Transcription: Sushil Dhaskate. English Translation by Suman Oak
My father was the editor of 'Tarun Bharat' published from Belgaum during the Independence Movement of 1942. Along with his responsibilities as editor of the paper, he also participated in the freedom struggle. He was not lucky enough to have an enjoyable childhood like most people. But unlike many others, despite an unhappy childhood, he was very kind and concerned about other people and had a very positive attitude towards the world. During the freedom struggle many stalwarts like Nath Pai had gone underground; many were put behind the bars. My father remained out of jail but took upon himself the responsibility of assisting these underground and incarcerated freedom fighters to overcome the tough time. He used to arrange for their food; collect money from sympathisers of the struggle and give it to the families of the freedom fighters; console their families and help them as much as possible.
Growing in a Joint Family:
(In Marathi we generally address our Father and Mother as Baba and Ai. We shall use these endearing terms hereafter.)
Ai comes from Goa. My maternal uncle's children had to be sent to Belgaum for education as Goa was a Portuguese colony at that time. They were of the same age as were I and my siblings. Some children of relatives from my father's side were also with us. So, in all we were about 12 children being brought up at the same time, in our small house in Belgaum. We had just three rooms in our house. We did feel the paucity of many things, but we all grew with friendliness and kindness towards each other. For my mother and father, every one of us was their own child and we children too treated each other's cousins as their own siblings without discriminating between “us” and “them”. This same childhood feeling of being one unified family is still alive in our hearts. Some of us children studied in Marathi Medium Schools and others in English Medium Schools. Baba felt that I was able to express myself rather well and will benefit more from an English Medium School. So he put me in St. Joseph's Convent School. He had to struggle hard to make ends meet but he always provided enough for educating all of us. Baba and Ai never mentioned or gave us even an inkling of how much they had to strive.
At the beginning of the 21st century and the new millennium, everyone is aware of the need to be able to think with an open mind and to lead a rational life. Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti (MANS) or (Maharashtra Blind faith Eradication Committee) is a voluntary organization working through 200 branches located in rural and urban Maharashtra, Belgaum in Karnataka and Goa. It dose not receive foreign or government funding. It’s a People's movement working solely on support of the people and for the people.
Maharashtra has a long legacy of rationalist social reformers who always took an objective and informed stand against superstition. The constitution of India has stipulated adoption of scientific outlook as one of the responsibilities of every Indian and has included it as a value to be inculcated through education. MANS has resolved to further this rational legacy through purposeful activities and programmes. This work can be characterized as follows:
+To cultivate scientific attitude, scepticism, humanism and critical thinking among the people
+To oppose harmful superstitions, which exploit people.
+To cultivate rationalistic moral values, humanism and create a just society.
+To encourage constructive analysis of religious traditions and customs.
+To agitate against harmful superstitions and rituals and suggest useful alternatives to some.
+To help and work with other social reform organizations.
1 Nov 1945 – 20 Aug 2013
Dr. Narendra Dabholkar was born on 1st Nov. 1945,in Satara,a small city about 100 km away from Pune. He studied in the New English School of Satara,then in Willingdon College in Sangali and did his MBBS from the Medical College in Miraj.
In his college days, he was the captain of the Kabaddi team of the Shivaji University.He represented India against Bangladesh in a Kabaddi tournament. He won the most prestigious Chatrapati Shivaji Krida Puraskar for Kabaddi from the government of Maharashtra, twice during this period.
After obtaining MBBS degree, he practiced medicine as a general practitioner for nearly 12 years, gave up his practice and became a social activist.To begin with he joined the movement- "one village-one source of drinking water" started by Baba Adhav, a leader of the movement for social justice and equality.He also participated in the movement of renaming Marathwada University as Babasaheb Ambedkar Marathwada University for which he was jailed during the agitation.
In 1983 he started working for eradication of superstition. In 1989 along with other like-minded people, he founded the Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti (MANS). He was the Executive President of MANS right from its commencement in 1989 up to 2010.In 2010 he handed over the charge to Mr Avinash Patil who is the present executive President of MANS, while Dr. Dabholkar was designated the Founder President. The Chairman of MANS is Mr N.D. Patil.
During the past 30 years Dr. Dabhokar has written a number of books on various aspects of superstition and its eradication, as also on inculcation of scientific temper in society and for this, he has given thousands of speeches .He organized innumerable campaigns to confront and expose hundreds of Babas, Buvas, Tantriks, Mantriks, Ammas,Matas and Bogus Doctors and brought them to books. He led many agitations against various forms of Superstition,including Pseudoscience, inhuman practices to cure diseases and pretending to drive away ghosts possessing the victims, animal sacrifice in temples and pollution of water and air.
