ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Keeper of Maharashtra's Conscience

Narendra Dabholkar (1945-2013) who was shot dead on 20 August not only campaigned relentlessly against the chicanery of unscrupulous godmen but also the ramifi cations of blind beliefs like the exploitation of women, the ill-treatment of the mentally ill under the guise of exorcism and environmentally unfriendly rituals. He did this by building an excellent network of activists, conscious citizens and progressive writers, theatre and fi lm personalities.

Narendra Dabholkar, the most well-known rationalist and anti-superstition voice in Maharashtra in recent decades, fought for women’s freedom in an area that hardly anyone bothered to address. He realised that lakhs of women became either the unwitting victims of fraudulent babas and godmen due to social and cultural pressures or gave in to beliefs that harmed their physical and mental health irrevocably. He was also active in the battle to vanquish the devadasi system, the obnoxious practice of “dedicating” young girls to the goddess Yellamma and condemning them to lives of sexual slavery and misery.

The 67-year-old Dabholkar, who was shot dead by two motorcycle riders on 20 August when out for a walk in Shanivar Peth in Pune, was written about on the basis of his dogged fight to get the Maharashtra Eradication of Black Magic, and Evil and Aghori Practices Bill passed in the Maharashtra legislature. It was in this aspect that he was praised and reviled the most. But there were many other areas that he was active in, knowing that practices therein were offshoots of the same mentality that endorsed blind obedience to exploitative rituals. He took up the battle with jaat panchayats in Maharashtra which of late had begun violently hounding young couples who chose their marriage partners from other castes. One of his pet campaigns on which he had won a ruling from the Bombay High Court was against the immersion of Ganesha idols in rivers and lakes and the setting up of artificial water bodies by municipal and local authorities instead. He advocated the use of eco-friendly material to make the idols and a ban on plaster of Paris.

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