"Remember Gandhi. Remember what we did to him" was the last threat that Dabholkar received from right-wing organizations, opposed to the Maharashtra (Eradication of Black Magic) Bill for which he had been relentlessly campaigning. He had been threatened by right-wing groups on several occasions.
State home minister RR Patil said several teams had been formed to track down the killers.
The assailants had brazenly parked their motorcycle outside the Shaniwar Peth police post, barely 30ft from the crime spot and fled towards Ramanbaug in Narayan Peth, driving through check posts near Omkareshwar temple. An eyewitness, who saw the assailants from the balcony of his flat nearby, noted down the registration number of the bike, police said. He also told police that the killers were between 25 and 30 years of age. One was wearing a white shirt and a cap while the other was wearing a grey shirt. Based on his account, police released a sketch of one of the suspects.
"There were three bullet injuries — two on the chest and one on the forehead. One of the bullets went through his chest and got lodged in the right side of the neck. Another bullet fired on the temple above the right eye was found in the skull," said a doctor from Sassoon Hospital after the post mortem. Some devotees, who heard the gunshots from the Omkareshwar temple, and a police inspector rushed to the bridge to find Dabholkar lying in a pool of blood. Dabholkar was identified only after a senior police officer reached the spot and contacted Sadhana Media Centre.
After practising for 12 years as a doctor, Dabholkar had joined social activist Baba Adhav's 'One Village, One Well' movement before founding the Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmulan Samiti. He edited the Marathi weekly 'Sadhana'. He was scheduled to address a press conference at 11.30am on Tuesday on eco-friendly immersion of idols during Ganeshotsav. Joint commissioner of police Sanjeev Kumar Singhal said police have started probing uploading of Dabholkar's defaced photographs on the internet. "We were informed that some groups had uploaded these photographs on their websites. We will look into it," Singhal said.
A prolific speaker, writer and an international kabaddi player, Dabholkar was the youngest of ten siblings with six brothers and three sisters. His was a family of progressive thinkers. His father Achyut Dabholkar was a well-known lawyer while mother Tarabai was a rationalist.
His eldest brother, Dr Devdatta Dabholkar, a Gandhian and an educationist, was the former vice-chancellor of Pune University. Another brother, Professor Shripad Dabholkar, pioneered the organic farming movement in the state. "My brother had been getting threat calls for many years, but he always took them lightly. He would say his activists would be killed if he accepted security. He also said he wanted to live on like Gandhiji even after death," said his third brother, Dr Dattaprasad Dabholkar, a scientist.
Dabholkar was cremated in Satara.
"If anyone must die, let it be me" - Dabholkar refused security cover
Over the years, Dr Narendra Dabholkar had campaigned not only for a law against superstition and black magic but also against the practices he wanted it to eradicate, besides challenging astrologers to a rationality test and taking on the BJP and the Shiv Sena over women's right to enter temples. Dabholkar, who was shot dead in Pune Tuesday, had made so many enemies that he sensed he was under threat, but chose not to seek security for fear that those targeting him would go after his aides instead, said his brother Dr Dattaprasad Dabholkar. "He used to say, 'If I get a security cover, my detractors will go after my comrades. If anyone has to die, let it be me'," said his brother.
Protest marches were held in Pune yesterday by various socio-political organisations condemning the brutal murder of the rationalist. In Mr Dabholkar's hometown of Satara, thousands came out on the streets to pay tribute to a man loved and respected for his campaign against superstition and self-appointed godmen. Mr Dabholkar's murder comes days after the Maharashtra government assured that it would introduce the anti-superstition Bill - opposed by many right-wing groups as "anti-Hindu." It was his campaign that led the state government to draft the Bill.
Narendra Dabholkar, the simple rationalist waged a complex war
Narendra Dabholkar trained to be a doctor and could have led a different life. But he chose to lead a movement, for the last 25 years, that fought superstitious practices garbed as customs, traditions and religious beliefs. His crusade won him many admirers, but also many detractors, who variously accused him of being "anti-religion" and some even "anti-Hindu." Undeterred, Narendra Dabholkar continued to battle against the industry of babasand godmen that thrives not just in India's interiors but also in many cities, feeding on fear and superstition. On Tuesday, out for his daily morning walk, the 69-year-old was gunned down by two men who rode up on a motorcycle and hit him in the head and chest with two of the four bullets they fired before driving away. People poured out on the streets in anger, disbelief and grief all over Maharashtra. Mr Dabholkar was a simple man. He always wore a khadi shirt, cotton pants and chappals or slippers, which lay scattered beside his body as he bled to death near the Omkareshwar Bridge in Pune yesterday. He did not criticise any religion, but tried to rationalise and expose those who exploit people using superstition and rituals as their tools of trade. He advocated inter-caste marriages and fought caste panchayat diktats that prohibit marriages outside one's caste or community.
And he practised what he preached. A Hindu brahmin, Mr Dabholkar named his only son Hameed, a Muslim name. Hameed, too, is a doctor. Narendra Dabholkar's will asks that his organs be donated. But that was not to be as his violent death necessitated a post-mortem at Pune's Sassoon hospital. There were no religious rituals and last rites were performed in Satara, 120 km from Pune, where he belonged. Top government functionaries attended the funeral. They hadn't given him much of an audience when he asked for a law against propagating superstition.
See also :
Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmulan Samiti
Disenchanting India: Organized Rationalism in India
Rationalist under threat of arrest for exposing the “miracle”
India's god laws fail the test of reason
India's new theocracy