Disappointment over government’s inability to trace the killers of rationalist

A lone policeman sits guarding Narendra Dabholkar's house in Satara district. But, for his family the initial shock has given way to pain and disappointment over the Maharashtra government’s inability to trace the killers even after 15 days the rationalist was murdered.

“The government has failed us. We had faith in the social system of this country. By not being able to nab his killers till now, and more importantly, by letting such forces exist in the first place, the State has put its failure on display,” Shaila, a gynaecologist and Dabholkar's wife told The Hindu on Wednesday. “How can the police and politicians guarantee that people are safe? How many people can ask for protection while speaking out their minds?,” she asked.

Asked whether they were satisfied with the government’s move to pass the anti- superstition legislation, his son Hamid, a psychiatrist said, “The Anti superstition and Black magic Ordinance was passed the very next day after his murder. But, we paid a hefty price for it. This is not just our story: the common man is caught between incompetent politicians and the fear of his life.”

Pointing to political parties that align themselves with specific religions, Mr. Hamid said that they too, have failed in coming forward to condemn forces that attack reason and rationalist thought. “It is important that people and groups who call themselves religious take a stance against such a violent attack. It needs to be declared that no religion stands by such heinous acts,” he said.

Dabholkar's life and death should serve as an example for the future, Dr. Shaila believes. “The family of activists that Doctor has left behind shows that there is tremendous backing for a voice of reason. This should go as a message for people to elect responsible men and women,” she said.

Though rationalism was a way of life for Dabholkar, he was aware that the struggle between emotions and reason was a long one. “His work was never limited to eradicating blind faith. He wanted to make his people aware of irrationality in all forms: be it alcoholism, gender inequality, or environmental damages,” he said. Dr. Shaila said that he believed in making scientific temperament easy to access. “Just ask: Why, how, where and who, and you will know how to lead your life,” she said.

Threats were a part and parcel of their life, Dr. Shaila said. Every rally organised by him to spread awareness of the anti-superstition law was met with resistance by religious groups. “We were used to threats, but we never imagined it could go to this limit. We never thought some people would want to kill a person who did good work. The faith we had in the society is slipping away,” she said. Living with threats, the Dabholkar family had their own way of dealing with them.

Recollecting one of the earliest incidents three decades ago, Dr. Shaila said, “Doctor was working on a case on land rights of Dalits and was away at night. I got a phone call saying that his body will be found in pieces in a gunny bag if he continues his work. Doctor returned at 1 am that night, but I never told him about the phone call.” That threats are mere provocations, and it's better to not pay heed to them, was a shared sentiment.

“We got married with the commitment that we would work for society. I was idealistic and I found the right partner,” she said, talking of the relationship they had. “People think that as I wife I had expectations, as children they had demands. But our efforts were always towards ensuring that he got maximum time for his work. We were activists first, and family later,” she said.