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Reason under attack

Updated Aug 22, 2013 07:44am


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THE cowardly assassination of a leading rationalist near Mumbai on Tuesday is a grim reminder of the threat faced by those that question the brazen political patronage the Indian state bestows on vendors of blind faith and obscurantism.

The regressive tendencies have been honed and shepherded to align with the country’s already warped sense of nationalism. Together they threaten to coalesce into full-blown religious fascism.

The shooting of Dr Narendra Dabholkar during a routine morning walk near a Pune temple more than suggests India’s deepening flirtation with obscurantism. Right-wing parties and their centrist allies more and more see an ally in the widely televised ‘god-men’ and faith vendors, whose inflated prowess Dr Dabholkar and his many colleagues never failed to challenge.

Televised blind faith has become the preferred spearhead of social control, an antidote India’s rulers desperately need to thwart burgeoning political and economic crises.

Religion and its periodic ally, obscurantism, first found a proven net worth across India under colonialism. Both tendencies were invoked in 1857 to rally a predominantly feudal revolt against the mercantile-graduating-to-industrial might of the British government.

The British in turn were prompt to learn from it and used its full force to divide a life-threatening campaign against colonialism. Gandhi and Jinnah subsequently partook of it in their own ways. Mass illiteracy and widespread socio-economic insecurities have spawned many uses of blind faith in post-independence South Asia.

This reality is ensconced in the very development model of contemporary India, which remains trapped in social mores and beliefs from an ancient era.

In a global sense, the concept of the modern nation state is rooted in Europe’s economic transition from feudalism to mercantile and subsequently industrial capitalism; similarly, Dr Dabholkar’s brand of rationalism as a worldview was born from the abating of religious hegemony over vast tracts of society liberated from feudalism in Europe and later elsewhere.

When India’s ‘godless’ communists decried the backstage collaboration between Hindu and Muslim feudal interests, they perhaps presciently described their secret alliance as an aspect of “unity in obscurantism”.

The first task the post-colonial Indian state carried out to implement its newly crafted secular promise was to hand over the most insecure and potentially the most restive community, the Muslims, to the care of its religious leaders.

Loudly proclaimed Haj subsidies for Muslims were balanced with the deployment of paramilitary forces, the army and even diplomatic services to preserve and enhance the role of religion and blind faith in politics for a far wider constituency — the Hindus.

The foil to the anti-India Kashmiri upsurge, for example, was found in the state-backed Hindu pilgrimage, which, unlike the past, could no longer be completed without the army’s intervention.

The coming general elections look poised to be largely fought between a Hindu consolidation spurred by religious sadhus, in turn manipulated by their corporate minders (Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi for example) and Muslims whose every vote will count to tip the balance of power.

Blind faith and religious mobilisation is a major asset on both sides. Dr Dabholkar was trying to puncture this false consciousness from mainstream Indian politics and to remove the obscurantist mist the state uses to airbrush pervasive poverty and widespread lack of education among the masses.

Dr Dabholkar had set up a website — — to promote his spirit of an enlightened debate among Indians and to discard religious motifs from politics. He used a brilliant ploy to push his message of reason — quoting Albert Einstein, no less, in his support.

“I’m not an atheist and I don’t think I can call myself a pantheist. We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many different languages. The child knows someone must have written those books.

“It does not know how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books but doesn’t know what it is.”

Anecdotes from Dr. Dabholkar’s website illustrate his resolve of questioning blind faith and sociological quackery. He highlights Hindutva’s outlandish claim that the North Pole was originally located in India, on the border of Bihar and Orissa.

This, he says, was its leaders’ way of suggesting that the Aryans did not come to India from abroad, rather they spread out to the rest of the world from Bihar.

The government’s changing of history records was a cause of concern for Dr Dabholkar. Hindutva invariably seeks to prove that Mohenjodaro and Harappa had some Aryan culture.

