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Murder most foul

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The murder of anti-superstition crusader Narendra Dabholkar in Pune on Tuesday is apt to shock the conscience of the nation. After having campaigned...

The murder of anti-superstition crusader Narendra Dabholkar in Pune on Tuesday is apt to shock the conscience of the nation. After having campaigned for over two decades for the nation cultivating a scientific temper discarding prehistoric superstitions, he had almost succeeded in persuading the Maharashtra government to introduce anti-superstition and black magic Bill when he was shot dead by two motorcycle-riders while he was taking his morning walk.

If on Wednesday Pune witnessed massive protests and demonstrations against the blue murder, it shows not only public outrage over the physical liquidation of a rationalist but also the high public esteem in which he was held. It is unfortunate but true that almost every religion has acquired irreligious, even anti-religious, rituals that make the people believe that they themselves can perform the miracles that had once been thought of as the prerogative of the Divine. Tantriks have never had it so good. Black magic has become a multi-million-rupee industry in India, and its practitioners, mostly with no educational qualifications, are known to have impoverished many a millionaire by offering to make them billionaires.

Yet, neither Parliament nor any State Assembly has so far considered passing a law banning them. Off and on the media reports cases of some villagers having burnt at the stake men and women suspected of practicing black magic, but there has been no attempt at the national or State level to have a law passed to ban practice of black magic.

But that is understandable because everyone from a youth appearing for an examination to a politician contesting an election “consults” tantriks and even seeks their help! In other words, belief in the supposedly supernatural powers of practitioners of black magic is so blind as to make people believe that it can help one pass an examination without studying and the other win an election without first having served his/her potential constituents.

Not all talk by leaders of the need for the nation developing a scientific temper has touched even the fringe of the problem. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that so-called “Godmen” felt threatened by Dabholkar’s campaign and got him bumped off. After all, guns and gunmen are for hire in India, aren’t they?

Anyway, this is a test case for the police not only in Pune but in the whole of Maharashtra. The force has in the past been very prompt in arresting college girls for merely posting their views on Facebook; now they have a murder on their hands and the nation will watch with interest the outcome of their investigation. Yes, clearly there is big money behind the murder and cops are after all human. But for once they need to prove that neither bribes will lure them away from their duty nor political pressure deter them from performing it. It is good that Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan has not only condemned the killing but also announced a reward of Rs. 10 lakhs for information about the killers.
The killing of Dabholkar is not the killing merely of a person but of a rationalist ideology which is more necessary for the country now than any other; and since practitioners of black magic hail from every community the police should cast their net wide and also ensure that their sieve does not have a wide mesh through which killers may slip. If lately every religion has increasingly been losing its sanctity in India, and thus putting off the youth, it is because it has become a commercial proposition in the hands of its self-proclaimed custodians who were the target of Dabholkar’s movement.
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