Although Dr Dabholkar had come to symbolise Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti, it was not the only cause, he was dedicated to. He had a multitasking ability. Besides ANS, he was the editor of the Weekly Sadhana started by Sane Guruji; he established a de-addiction institution named 'Parivartan' at Satara; he founded along with other like-minded friends 'Saamaajik Kritadnyataa Nidhee' (Social Gratitude Fund), a trust to show gratitude and offer financial support to deserving social workers.
Being a great orator with a photographic memory, he could quote from many Sants like Dnyaneshwar and Tukaram to modern poets like Kusumagraj and Padgaonkar. He had a vision, at once microscopic and macroscopic. He could connect with ordinary people as well as intellectuals with equal ease.
Dr. Dabholkar always kept his cool; he did not react to criticism or threats; several suits were filed against him in various courts, all over India. Many abuses were heaped on him by his adversaries but he refused to file any defamation case against them; he went on with his own work undisturbed and came out of all the law suits unscathed eventually.
He was well aware of the risk involved in exposing the godmen and their so called miracles. He refused police protection offered to him because by accepting police protection for his own person he did not want to endanger the lives of his colleagues. He had received open threats from his enemies that they would soon make him another Gandhi. On August 20th they finally succeeded in extinguishing this flame and plunged all of us into darkness. But only for a short while; for multitudes have now united together to fight irrationality in all fields; the government promulgated an ordinance "Maharashtra Prevention and Eradication of Human Sacrifice and other Inhuman, Evil and Aghori Practices and Black Magic''which act the government has kept pending for several years. He had initiated the bill over 18 years ago and struggled to get it passed in the Maharashtra State Assembly for the past 14 years. Now people and politicians from other states are demanding a similar law in their state. The best accolade to Dr. Dabholkar's memory would be the eventual triumph of Rationality.
Dr. Dabholkar comes from a big family of highly cultured and educated intellectuals. His wife Shaila, his son Hamid (the name is suggestive enough of his outlook) and his daughter in law are all doctors. His daughter, Mukta is a social worker.
Dabholkar's reflections on Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti's and his own work .
Dabholkar was requested to write about his past experience and achievements in the Deepavali issue of the Magazine called 'Shabda' (word) . About 8 eminent persons wrote about their experiences and achievement under the Title 'A Look Back'. Here is the English translation of his article, written in Marathi, in this connection, in July 2007.
A Never Ending Journey
The editor of a magazine asked me to write an article for a section titled "Looking back at the past''. It was also mentioned in the letter that some other renowned and extraordinary individuals were invited to write in this section. I did feel flattered by this sentence. It also suggested that I was expected to write on 'what I am known for'. Every now and then, whenever I meet unfamiliar people, I come to know what I am known for. It's true that for the last 20 years, I have been active in the movement for Eradication of Superstition. But it is also true that for the last 10 years, I am the editor of 'Weekly Sadhana' a weekly started by Saneguruji and I must mention that this weekly has been progressing in all respects since then. Even then if I come across 100 newly acquainted people, 95 out of them seem to equate Dabholkar and Eradication of Superstition. Most of them have not heard of 'Sadhana' and therefore Sadhana does not make any sense to them. In fact I have reached this stage of eminence and reputation not just by tracking a customary reliable road but by trying many untrodden paths too. For example, I was a national and international Kabbaddi player. There is only one book in Marathi giving a detailed and systematic account of Kabbaddi as a sport; and that book is written by me. I was honoured with the "Shivachatrapati Kreeda Puraskar" the highest award for Kabbaddi. I have enjoyed being on the Kabbaddi ground in various capacities as sports organizer, sports column writer and commentator for as many as 20 years. The same can be said about the weekly Sadhana. Along with Eradication of Superstition, I have founded a big institution for deaddiction, which has helped a number of addicts. But the editors, I feel, do not want me to 'look back' on any of these endeavours of mine. One reason, I can think of is that people from all walks of life, of all ages, rich and poor, educated and uneducated, men and women, all have a certain inquisitive interest regarding faith and superstition. ANiS (movement for Eradication of Superstition), I believe, stirs this interest and links up with them. The feudalist psyche still lingers among the people of our country. People admire and respect the individual more than his organization; and therefore have equated Narendra Dabholkar with Eradication of Superstition. That seems to be the reason why I am invited to write about my past experience.
Conviction and continuity are two aspects that distinguish individuals like us from the crowd; so does the editor believe. She goes a step further and elaborates, 'conviction means not just intellectual clarity; it should, move the heart along with the intellect and create a moral thrust compelling action.