“One mark of Aryan culture is horses, which they needed for travel and warfare. They found a horse’s bone near the site, so, it proves, they said, that they were Aryan settlements and that further proves that the Aryans are from here! However, when the bone was analysed, it was found to be only 200 years old!”

How did Hindutva historians discover a horse in Harappa? “In the sites, a statue of a bull-like creature with long hair and mane was found. They fed a picture of it into computers, and one computer concluded that it looks like a horse! So, they said, it is actually a statue of a horse, and so it proves that they were from Aryan civilisation!”

On measuring ‘true Hinduism’, Dr. Dabholkar cites the story from Andhra Pradesh, where, in some regions a girl is automatically married off to her mother’s brother as soon as she comes of age.

In North India such a practice would be considered despicable, and the offenders probably lynched. The question is, who is the true Hindu, the North Indians for condemning it, or the Andhraites for allowing it? It is evident that you could have to pay with your life for asking such questions these days.

The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (33) Closed

Pranav Aug 22, 2013 07:56am

What would have happened to a rationalist if he questioned muslim faith?

Satheesh Aug 22, 2013 08:00am

"In North India such a practice would be considered despicable, and the offenders probably lynched. The question is, who is the true Hindu, the North Indians for condemning it, or the Andhraites for allowing it? It is evident that you could have to pay with your life for asking such questions these days. " Very true as it has happened. The same is true if anyone questioned the Taliban too.

s.khan Aug 22, 2013 08:03am

What a shame and senseless loss of a valuable life. India needs many more Dr. Dhabolkar. Religion was supposed to develop human beings spiritually, morally and create social harmony. Alas, the opposite has happened. Shame on politicians who use religion to divide people and manipulate elections to gain power.

Rationalist Aug 22, 2013 10:34am

Wow! What a leap from a local isolated event to encompass the entire country. And how does the news that the Government of Maharasthra just banned superstition and irrational thin king as a result of this killing? Probably does not fit Mr. Naqvi's conspiracy theories and incessant anti-India sniping in all his weekly columns. Methinks he has an axe to grind. Peace!

Harish Aug 22, 2013 10:38am

This is a very sad incident and a shock for all of us in India....but what is more shocking is the writer has already concluded that the killers were from a particular religion and intention was to silence the anisuperstition law....also he has only spoken about "Hindu" blind faith....this is the same mindset the victim was fighting against. Writer should introspect and also write an article on Taslima Nasreen and Salman Rushdie....

amer zaffar Aug 22, 2013 12:10pm

Same happens in Pakistan

Doesn"t matter Aug 22, 2013 02:26pm

Anybody who is a believer in a "supernatural being" is technically a "superstitious" guy far removed from scientific thinking

Secondly, the anti superstition bill drafted by Dambholkar was enacted into law the very next day after Dambholkar's death. Can never imagine this happening in Pak.

atis Aug 22, 2013 02:25pm

The writer should look at the phenomenon that so called highly educated well meaning professionals after their long stay in USA( called modern cradle of industrial and scientific civilization) become highly communal after their return!This is the reason why our home grown Narendra Modi gets his insulin dose!

Concerned Aug 22, 2013 03:38pm

If even hindus are lynched over there, then thats so much for being the biggest democracy in the world.

Anand Aug 22, 2013 04:44pm

The author's inability to differentiate between social customs and traditions of a community and it's religious affiliation is astounding.

Anand Aug 22, 2013 04:47pm

@Pranav: Muslim faith is unquestionable. It's the final word and the only truth. Period.

rajiv Aug 22, 2013 05:28pm

Some people india could have done without being born in it.. author of this article is one of them... he is very good with his words all he has is his mind fixed in the wrong places... These are the educated muslims that actually hurt the image of regular everyday Indian who just happens to be a muslim...

Prakash Aug 22, 2013 06:06pm

Author should have also informed readers that after Dabholkar murder anti-superstition bill was passed for which he was fighting and all political party called for bundh and Present Chief Minister is vigourously trying to apprehend the assaillant.He was not against religion or God only supersition, which afflicts all religion.

