At an Idea Exchange,Hamid Dabholkar,son of slain activist Narendra Dabholkar,and Avinash Patil,who has now assumed charge of the Andhashraddha
Nirmoolan Samiti,talk about the murder probe,the anti-superstition Bill and the road ahead without the founder of the movement
Sunanda Mehta: What is the latest update in the murder investigation that the investigators have informed you about?
Hamid: They tell us about what the different leads are and how they are investigating those leads. Most of the things that they tells us have to be kept confidential so it wouldnt be wise on my part to discuss them in front of the media. But its very disturbing. Many times,people ask us if we are satisfied with the kind of investigation that is happening and we have said multiple times that nobody can be satisfied till the day the criminals and the masterminds behind the act are caught. Yes,we are deeply disturbed and anguished that nobody has been found and till the day they are caught,I think,all of us should be unsatisfied.
Manoj More: There have been demands that the case be handed over to the CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) because,as you said,the bigger conspiracy has to be unearthed?
Hamid: There are three or four agencies that are presently investigating the case. The CID (Criminal Investigation Department) is already involved in the probe. The Pune Crime Branch is involved and the Anti Terrorism Squad is also a part of the investigation. Inputs from IB (Intelligence Bureau) are also being taken. So we have not specifically asked for a CBI inquiry as such.
Manoj More: Have you named any organisation which you think could be behind this act?
Hamid: We havent named any organisation publicly. But as a matter of investigation,the police asked us about our suspicions and we have conveyed the same to them.
Anuradha Mascarenhas: Immediately after the murder there was outrage,but do you think that now theres a lack of political pressure that could expedite the probe?
Hamid: It would be really difficult for me to comment on the investigation. We have been repeatedly reaching out to people and keep asking them to keep building the pressure. I will not be able to comment on what should the politicians be doing at this point because whatever I say can be interpreted in multiple ways.
Avinash: Soon after the murder we were approached by the investigators asking for the possible suspects. In the last 25 years of work we have exposed many fake Babas. Small and big,there are hundreds of them. We have also been talking about the wrong deeds of certain spiritual gurus like Asaram Bapu,Aniruddha Maharaj,Narendra Maharaj,or the followers of Swami Samarth.
Manoj More: Several people pointed fingers towards Sanatan Sanstha.
Avinash: It is for the police to decide on the murders – we cannot name anyone. However,it is true that the wherever Narendra Dabholkar and Andhshraddha Nirmoolan Samiti did the anti-superstition programmes the Sanatan Sanstha and Hindu Janjagruti Samiti opposed it. They would go to the organisers and try to persuade them to cancel the scheduled function by saying that we speak against the religion and the gods and hurt sentiments. They also submitted applications to local authorities for cancelling our programmes. This has led to us being served notices at many places. They also got some notices. In these issues,the government stance is that since a law and order problem could arise because of MANS and Sanatan Sanstha then both need to be abstained.
Dr Dabholkar used always to say that if the administration is worried of a law and order problem because of us they should record our speeches and see if they find anything illegal and if they do,they should lodge criminal cases against us. We are doing work which is enshrined in the Constitution: to promote scientific temperament and a spirit of inquiry. This is one of the duties of every Indian.
On the contrary the state is safeguarding those who are opposing us in this job and promoting superstitions. For example,during Ganpati festival this year in Pune volunteers of the Sanatan and Hindu Janjagruti Samiti picked up the idols immersed by the devotees in the artificial ponds built by the PMC and released them in the river. Isnt it a responsibility of the state to take some stance if this is being done?
The Supreme Court has decreed in favour of the ecofriendly immersion. On May 3,2011 the state cabinet brought out a circular against damaging the environment during the festival.
Anuradha Mascarenhas: What about the political pressure which should be sustained to find out who the murderers are?
Hamid: These are two different issues. One is about the investigation of the murder of Dr Dabholkar and the second is about the implementation of the law. In the latter case,its definitely of serious concern for us. The thing which was done in two days after the murder took 18 years to happen. This is a very painful reality for us.
The ordinance should be converted into a law. Though the government representatives have been making public statements about this,our experience for the last few years makes us very cautious in taking these promises at face value. And according to us its the responsibility of the government to do that in the first few days of the winter session as now its their law. They have passed the ordinance. And,also,they have required majority to do that.
Pranav Kulkarni: There are several theories that are floating around about the motive for the murder. What is your assessment,is it a murder by someone whose shop was affected due to Dr Dabholkars initiative or is it a political murder aimed at gaining sympathy?
Hamid: All of these are assumptions. The strongest assumption of the murder motive I think can be that this was an attack against the ideology. This was an attack on the ideology of non-violence and of spreading the thoughts with conviction to make a better society.
Chandan Haigunde: There were certain allegations made about the motive of the murder and probed by the police like some land deals,or some cases involving the MANS. What would you say about these allegations?
Hamid: These allegations are absolutely wrong. It is very important to understand that theres no property whatsoever owned by MANS. It doesnt have even its own office. This is the philosophy of the organisation. Its not operated as an NGO. The volunteers do not get any remuneration. The allegations being made are baseless and they dont even deserve to be discussed. His entire savings would not amount to more than Rs 1 to 2 lakh. The bank accounts are open to scrutiny by anybody. Its very bad to make such an allegation about a man who abandoned his own medical practice and ignored his family to contribute to society. However,the police has probed all these allegations.