I must admit that no such thing has happened in my case. I did my M.B.B.S. and started medical practice and social work- a small organization, 'Samajvadi Yuvak Dal'- along with it with the help of some likeminded friends. Many such small groups called action groups mushroomed in Maharashtra during the 70s and 80s. They mushroomed, glittered for a while and disappeared. So did our Samajavadi Yuvak Dal. It started in 1971 and breathed its last in 1982. We would not like to call this extinction. So we decided to merge with the movement, 'Samata Andolan'. In about two years this endeavour too came to a halt. This was the time when the work of Eradication of Superstition began. It was B. Premanand's crusade for promotion of science all over Maharashtra that set it off. B.Premanand led one group in the larger crusade 'Vidnyan Yatra' planned by many organizations for promotion of science. Miracles that the self styled godmen perform and we now regularly duplicate in all villages, were first demonstrated by B.Premanand. Huge crowds gathered to see them. I sensed that this kind of work can take root in Maharashtra and prove quite useful. But it did not occur to me that I was the one who should take the initiative. Rashtra Seva Dal was a prominent group in the organizing committee of the science promotion expedition. I requested the head of the committee to take up this work. They did not consider it of much importance. In those days I was not occupied as I had given up my medical practice and my organization too had come to an end. People are on the lookout for such unoccupied individuals and recruit them immediately. However, I did not come across anyone who would utilize me. So putting the work and the free time together, I started it of my own accord. There wasn't any incident that could have jolted me into this work as people imagine. In fact of my friends did not approve of my way as an activist. Some of them don't approve it even now. They think I am wasting my time in demonstrating miracles. So this is all about my convictions.
The second point made by the editor, viz, continuity applies to me pretty well. But again this continuity has not been caused by any dedication to the work on my part. Continuity seems to be my stable attitude since my childhood. While in school, I was a member of the Kreeda Mandal. I used to religiously visit Kreeda Mandal every evening, all 365 days of the year. I used to sprinkle water on the ground and carry out all similar menial jobs there. During these days I did not even once loitered on the streets of Satara or go to a 6 o'clock cinema show. Again when I was selected to be the editor of Sadhana, ANiS movement was running in full speed. So those who entrusted Sadhana to me were somewhat apprehensive of whether I will be able to dispatch the issue every Tuesday for printing, get the binding of printed issue done on Wednesday, and post all the copies on Thursday before 12 noon, week after week without fail. A break in this practice amounted to inviting a disaster. Would it be possible considering my tight schedule of crisscrossing rural and urban Maharashtra? But this is a story of the past. It is now ten years in which period 500 issues of Sadhana have been released without breaching any of the above routine.
The editor also suggested that I should look back on my writing and speak about cautiousness, anxiety, pride, amusement in the past that is expressed in it. Now, it is natural to harbour some pride in mind; but no anxiety and not a trace of pondering over the past. It's simply not my nature. Many awards have come my way and a few of them are very precious- for example, I was given the 'Best Activist of the Decade' award with a prize money of Rs.10 lakhs by the Maharashtra Foundation of America, last year. But not a single award, including this one is preserved in my home. I don't possess that kind of mind that muses over the past. Cautiousness, however, I do possess. You may call it restraint or temperance. I never adopted a do or die stance on the playground or in my social work. So in my case, earlier conjectures that all the surrounding systems falling flat or proving wrong did not occur. May be, I never undertake any big deals or put all at stake. So I never lose everything. I do not believe in tough belligerent action, which is not my nature. I believe in perseverance and adopting pure and clean means to achieve the goals and that is my method of work.
I had no experience of having been insulted, deeply enough to touch the core of my heart. I don't believe anybody can do that to me. At times I might have felt a little upset, sad or disappointed by the behaviour of someone facing me; but I never felt insulted nor was I scared because of the threats heaped on me. Narendra Maharaj has instigated people in his public speeches to sever my limbs from my body; accused me of accepting bribe from Christian Missionaries for destroying the Hindu religion. The Shivasena and BJP MLAs have demanded banning of ANiS and my expulsion from Maharashtra state in the legislative assembly. Whenever news papers or channels asked me for my reaction to it, I would only say, 'oh god of their faith, forgive them, for they do not understand what they are speaking.' I fasted for ten days so that the anti black magic bill be passed. What was expected did not happen. When caught in such an impasse, many are perplexed. Who will take the initiative to end the fast and how? Who should speak vehemently at that occasion, etc. But I did not need any of these gimmicks. It was me who started the fast; so it was up to me alone to end it and so I ended it. That is all. Many people asked me, 'Aren't you frustrated that for no reason the bill is being postponed for the last 16 years?' Of course I am disappointed at this delay; but at the same time I am well aware of its limitations and the precincts within which we can put it to use. So neither was I hurt to the core by this inexcusable delay; nor could I be provoked into some strong reaction to win. In the field where I am engaged one has to measure the success of his work not in terms of decades but in terms of centuries.