Suresh Aug 22, 2013 06:30pm

There is no doubt that the murder of Dr Narendra Dabholkar has dealt a huge blow to India in the context of India being a secular democratic country in which freedom of speech is enshrined in the constitution. I am sure that the murderer will be brought to book without delay. However the author's view is highly exaggerated and he failed to point out the positives that have taken shape in India. He has presented certain trends as a general behavior of India. He talks of a Taliban like culture in India. I am not denying the fact there are a few organizations like Shiv sena who are trying to take advantage of religious sentiments of Hindus. They have support only in parts of Mumbai and a few places in North. In South people do not even know them. Since they are anti-Muslim in character their statements always carry animosity which is not accepted by 99% of the population. The author appears to be playing to the gallery.

zubi Aug 22, 2013 06:41pm

a grim reminder of the threat faced by those WHO question the brazen political patronage the Indian state bestows on vendors of blind faith and obscurantism.

Murthy Aug 22, 2013 07:15pm

"Reason" under attack in India. Is it worshipped in Pakistan?

DinLala Aug 22, 2013 08:11pm

It is surprising that only three people have commented so far. Usually there is a pack that follows Jawed Naqvi.

Akhter Rasool Aug 22, 2013 08:14pm


Islam can't be questioned. Islam was made complete by Prophet Muhammed (PBUH), questioning Islam is not allowd period. Please do not raise such absurd question.

Rishi Aug 22, 2013 08:42pm

Quite self contradictory and disappointing article by Mr. Naqvi. Referring to "true Hinduism" quote, Mr. Naqvi has not only maligned the death of an activist but also the very notion of India and has shamelessly branded all the pagan religion inferior. If he makes some effort on his research which he must, India has always been the land of vedas and spirituality, in no sacred text from India i find the word HINDU. One of the earliest written record of the word "Hindu" as the Indian subcontinent was made by the Arabic explorer Ibn Battuta in his book "Rihla". He was of Moroccan origin and had travelled the length and breadth of the Islamic civilization which included the North Africa, Middle East, the Indian subcontinent, Egypt and even parts of Indonesia. He described the Indian subcontinent as Al Hind as it is still referred to in Arabic. The notion of grouping the indigenous religions of India under a single umbrella term Hindu emerges as a result of various invasions in India bringing forth non-indigenous religions such as Islam to the Indian Subcontinent. Distortion and subterfuge against faith of a particular religion by questioning some regional/tribal act is blatant attack on entire community and associating them with political scenarios and painting them in communal colors would only disturb harmony Mr Naqvi, you are doing nothing but preaching hate, rather being a journalist and presenting facts you are forcing your say on people. Superstition is not unique to this region or country, it is widespread in whole world. You are being obscurantist yourself and defaming a whole set of religion collectively and better known as 'Hinduism', so please stop such irrelevant attacks on "Hindu" "Hindutva" "Hinduism". We the people, expect a lot more and much better from you.

observer Aug 22, 2013 08:44pm

The question is, who is the true Hindu, the North Indians for condemning it, or the Andhraites for allowing it?

Really? Is that the limit of your knowledge of Hinduism? Now tell me did you come across a 2nd Amendment or its like declaring the Telugu guys non-Hindu? You did not?

OK. Here is the deal. Hindus believe that there are innumerable paths to God and all of them are simultaneously true. I hope you are aware of basic things like Shaivites, Vaishnavas, Shakts, or different Schools of Yoga Dhyan, Gyan, Prem, Hath etc all of them different and all of them Hindu. So in essence as a Hindu, I do not kill, because you do not hold your ear while praying, like I do. I guess that is difficult for you to comprehend. No issues, even ignorance may be a valid way of reaching God. Who knows?

