Naseer Memon | January 1, 2013 | Published in The Express Tribune.
What Dr Narendra Dabholkar could not accomplish after years of campaigning, his body did even before its cremation. State Cabinet of Maharashtra approved the law to proscribe superstition and black magic on the next day of his grisly murder. The law remained in cold storage for more than eight years after it was approved by the cabinet but could not see the light of day and lapsed. The law seeks to make it punishable for self-styled godmen to prey on people by offering rituals, charms, magical cures and propagating black magic. Dabholkar laid down his life for this landmark legislation, not too exorbitant a deal for a person whose glow would eclipse moons in the skies of human history.
Dr Dabholkar, a septuagenarian crusader for rationality, was silenced by a sanctimonious brigade during his morning stroll on August 20, 2013. It was not an ordinary murder. The assassinated rationalist was an extraordinary soul who relentlessly campaigned for a law against superstition and black magic in India for years. His campaign riled extremist Hindu groups who charged him with apostasy and termed him “anti-Hindu”. His murder sent a shockwave among peace lovers and people who promote rationality in society. The grisly incident reminded such people of their vulnerability across the globe. Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, who attended Dr Dabholkar’s funeral in his native place in Satara, likened him with Mahatma Gandhi and compared the murder to the assassination of Gandhi.
A man of virtues, charged with apostasy; breathed and died for a cause to liberate human minds from the shackles of blind faith. His family presented the most befitting posthumous accolade by upholding his mission and decided not to scatter his ashes into water as the apostle of rationality believed that immersing ashes of the dead pollutes water bodies. His soul must have found eternal ecstasy that his family decided to scatter his ashes on his farm where his wife Shaila practices organic horticulture.
Human history is full of evidences that blind faith never tolerates logic and rationale. Dogmatism has an innate propensity to subjugate pragmatism. Orthodoxy in every religion adopted such a course. Muslim clergy of Spain did not spare 12th century Muslim scholar Ibn-e-Rushd. He was a polymath, possessing mastery on Aristotelian philosophy, Islamic philosophy, Islamic theology, Maliki law and jurisprudence, logic, psychology, politics, Arabic music theory, and the sciences of medicine, astronomy, geography, mathematics, physics and celestial mechanics. He challenged clerics for their literal practice by claiming that philosophers had better sense to understand Quranic allegory through lenses of logic. Not just Islamic clergy but Catholic Church was equally snarled by his writings on rationalism that sneaked into European borders from Spain. He was reviled as a heathen.
Similarly, Jewish proselytizers loathed Moses Maimonides (M?s? ibn Maym?n in Arabic). Moses, a great Jewish philosopher and a friend of Ibn-e-Rushd, joined the ranks striving to reconcile religions with reason. He defied Jewish orthodoxy by writing that “If one has the means to provide either the lamp for one’s household or the Chanukah (a Jewish festival) lamp, the household lamp takes precedence”. Orthodoxy barreled its ire towards him and his books were burned publicly.
Europe liberated itself from clutches of blind faith some eight centuries ago. Dabholkars of Europe paid no lesser price either. When Copernicus challenged the geo-centrism of Ptolemy with his heliocentric interpretation of universe, he actually challenged the self-proclaimed divine wisdom of Church. Nicolaus Copernicus was a mathematician and astronomer who placed the Sun, rather than the Earth, at the centre.
Likewise Italian philosopher Giordano Bruno went beyond the Copernican model: he proposed the Sun was essentially a star, and that the universe contained an infinite number of inhabited worlds populated by other intelligent beings. Bruno actually revealed the continuum of universe, which provoked ire of the clergy. Roman Inquisition charged him with blasphemy and he was burnt at stake.
Much adored heroine of France Joan of Arc who led the French army to several important victories during the Hundred Years, War, was put on trial for charges of “insubordination and heterodoxy” and was burned at the stake for heresy when she was only 19 years old. Twenty-five years after her execution, an inquisitorial court revisited the trial and pronounced her innocent. The court declared her a martyr. Later, she was beatified in 1909 and even canonized in 1920.
Countless courageous Dabholkars have been protecting the liberty of human minds through their audacious struggle and heroic battles. Spiraling extremism is an accelerating challenge for rationality in every domain of life. Obscurantist elements are bent upon enslaving human minds and seeking to shape a world where rationale should be subservient to faith. Rationalists like Dabholkar are considered more dangerous than guns and arsenal and therefore eliminated brutally.
Whereas the war between rationale and faith is as old as human society is, its recent manifestations are more complex. Political economy of faith has added new dimensions to human society. It has transformed from a banal matter of individual worship to a complex web of militarised political and economic interests. Millions of simpletons are made fodder of this endless insane war. Both faith and counter-faith have been used as a fig-leaf to conceal nefarious motives such as controlling natural resources and dominating regional and global power structures.
Forces fighting wars in the name of faith and protection of peace often pursue their ulterior motives. Warriors, most of them in their innocence, are hoodwinked and become fuel for the fire. Since dogma dominates their minds and does not allow altruism to nest in their cerebrum, they turn malevolent.
Extremism either in the name of faith or peace has emerged as a serious peril for human society. Societal needs of billions of people are being heavily compromised due to resource drain on wars and illusive security. Conventional security demands are becoming predator for real human security agenda. Millions languishing in hunger, illiteracy, morbidity and unemployment are left with crumbs to crawl with. Human development agenda has been eclipsed by security priorities, which will logically perpetuate extremism and violence. National budgets are heavily skewed in favour of security demands and vital areas of health, drinking water and education are left starving.
From foreign policy to trade and investment, every policy domain revolves around security mania. Regional alliances have also veered their focus towards cooperation for security and not for human development in the member countries. Faith and fear have emerged as defining factors and rationale no more guides the decision making process.
The real crisis in today’s world is not security but the dominance of faith and the ensuing fear. When decision-making process becomes a function of fear and faith rather than rationale, it will only multiply the prevalent crisis.
In this context, Dabholkar’s murder is not just a crime but actually an assault on rationalism. What should prevail; logic or faith is the ultimate battle of human societies. It will not be unfounded to insinuate that the Homo sapiens will relegate to Chimpanzees if rationale is trounced.
The writer is Chief Executive of Strengthening Participatory Organization-SPO; firstname.lastname@example.org)