Thus there were no insults; the honours and tributes, I honestly think, were more than what I really deserve. I know that any decision taken hastily in an inattentive moment can cause a lot of damage, especially in such a sensitive field where I work. So far I have been able to avoid blunders. But it can happen any time because of the sensitivity of the field of work and the shrewdness of my opponents. Just one example: "In Shanishinganaapur the houses do not have doors and miraculously no robbery occurs there. Since you don't believe in miracles what can you say about this?'', asked one news paper representative. I said, "robbing (in that place) will be our responsibility and punishment is that of god; neither the police nor the residents should be allowed to interfere. Under these conditions this phenomenon can be tested.'' Actually this was a purely confidential response to his question given in jest. But the news agent got it printed with a sneaky title, Dabholkar says, he is going to lead a movement, 'let us go to Shanishinganapur and steal.' The whole of Nagar district was agog and we had to suffer the consequence.
I am now 62 years old, but I have yet not experienced fatigue. Our movement is not really robust enough, at times the feeling of hopelessness lurks in the mind. The ups and downs, anger and kindness seen in all movements, occur in our movement too. But I have never experienced the utter exhaustion that the editor was talking about. In short both enchantment and later on its disenchantment have remained away from me. I have no experience of insults, blunders, fatigue, confusion, etc. and on the contrary received honour and recognition much beyond what I really deserve.
The editor also asked me, "When you feel utterly tired who do you think of and who revives your energy and strengthens your resolve to march forward?'' There is no question of tiredness in my case as I said earlier. However my own limitations are becoming more and more obvious. I can't see any way of widening and increasing the scope of my mission remaining true to it at the same time. Nor do I see anybody who can guide me. The only exception is Mahatma Gandhi. This great man has beckoned me time and again. But my study of Gandhian ways is practically nil. Despite this I feel assured that his thoughts and deeds will help me break out of this deadlock. This old man seemingly so simple and easy is actually very difficult to comprehend; adopting his ways is still more difficult. The moderate man in me is simply incapable of giving up all that I have achieved so far and mustering the courage to follow the path led by him. So be it. However as the editor wants me to look back at this stage. Hence I put my pen to paper here. Whether I have been able to do justice to the topic is left to the readers to decide.
Eradication of Superstition is not a new thought for the people of Maharashtra. It stands on the firm foundation laid down by our social reformers. But the awakening that occurred then ceased after independence. The magazine Kirloskar had conducted a very successful movement during 1935 to 1945, against Buvabaji and on the other hand against false notions regarding god and religion. Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar was thoroughly examining the contents of the Hindu religion. Sant Gadage Baba held discourses with the masses on reform in thinking- an important constituent of which was superstition. All this practically came to a halt by 1956. There was also another thought that superstition will be automatically eradicated as education becomes available spreading science and modernization in free India. The thought opposite to this was gaining strength gradually and in the 70s and 80s the sale of the magazine 'Shri' rose to lakhs and above. This magazine showed so called real photos of ghosts, and the jewel Chintamani that gave a bit of gold every day. Many such unbelievable stories were published and became interesting topics of discussions. In such an atmosphere, B.Premanand, a rationalist from Kerala toured the length and breadth of Maharashtra. He held many demonstrations in which he inserted a trident through his tongue; ignited fire by chanting Mantras, captured a ghost into a pot, obtained a golden chain waving his hand in the thin air, etc. Even today, people are smitten by miracles. Here it should be noted that demonstration of the miracles is not the same as magic shows. A magician brings all his gadgets and instruments and presents his tricks. A Baba does not bring things with him but gets them from his hosts. He takes some red Kumkum powder from the household he visits and turns it into black powder called Bukka or yellow turmeric powder. The magician presents his art; the godman demonstrates his supernatural powers. People's fondness for miracles help in building an organization. However ANiS has always taken precaution to keep miracles away from the work of eradication of Superstition.
Performing miracles was and still is a strong point for Samiti but superstition of all kinds is the main subject of study and work for ANiS. Samiti has unravelled many puzzles like automatic movements by objects, clothes getting torn or catching fire spontaneously, signs of marking nut appearing on the body, etc.; examined the phenomena of possession by a deity or ghost and provide psychological explanation of what these things are and why do they occur. Samiti also proved that astrology is not a science when scientific criteria are applied. It exposed different forms of Buvabaji and provided a sociological appraisal of it. People are extremely eager to know all about such occurrences happen. This helped the Samiti to make a place for itself in their hearts.
Samiti, at its own risk, critically examines faith and superstition. One man's faith appears to be a superstition to another man and what seems to be a sheer superstition to the third one, happens to be the firm unfaltering faith of the fourth man. It is not at all easy to keep a public discourse alive in such matters. Such churning of thoughts is now possible in Samiti's activities. Faith is inevitably related to religious faith in the first place. So eradication of superstition is made to look like eradication of religious faith and a battle against god and religion. It is argued that ''if god and religion are scrutinized, morality supported by religion will collapse and so will the society that has lost the support of morality. So beware of eradication of superstition for it is in fact eradication of morality''. We have adequately dealt with this constant propaganda against us and have dug our heels in.