Silajit Aug 22, 2013 09:07pm

It amazes me how this writer lacks the most rudimentary analysis capabilities. The murder of Dabholkar is random and bizarre. It is not part of a trend and a gun related crime in Pune is almost unheard of. So until we figure out who or why someone had a grudge against him, this article that tries to draw conclusions and extensions is silly.

Silajit Aug 22, 2013 09:17pm

Another bothersome claim by the author is that "Hindutva" tries to prove Aryan origins.

While all kinds of personal opinions may claim centerstage, I'm curious who the writer talked to that claimed to be representing "Hindutva" these days. Was it Modi? Was it the head of the VHP? Is it the head of the RSS? Was it the Adi Shankaracharya of Puri?

Or did he run across consensus from 800 million people who each practice Hinduism in their own unique way? There is no concept of a "true" Hindu on the planet. So learn a little bit and hate a little less before writing an article that smacks of authority.

Caz Aug 22, 2013 10:31pm

All religions are man made belief systems founded on superstition. It is inner fear that propels people towards these superstitions.

Sunny Aug 23, 2013 12:44am

@Satheesh: hahaha typical of indians always cover up their problems with an anti-Pakistan statement. Please learn something from Dr. Dabholkar and instead of maligning Pakistan with personality attacks use intelligent arguments. ad-hominen

Zak Aug 23, 2013 03:23am

@Harish: Wrong- taslima and Rushdie were insulting and demeaning the religion. Dholbakar was debating and questioning it- big difference. As for assassins, the murdered Indian gentleman had received death threats from the RSS and shiv sena goons a day before.

aditya Aug 23, 2013 03:40am

i believe that happens in pakistan, in every street, every town, every hill, every valley, every park, every school, every village, every city, every county, every tree, every blade of grass Every Single Day..forgive our

aditya Aug 23, 2013 03:40am

india is a secular country NOT a hindu one..we tend to respect other peoples way of thinkin and live and let live.

aditya Aug 23, 2013 03:45am

@Pranav: Literally torn apart to pieces in full view of the cops the politicians the public the media the rangers the army by a mob of illiterate crazed raving lunatics screaming allah u akbar and no one would do a thing or say stop and most certainly forget about it the next day like it never happened..India passed a law the very next day..dandanah..

krishnan Aug 23, 2013 04:13am

By mentioning the Hindu right, I do not think Naqvi is justifying Muslim fundamentalism. only referring to the one with the motive, as Dabhlokar questioned Hindu beliefs .Obviously a Muslim Dabholkar will also suffer the same fate in the sub continent from the Salafists et all.

observer Aug 23, 2013 12:49pm

The question is, who is the true Hindu, the North Indians for condemning it, or the Andhraites for allowing it? It is evident that you could have to pay with your life for asking such questions these days.

And in the South of India they eat Sambar-Bhat and Dahi-Bhat and in Punjab they have Daal-Roti so who is a true Hindu?

People in Quetta and Karachi are being blown away for asking this question.


IndianInUS Aug 23, 2013 06:47pm

@Akhter Rasool: Please think for yourself. If others deem it worthy of questioning who are you to stop them? I am not questioning Islam in particular, but it must seem odd that one person claimed to have heard something and it soon became a right of rule.

IndianInUS Aug 23, 2013 06:49pm

@Concerned: People are lynched all over the world. I condemn the attack as much as anyone else but what does democracy have to do with lynching? Are you saying no crimes are committed in democracies?

raja hindustani Aug 24, 2013 10:27am

@Jawed Sa'ab: I totally support there shouldn't be any superstition in the name of religion. But I think religion itself kind of superstition. Nobody have seen God but still we all believe and worship God. (Sorry, if I am sounding blasphemous) Religion is all about can not bring rationality in any religion. If we start thinking rationally, than all the religion are human made and all the religious books are written by human only not by GOD. Still these books are sacred to us. Why..?? We humans evolved from Adam & Eves or through evolution. Is earth is flat and center of universe as suggested by our religious book. Have you tried to question this...???