Dr. Narendra Dabholkar was murdered on August 20, 2013 by two masked gunmen at 7:20 am near Omkareshwar temple in Pune. He was out for his daily morning walk. And the Anti-superstition bill (temporary law) that lay untouched and gathering dust for 15 years in the state legislative assembly was passed by the Maharashtra government.
Who was he?
He was the reformist responsible for the AniS movement (Andhashraddha Nirmulan Samiti) gathering momentum. About twenty years ago he gave up his practice (he was a doctor for 12 years by then) and entered the world of social justice – focusing on eradication of superstition. As an article in DNA lists out, Dr.Narenda announced a bounty of half a million rupees to a person who could – materialise an object from air, read the next person’s thoughts, produce a replica of a currency note, make an amputated limb grow by an inch through holy water, blessings, meditation etc. In India, the land of old kings and practises from the centuries ago, it’s not surprising that such a reformist was murdered. Indeed, he had his share of threats and assaults for years before the 20th of August. AniS fought against superstitions and black magic; traditional nonsensical rituals like throwing a newborn baby from a height, curing mental illness among many others. Basically, they didn’t want the poor (all rather) people conned over and over again by fake practitioners.
We all have our definitions for superstition – the cat crossing your path means the endeavour you set out to do is doomed for example. It’s interesting to note that some of the “superstitious behaviour” could (I mention Could, not definitely- some scientific, some not) have reasons, for example-
- It’s said that one should cover a baby’s feeding bottle. This is because as the milk level drops, the baby’s eyes follow it. It could suffer from squint eyes.
- The bindi that women wear- it’s said that this is because the sun rays get concentrated at this point and triggers the brain and enhances performance.
- People say it’s not good to walk below ladders- I assumed this was so that the ladder didn’t fall on our heads by any chance. It’s actually because in the olden days punishments were met out by hanging people to the tree branches, they didn’t want the dead person’s spirit entering anyone.
Other examples are no north facing houses, going around the Peepal tree praying for a child,’ touch wood’, crossing fingers, saying ‘God bless you’ when someone coughs( yes, it is! It was because in the Middle Ages during a plague, people suffered from cough bouts and they thought it was God- given). So basically it’s a widely held but unjustified belief.
It’s not just the tribals, or the villagers, or the poor. It’s rich, the educated, the NRI’s, the foreigners, it’s US. Why do we still have such notions?
Recently, a friend of mine went looking for a Nadi reading. Nadi astrology is a practise wherein based upon your thumb impression, palm leaves passed down over centuries is read and your history and future is predicted (it is believed that a Tamil sage ‘Agathiyar’ wrote all this down- on palm leaves). It’s not all bogus, not when done by a few individuals. So this friend of mine. He’s well educated, certainly not weak or lacking for anything and not a superstitious person either. I guess uncertain future prospects after four years of college could do that to anyone- for a while. He sat in his car, and suddenly drove four hours straight to visit this village. When he reached the Vaitheeswaran temple, the individual he had to meet wasn’t available. He was away on important business: read wealthy clients. So my friend had the option of consulting the other palmists there, charging exorbitant fees of Rs.2500 for fifteen answers: my friend had the common sense to bolt. It was a momentary lapse on his part, happens during hard times.