Every Indian citizen is bound to adopt Scientific Outlook as is stipulated in our constitution. It is an important value in education. However not only the common man but even those who work in the field of education have no clear idea as to what is Scientific Outlook. Samiti has undertaken the work of explaining scientific outlook to the people in the language they understand and propagating it among them.
It is enough work for any organization to deal with issues like different types of superstition, the psychology that produces them, faith and superstition, scrutinizing god-religion-morality and propagation of scientific outlook. But the coherent thought emerging out of it, logically leads further to rationalism, secularism, eradication of caste system and social justice. Samiti has already moved forward in this direction. In short the process that started with the fascination for miracles has now reached up to all boundaries of all-embracing and far-reaching social change. I am not aware if any Indian organization engaged in this kind of work has made so much progress as ANiS did.
The strength of our work lies not in its thinking and philosophical stand but in its day to day activities and the various innovative plans and programmes it organizes. The programmes in the list that follows are of course carried out by all workers together; but I participate in all of them personally and carefully watch them. Samiti has systematically devised a method of detecting the incidents of Bhanamati, discovering its origin and causes, giving psychological support to the person who causes it and finally putting an end to the fearful occurrences. Samiti has successfully tackled and stopped 250 incidents of Bhanamati without a single failure. In hundreds of confrontations against the godmen our activists have put their lives at stake and made the godmen wind up their business. The Dakin custom prevailing in the Adivasi areas -where an unlucky woman is accused of causing all the ills that occur in the village and branded Dakin, is harassed and at times killed- is caused by superstition and vested interests. Samiti began a movement against this evil, three years back, in Nandurbar District. At that time people's movements, NGOs working in that area, administration all were convinced that the Dakin Custom is so deeply rooted in the minds of the Adivasis that confronting it will provoke their wrath. Samiti did not deter from its goal and initiated a movement against this cruel custom. It has reached a stage where it can confidently spread this movement to ten other Adivasi areas in Maharashtra. The challenge to miracle mongering godmen to perform miracle under scientific conditions, initially was one lak rupees. This amount is steadily increasing. The prize money of ten lak rupees that I received last year for "Best Activist of the Decade'' is added to this fund. The sum now stands at 21 laks. Along with direct confrontations, Samiti undertakes many other movements so that people can mentally prepared to accept change. I fully and wholeheartedly participated in all such movements. One movement ''Shodh bhutaacha, Bodh manacha'' (searching for the ghost, enlightening the mind) was conducted in the Konkan area. Four groups performed, in all 167 programmes and we reached 3lak people through them. Another movement was ''Chamatkaar Satyashodhan Yatra'' challenging all godmen to perform miracle under scientific conditions. The Yatra (pilgrimage) covered whole of Maharashtra twice. In Goa, Belgaon, and Konkan area ''Sarpa Yatra'' was conducted to educate people regarding snakes and first aid for snakebites and to remove their superstitions regarding snakes. The Bhanamati in Marathwada is of a different type. There the afflicted women huff and puff and bark like dogs. At times many women together start huffing and puffing and barking. In the unbearably hot month of May, we literally combed whole of Marathwada in 8 groups performing 250 programmes to attack this menace of Bhanamati. We could not put a full stop to it but the number of incidents has reduced greatly.
The ''Vaidnyaanik Janiva Prakalpa'' is meant to educate teachers in eradication of superstition. Workshops are held to train teachers in a regular curriculum to be taught to their students. Teachers teach the content to the students and give them a test. About 10,000 teachers and 3,00,000 students have benefitted from this project. Samiti has assembled 'Vidnyaan Bodh Vahini' (science education on wheels) which is equipped with all that is required for science education. Where ever this van reaches, it becomes a festival time for students. This programme has been quite successful in Adivasi Ashram schools.
Samiti has conducted many conferences, at various places in Maharashtra. Samiti wants that the government give up its pro liqueur producer policy and adopt a policy of total deaddiction in its place. Our second demand is that the test for HIV positive/negative be made mandatory before marriage. The appeal for these demands, signed by 100,000 people was presented to the then chief minister, Sushilkumar Shinde, all in vain as expected. Samiti is spread in 180 branches all over Maharashtra. Since or programmes intended to awaken people always have a silver line of entertainment, so they are much in demand. As every branch organizes about 10-12 programmes every year the total number reaches 2000.
