Born on November 1, 1945, Narendra Achyut Dabholkar was an Indian rationalist and author from Maharashtra. He was the founder-president of Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti (MANS), an organisation set up to eradicate superstitions. He did his schooling at New English School, Satara, and higher studies from Willingdon College, Sangli, both in the state of Maharashtra. A qualified medical doctor, with an MBBS degree, he worked as a general practitioner for 12 years before turning into a social worker in the 1980s. He became involved with movements for social justice, such as ‘One Village - One Well’ agitation founded by Baba Adhava. Subsequently, Dabholkar started focusing on the eradication of superstitions, and joined the Akhil Bharatiya Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti (ABANS), an organisation devoted to opening the minds of people on the perniciousness of superstitious beliefs. In 1989, he founded the Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti (Committee for Eradication of Superstition in Maharashtra) and confronted dubious holy men and self-styled Hindu ascetics who promised ‘miracle cures’ for ailments.
He was also the founding member of Parivartan, a rehabilitation centre located in Satara, and served as vice -president of the Federation of Indian Rationalist Associations (FIRA). Closely associated with leading Indian rationalist Sanal Edamaruku, Dabholkar was the editor of a renowned Marathi weekly ‘Sadhana’.
Between 1990-2010, Dabholkar had taken part in agitations in Maharashtra like the movement against caste discrimination and in naming the Marathwada University after Babasaheb Ambedkar. He wrote books on superstitions and their eradication, and had addressed over 3,000 public meetings. He had faced several threats, and even physical attacks, since 1983 but he always rejected police protection.
He once said, “If I have to take police protection in my own country from my own people, then there is something wrong with me, I am fighting within the framework of the Indian Constitution and it is not against anyone, but for everyone.”
In 2010, Dabholkar made several failed attempts to get an anti-superstition law enacted in the state of Maharashtra. Under his supervision, MANS drafted the Anti-Jaadu Tona Bill (Anti-Black Magic Bill). It was opposed by Hindu extremist organisations across the board. Political parties like the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Shiv Sena opposed it on the grounds that it would adversely affect Hindu culture, customs and traditions. Critics accused him of being anti-religion but he emphasised that the bill was not about religion but rather about preventing “fraudulent and exploitative practices” in its name.
A few weeks before his death, Dabholkar had complained that the Bill had not been discussed despite being tabled in seven sessions of the state assembly. He accused Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan of stifling progressive thought in the state. A day after Dabholkar’s murder, the Maharashtra Cabinet cleared the anti-black magic and superstition ordinance. However, the Parliament would still need to support the bill for it to become law.