Partha Sarathi Biswas: What about the land donated to Sadhana?
Hamid: It was a small piece of land donated to Sadhana where a training centre is being built. Dr Dabholkar was not the only trustee of Sadhana – theres a board of eight trustees who are highly regarded in society. Appasaheb S R Patil,Mohan Dharia,R G Jadhav are the trustees. Its for people to decide how much weightage should be given to such allegations. I think there are not even worth discussing.
Manoj More: Who could be behind these allegations?
Hamid: You have seen who made these allegations by taking a press conference the very next day of the murder. They said that Dr Dabholkar owned a flat in Juhu. Actually he did not even own a flat in Satara,how could he do so in Juhu?
Sushant Kulkarni: Apart from the MANS,Dr Dabholkar also headed Sadhna,the magazine. How are you now planning to take forward the work? What kind of action plan do you have?
Avinash: Dr Dabholkars murder was the biggest shock for all of us. However,despite that not a single pre-scheduled programme was cancelled. During his life,Dr Dabholkar had set up the organisation in a systematic way. We have a state politburo which meets every four months. A procedure to take a decision is fixed. We have a number of selfless workers working at more than 200 branches. So even after Dr Dabholkar the work of the MANS will go on. Its very difficult to prepare one person to work on the sensetive issue of religion and superstition.
Dr Dabholkar successfully set up a vast organisation. Having said that,we will struggle for some time to recover from the loss of a hardcore leader with vast experience.
Prasad Joshi: After Dr Dabholkars murder,the anti-superstition movement has gained new momentum.
Avinash: People,nationally and internationally,are curious to know about the work a man was doing which forced his opponents to kill him. Theres tremendous curiosity about that in society which was shocked and provoked by society. We are aware that we are in the minority,but the commonest of the common man in the community also reacted by saying that whatever happened to Dr Dabholkar was bad. Yes,its a challenge in front of us to make best use of the sympathy that has been built due to the killing and to associate with the people who want to support us. Hence,we are starting a month long campaign from October 20,Lets Strengthen The Voice of Conscience. We will urge people to participate in our activities.
Manoj More: There have been conflicting reports about the stance of Warkari community on the Anti-Black Magic Bill. Sometimes they say they are supporting the bill,other times they say they are opposing it. Have you people failed to take them into confidence?
Avinash: Its not true. The leaders of Warkari community had announced a clear stance that they do not oppose the ordinance. Sadanand More,descendent of Saint Tukaram and the president of Sant Sahitya Sammelan Vitthal Patil have supported us. Bandatatya Karadkar has also publicly announced his support. Other mischievous elements who dont have any support are deliberately creating trouble.
Manoj More: How often did Dr Dabholkar receive threats? What was his point of view on taking security because he had denied the offer?
Hamid: Threat letters had been coming to him for many years. Threats had become a part of his life. He rarely discussed this with us or the workers. I dont even remember when he last received a threat letter.
He was offered the security by the government about six to seven years ago which he had declined. He used to think that those who are working to foster the ideas of conscience and non-violence do not need to be guarded by others. And,according to me,the idea of providing security with armed men is itself flawed. Security will depends on the state vigilance on social level. Armed policemen is only a part of it. How strongly your system stand behind the thoughts of a certain person shows your willingness to secure him.
Sunanda Mehta: You said that the workers of the MANS frequenty get threats. After Dr Dabholkars murder,have you instructed the workers to take any preventive measures so that such an incident doesnt get repeated?
Avinash: We have been getting a lot of advice from friends and well wishers to be more cautious in the future. Our ideas are not liked by many. The espousers of these are in the minority. Also,the current social and political situation of the country is such that it is fostering an ideology that is not conducive for the progressive ideas we try to spread. So,we have asked our workers to be vigilant. We have asked our workers to convey the threats to local authorities.
Atikh Rashid: How was the response to the eco-friendly Ganeshotsava campaign this time as it was the first Ganeshotsava after the death of Dr Dabholkar?
Hamid: This is the best example of the phenomenon of a certain organisation taking up an issue and later it being taken up by the entire society as its own. When the MANS started the campaign it faced huge opposition. Today even a layman is saying that its important to celebrate Ganeshotsava in an eco-friendly way. 20 years ago when the movement was launched,there was a huge ruckus in Kolhapur over donating 6-7 idols instead of immersing them in running streams. Today,even with a very limited role of MANS,in Nashik,devotees voluntarily donated 1.4 lakh idols.
Atikh Rashid: How much will the Anti-Black Magic law help in the anti-superstition work?
Avinash: There are limitations in the laws on which we were dependent on to expose fake godmen and crooks practicing black magic and duping people. Those acts,Drug and Magic Remedies Act 1954 and Medical Practitioner Act 1961 have a lot of loopholes. Thats why there was a strong need of an Act to curb the inhuman practices. Since the time the ordinance has been passed about 9 to 10 cases have been registered. It underlines the need and importance of such an Act. Cases are pending at several other places because Dakshata Adhikari (Vigilance Officers) have not been appointed.