ANiS' line of reasoning requires a proper grip on the subject with sound and coherent argument. If your fluent oratory and honest concern reaches hearts of the people it becomes very effective. I have myself benefitted a lot from all these boons. In the last 20 years, I must have given thousands of lectures. On many such occasions the lecture is followed by a question-answer session. More often the questions are intended more to expose Dabholkar than to satisfy curiosity. They try to trap me. But so far they have not succeeded. So far there has not been even a single occasion when I was not able to answer a question relevant to the subject at hand and they could not trap me. I had to answer many crooked questions asked on different channels in various programmes and many people feel that I have given them fitting answers. The programmes of open tête-à-tête between Dr. Lagu and myself became especially popular. The stand Dr. Lagu adopted was that God is the initial superstition that spawns the whole lot of other superstitions. So unless you strike at god eradicating superstitions is not possible. I too am an atheist but my stand is not so hard hitting like that of Dr. Lagu. And the Samiti believes that it is not necessary to be an atheist in order to participate in the work of eradicating superstition. Samiti is neutral as far as god and religion are concerned. Dr. Lagu calls it escapism. I feel that Samiti's stand is in consonance with the secularist stand adopted in our constitution. 100 such programmes of conversations between myself and Dr. Lagu stimulated ability of reasoning in many listeners. The Maharashtra Vidhan Sabha have passed bill against Black Magic. Yet it has not become a law. Vested interests are busy opposing it for one reason or another and in misleading people through their vicious propaganda. These people have approached the government and requested them to ban me from speaking on the law. Samiti wants that animal sacrifice in front of deities in public view be banned. To stop this senseless killing of animals Samiti organized over 150 Satyagrahas at various places. To grant entry to women at the Shani Shinganapur Devasthan I participated in the Yatra and Satyagraha and was imprisoned for it with many of my colleagues.
Each year in Maharashtra, at least one crore families install a Ganesh idol in their houses. These idols made of plaster of Paris and painted with poisonous chemical colours are immersed in flowing water, and start a chain of environmental destruction. To avoid it Samiti accepts Ganesh Idols that are ceremoniously taken to the place of immersion and immerses them at some convenient water source. In the first two years of the movement Samiti collected 40,000 idols but in the last two years, the Hindu Janajagaran Samiti vehemently opposed us. But since the intervention by government to stop immersion in flowing rivers to save environment, things are improving again. Yet we cannot avoid court cases already launched against us.
In one demonstration against Nirmala Mata, famous for her Sahaj Yog, devotees of Nirmala Mata actually beat us and launched a criminal case against us. I published one article against this in one of my books. She launched a defamation case against me in the Delhi High Court. The story goes on and on. I am aware that this is not the place to present the whole Balance Sheet of Samiti's work. But looking back gives us satisfaction that we could do so much in such adverse atmosphere and rightly feel proud of ourselves.
This work of eradication of superstition started in 1985. But at that point of time it was not a proper organization. Some like minded persons carried out the work which was dispersed at various places in a lose network. In 3-4 years it became impossible for them to carry on. Though I was not connected with these groups at that time, since 1971, I have been involved in the various movements of Social Change, fighting for Social Justice, economic exploitation, corruption and politics. I came in this movement of eradication of superstition in 1985. I had not felt the need and urgency of it at that time. So as soon as bickering began to come to the fore, I decided to quit. I don't know what would have happened had I quit the organization. But certainly I would not have been there. My Pune colleagues argued, 'We have the intension to work, and you are the one who possesses a commanding oratory and also can spare time.' Thus I became the Co-ordinator for two years and would continue if the organization seemed to take root. This took place in 1989. Two years later I was elected the working president. Strangely enough those who put pressure on me to lead gave up the work, one by one while I alone stuck on. We had 17/18 branches then; and now have a network of a large number of activists working in 180 branches.
Recently an eminent elder social worker said to me, 'you seem to be doing well; no bickering in the organization; although not an NGO, you face no financial difficulties; the media too support you.' Though I was amused by his remark, I began to ponder 'being such a huge organization, why is there no bickering, no quarrels, no disparaging remarks, and no antagonism?' With this reassuring atmosphere, the love of the co-workers, their confidence in me, I am certainly in an enviable position.
I have been the president from day one. After 3 years I wanted to step down but could not. Then they decided to allow me to step down once the anti-black magic bill was passed. It is being postponed time and again and I remain the president. Not that I will retire after stepping down, for I am blessed with some rare abilities, such as, organizing work, keeping cool, perseverance, enviable health and ability to travel and work continuously without rest. Of course, age counts and the picture will eventually change. But I will try my best to remain alert and active.
During the last 18 years, we never experienced economic difficulty because of our unique way of work. The organization does not have an office of its own. All the branches are self supporting. They earn a little from the programmes they organize, self study tests, donations from members and sympathisers and some percentage out of the advertisements they get for the magazine. I believe in what Gandhiji said, 'No good work can suffer for want of funds.'
We get considerable publicity and people think we hanker for it. But I always remind my co-activists that an organization can rarely remain in the public eye for such a long time; and we should be prepared for being ignored eventually. Our work is publicized for three reasons. First the activities for eradication of superstition are intrinsically newsworthy. Secondly people and the media in Maharashtra believe that our activists are honest. The third reason, I must admit is that we maintain proper relations with the media, take care to give them correct and honest accounts of our activities in time. Whenever any incident connected with Eradication of Superstition occurs I write a report on it and most of the main news papers immediately publish it.
