Narendra Achyut Dabholkar was shot dead on the Vitthal Ramji Shinde bridge of Pune on August 20, 2013, at the age of 68, while on a morning walk. He used to say, “Like Mahatma Gandhi, I also have a wish to live till age 125”. Sadly his life, too, was curtailed by the enemies of reason.
The key question all of us should ask ourselves is: What has been happening in this country in the last 69 years that free thinkers who have dedicated their life to the spread of rationality have become so dangerous to somebody that they are ready to kill these leaders even in their old age?
If we start looking at the broader picture, there is a clear trend of an increasing resort to violent means to suppress any form of dissent, especially if it is related to the interpretation of religion, caste and nationality. From the case of Perumal Murugan to the incidence of violence against the Dalit community in Una, from Rohith Vemula’s suicide in Hyderabad to the killing of Mohammad Akhlaq in Dadri and the JNU incident, there is a clear pattern. It will be simplistic to think that these incidents are exceptions and that if we could get hold of the murderers and masterminds, the problem will be solved.
Today, as citizens of this country, we face a serious dilemma. It is a four-pronged problem. On one side there is the pragmatically communal Congress. On the second, there is the programmatically communal BJP. On the third side is the left force of this country which has lost touch with the masses and which, by and large, misreads the effects of globalisation and liberalisation. And on the fourth side, there is the increasingly self-absorbed and expanding middle class of the country. All anti-constitutional forces are prospering in the ensuing vacuum, be it organisations like the Sanatan Sanstha or the Hindu Janjagruti Samiti whose supporters are being investigated in the murders of Dabholkar and Govind Pansare, or the self-declared gau rakshaks, or Zakir Naik and his organisation.
What is most troubling is the serious lack of concern and even antagonism that is shown by the common citizens of this country to these issues. We must keep in mind that the attacks on Dabholkar, Pansare and M.M. Kalburgi are similar to terrorist attacks. Their main aim is to crush the voice of dissent. The investigation of these attacks should maintain a similar seriousness as the probes into terrorist attacks.
The investigation of these three murders has been hampered by the inefficiency of the system. It gathered some momentum only after the high court started monitoring its progress periodically. It was very obvious from the beginning that the murder of Dabholkar was closely linked to his work for superstition eradication and that there can be more such murders. Even after repeated intimations to the police machinery, hardly any precautionary measures were taken to prevent such incidents. Even today there is minimal effort to systematically counter the tendencies that are spreading hatred in the name of religion.
Violence in the name of religion is becoming a global phenomenon. The killers of the bloggers in Bangladesh and the suspected killers of Dabholkar, Pansare and Kalburgi pledge allegiance to different religions. The radicalisation of their mind in the name of religion is the same. If we continue to travel down this path, the day is not far when the situation in our country will be similar to that in Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Though democratic protest is crucial to ensuring that the voices of reason are not silenced, it is also critical to have an effective, fast and accountable system of investigation and a judiciary that can give us confidence that we will not meet the same fate as these three rationalists if we dare to dissent.
A large section of society believes that economic growth and development can solve all of our problems. We need to understand that social justice is also very important if we want to maintain stable growth and development. All forms of unreason, especially radicalisation in the name of religion, and use of violence to achieve one’s means, are barriers to economic growth. That’s why we need to stand up and take a position, for Dabholkar, Pansare and Kalburgi.
All of us need to realise that killing a person cannot kill his thoughts. The murder of Dabholkar triggered interest and support to the work of the MANS (Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti) in the national and international spheres. The impact of its work increased significantly, culminating in the passing of two social justice-related laws in Maharashtra, namely the anti-black magic act and an act against social boycott and caste panchayats. Similarly, interest in the writings of Pansare and Kalburgi has increased significantly. The harder one tries to suppress the voice of reason, the louder it will become, because like violence, it is also an innate human tendency to oppose such suppression. There is no other way to a shared prosperity and social justice than becoming a rational individual and a rational society.