just stumbled upon this story here & elsewhere at the same time. Very sad that again someone loses his life for speaking out against lies and woo. It’s so tragic when an intelligent, influential person meets his end in violence at the hands of ignorant people.

    The only good thing is that it seems Indians are more and more speaking out against the more pernicious aspects of their society, namely the infestation of woo and violence against women. Just think how much more progressive the world would become if we could harness the brain power away from woo and bigotry; that’s over 1 billion people!! I have several smart female Indian friends so I remain hopeful for India.

    1. The only good thing is that it seems Indians are more and more speaking out against the more pernicious aspects of their society, namely the infestation of woo and violence against women.

      Agreeing that this is over all a good sign, but it’s safe to predict that levels of violence will increase as people feel their woo-based rackets are under threat.
      It’s a multi-generation project (as is normal for challenging religious orthodoxies).

              1. Plateau of human productivity sounds bad, right? I guess plateau of human activity is better.

  3. He claimed the anti-superstition bill is not anti-religion; but it seems difficult to suppose it is not. If we argue that the faith of a nice gentle Christian encourages just as much nonsensical belief as the faith of a fundamentalist terrorist does, that the former is an enabler for the latter, then it’s hard to see how he expected to make the distinction stick. Religion is a superstition, by common atheist accounts, with only the members of each religion believing their particular religion is not a superstition.

    1. I think in practice it seems to have been easy enough to do, so long as the flavour of woo is specific enough. Fortune-telling for example has been illegal in many jurisdictions for long periods of time, and I don’t recall ever hearing of churches feeling under threat.

  4. Recently Dr. Dabholkar had started a campaign against the Jaat Panchayats (Caste Panchayats). Panchayats are the smallest unit of elected government at the village level in India. These caste panchayats are extra-constitutional governance structures based on caste lines operating in parallel with the duly elected panchayats. Often they mete out very harsh and sometimes violent punishments on members who they deem have violated some arcane rule or another – such as marrying a person of another caste. These caste panchayats are little fiefdoms of some very nasty but powerful people with an axe to grind and it is possible that one of them was responsible for the murder of Dr. Dabholkar.

  5. “Apparently the price of rationalism in India can be death.”

    just India? Sam Harris has bodyguards.

  6. This is a bad step for India where opposition to rationalism has been primarily thru the legal system (like Edamaruku). Trust this will not result in more frequent Taliban style attacks.

    PS: Spelling – “Sanal” and not Sandal Edamaruku

  7. So atheism is ‘dangerous’. (I’ve heard that even here, confusing political movements like communism with skepticism.) But it is superstition that kills, again and again. :-/

    Sp: To emphasize #8, apparently it is Sanal Edamaruku as it appears throughout the howabi link, not “Sandal Edamarku” as it appears throughout the post.

    1. Yeah. But what the believers and accommodationists that make that claim don’t tell you is that it is dangerous for the atheist.

  8. 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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