The real test me and my organization had to pass was altogether a different issue. Whenever an organization is founded people start casting aspersion s on it. To which caste do the activists and the leaders belong? As we gathered strength, the discussion about the castes became more aggressive. Some accused me of trying to destroy religion and therefore they asked for my expulsion out of Maharashtra. Others who called themselves progressive and secular accused that being a Brahmin, my real intension is not eradicating superstition and I am not capable of it. I have a hidden agenda, a Brahmanic plot for deceiving the public. This caste ridden psyche is illogical but it is made to sound logical. A venomous attack of this sort could harm any organization. But we remained unscathed not because all the exploitative characteristics stuck on to my caste do not apply to me; but because of the inclusiveness of the organization depicted in the vast membership encompassing all castes and sub castes existing in this state. Caste was never considered while electing office-bearers, so that sticking any caste label to the organization is impossible and does not work.
I have no precise answers to the questions, 'how could we spread the organization so wide, without any bickering? How can we get unstinted support from the media? How do we manage with such meagre finances? How do we remain aloof from the caste ridden psyche prevailing here?' But I can mention a few possible reasons. Our organizational structure, setup and working are genuinely and intentionally democratic and decentralized. Another reason, more important than anything else, is that the volunteers join our organization because of their intrinsic motivation; they feel suffocated in the superstition ridden surroundings and do not know how to face it. They find a true enlightened path in Samiti's work. So strengthening the organization and spreading it becomes their internal need. They strive to protect the organization from petty quarrels, caste biases and penury.
Since the inception of the Samiti, I have been the working president and am considered the other side of the ANiS' coin. But I am completely ignorant of how the Andhashraddhaa Nirmoolan Samiti became so strong, healthy and widespread. I did not play any particular role in this. So many people have helped me of their own accord. It won't be proper to disclose their identity. Many advocates have come to my help, free of charge, whenever law suits are launched against me in various courts. The eminent actors Dr. Shriram Lagu and Nilubhau Phule consider themselves as our Bandhuva Majdoors, for we can count on them, whenever we need their help and extract work without remuneration. My wife, my brothers and sisters, my children all offer unstinted help to me.
In treading this path, I avoid reacting to criticism, and refrain from entering the clamour of accusations and counter accusations of the blame game. I also refrain from taking legal action for defamation against anybody. I do not want to embroil the organization with lawsuits. I do not know whether I am right but one thing is sure that avoiding to react never puts you to any loss. When one builds up his image in people's minds through such a long march he becomes immune to petty accusations.
Other than the work of ANiS and the weekly Sadhana, I do not do anything else. This has rendered me a single-minded person. For years I have not been on the Kabbaddi ground; not seen a picture or a play, no outing, not even television. I read only what is needed for my work. This is deliberate atrophy of personality and I am aware that people close to me are disturbed. But for the present at least, I can't help it. The most significant aspect of it is that I derive pleasure from it. I never feel bored or exhausted. People around me change, the thoughts change and the activists keep striving like me forgetting everything else. I tell my co-workers, 'don't work out of obligation to the society; don't carry any such burden on your head, just enjoy your work. Work only as long as you derive satisfaction out of it.'
We have raised a new issue regarding the content of secularism. That is somewhat different from the prevailing progressive concept. One view says that the administration ought to put secularism in practice. The other concept maintains that secular politics is impossible as long as the economy remains unstable. So measures to stabilize economy should be given priority, informing the toiling masses during the process. I prefer to put it as: the umbilical cord of secularism reaches right up to the thoughts of Mahatma Phule, Viththal Ramaji Shinde, Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Babasaaheb AMbedakar; all these social reformers made the anti-public religion turn and face the public. This will enrich the content of Indian secularism. Eradicating Superstition is not isolated work. It is necessary to unite it with the larger comprehensive social reform movement. But the links between these two movements are not in place as yet and we seem to work in isolation. So we should strive to avoid single track mindedness amongst the workers.
The activists of the Samiti are constantly under public watch, much more than other organizations. How they behave? Do they walk their talk? But very few people can follow it. But we, ANiS as an organization and myself as an individual are honestly trying our best because the moral fibre of our character is our strength and people seem to believe in us. Many individuals agree with our principles and policy; but they do not join us because putting those principles into practice requires a lot more courage than they can muster. They cannot afford to antagonize their family and relatives. The poojas to be performed and vows to be fulfilled require both husband and wife to carry them out together. Refusal to cooperate will disturb the peace in the family. Gopal Ganesh Agarkar put his principle very succinctly as, 'Mere adding to your erudition is not enough; one must have the courage to act accordingly.' Next he adds, 'I will tell whatever is right (whatever needs to be told) and do all that I can.' I imagine this chain of social change as, 'thought as the first step- then articulation of it- its propagation -and then putting into practice. The next step would comprise of building a union that amounts to practicing the principles collectively and finally confrontation to bring about change where the Samiti needs a change. Sowing seeds of reason in the mind is not an easy job. However reason uttered repeatedly does take you a step ahead. The utterance converts into a movement. If people involved in the movement practice what they propagate, the movement culminates into a union which is a good thing to happen. If, in addition the union jumps into a struggle for change, nothing like it. But climbing up these steps exhausts you considerably. I am treading this path with whatever ability I possess, knowing fully well that it is endless.
