On August 20, 2013, we lost a major fighter against irrationalism and superstition to assassination. Narendra Dabholkar was the founder of the Maharashtra Rationalist Association in 1989.
"He reached out to common people with grassroot campaigns, educating them to overcome superstition and rely on reason. He was determined to persuade the Maharashtra government to pass a law that would put a stop to the game of black magicians, faith-healers and astrologers. He was one of the key architects of the Maharashtra anti-superstition Bill.
Though politicians did their best to dilute it and postpone its discussion time and again, he did not give up. Soon after his murder, the Maharashtra government decided to introduce the Bill, unleashing the fury of fundamentalist groups.
Dabholkar was hated by fundamentalists. But an open-hearted and kind man, he was adored by the people. His murder signals the growing importance of the work done by rationalists."
The quote is from Sanal Edamaruku, president of the Indian Rationalist Association, himself the subject of repression from religious privilege.
In 2012 Edamaruku investigated the claim that a statue of Jesus in a Mumbai chapel was weeping tears. Contrary to pious fervor, Edamaruku found that the 'weeping' was caused by sewage water seeping through the statue.
"Instead of apologizing to the thousands of pilgrims to the church for letting them drink the filthy sewage water under whilst under the impression that it was blessed and holy, the Catholic bishop went on the offensive and demanded an apology from Sanal. When rightly refused, on the grounds that he had done nothing wrong, He was charged with violating 295(a) of the Indian Penal Code, India’s “blasphemy law,” which prohibits “deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings or any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs.” The charges effectively forced Sanal into exile to avoid a jail term of indeterminate length, without hope of bail, or, as was clear from the Church’s influence over the police, an absolutely fair and proper trial."
Prominent rationalists and skeptics in the US don't face similar threats, but this is hardly a reason for self-congratulation. Low quality thinking is pervasive, scientific literacy is relatively low, and even textual literacy rated at 'highly proficient' is measured at well under 20% of the population. Everyone, everywhere, who believes in human liberation through education, reason, creativity, etc., has their work cut out for them.
Will the (right-wing fundamentalist?) killers of Dabholkar be brought to justice? Is it safe to be an outspoken rationalist and humanist in India?