Dr. Narendra Dabholkar.
Executive President: Avinash Patil
Avinash Patil is shouldering the responsibility as Executive President of ANS since 2010. By profession he is a Civil Engineer and hails from Dhule Maharashtra. He is very young, dynamic and has been groomed by Dr. Narendra Dabholkar for last 15 years. He has a very good rapport with young generation and organization capabilities to lead this movement. He usually looks for constructive activities to engage the activists and propagate anti superstition message among youth.
Even as a student he actively participated in Rashtra Seva Dal and Chhatra Bharati movements. As a student, through Chhatra Bharati, he had confrontation with educational institutions for their corrupt practices and exploitation of poor rural college students. He, in fact, forced the vice chancellors of Maharashtra, heads of educational institutions and college teachers' organizations to come together and have some methods to assess the performance of the colleges and award the grades. He had a greater role in organizing mammoth Chhatra Bharati Students Conference at Amalner. The experience gained and lessons learnt from these multifarious activities had immensely helped ANS to organize such large scale events under the stewardship of Avinash Patil.
He participated in the communal harmony movement in and around Jalagaon and established peace committees which had very good response from all sections of the society. These peace committees had a very active role during religious riots in that area and helped the affected families. He organized camps for displaced families and arranged rehabilitation for them.
He has a particular interest with Human Right movement. He actively participated with Human Right Action Group initiated by Adv Nirmalkumar Suryavanshi. The Group analyses the problems associated with human rights, collects the relevant data and presents its findings. Avinash Patil as a resource person coordinates these research activities. His coordination with Adv Nirmalkumar Suryavanshi helps ANS in its legal complications in general and in the Draft Bill in particular. As a farmer he has active participation in farmers' movement in the areas he belongs to.
Realizing the ill effects of witchcraft practices among tribal communities in Vidarbha, he took keen interest in anti witchcraft movement. It was a very sensitive task to make the tribes to abandon such practices. As an activist, he organsied a very mammoth conference on anti witchcraft in Dhule district involving Govt, Gram Panchayats, local police authorities and tribal communities. It had a very positive effect in the tribal areas.
Dr. Abraham Kovoor was a well-known crusader against superstition and obscurantism and the scourge of Satya Sai Baba and other godmen in India. In 1963, he threw an open challenge offering to pay 1 lakh Sri Lankan Rupees to anyone who could perform a paranormal or miraculous feat under fraud-proof conditions. He is the author of the books "Begone Godmen" and "Gods, Demons and Spirits".
His assertion was that all those who claim to possess psychic, para-psychic and spiritual powers were either hoaxers or mentally deranged persons suffering from cryptesthesia. He said, " nobody has and nobody ever had supernatural powers. They exist only in the pages of scriptures and sensation-mongering newspapers. "
Dr. Kovoor's main aim was to enlighten people and teach them to go by reason and scientific verification. He was born at Tiruvalla in Kerala, (South India) on 10th April, 1898 in a Christian family. His father was Rev. Kovoor Eipe Thomma Katthanar, the Vicar General of the Mar Thomma Syrian Church of Malabar. He completed his basic education at the Syrian Christian Seminary in Kerala and and received his higher education along with younger brother Dr Behanan Kovoor (who was at Yale University and United Nations), at the Bengabasi College, Calcutta, where he specialised in Botany and Zoology. He was the only scientist in Asia took part in an expedition to the Indian Ocean along with other scientists at the invitation by the " Ernst Haeckel Ecology Center" of U.S.A
Dr Kovoor was very much attached to the rational teaching of Buddha because Buddha was a great social and religious reformer of India, rebelled against Hindu dogmatism and taught a more rational and tolerant philosophy than any others. He disregarded his Christian faith and tradition as he couldn't accept the Bible as the word of an omniscient god. As he gradually matured he became a free thinker and adopted rationalism as his philosophy. He passed away on September 18, 1978 in Colombo, Sri Lanka at the age 80
His most famous Quote is:- He who does not allow his miracles to be investigated is a crook; he who does not have the courage to investigate a miracle is a gullible; and he who is prepared to believe without verification is a fool!
More on Abraham Kovoor:-
¨Skepticism or debunking often received the bad rap reserved for activities - like garbage disposal - that absolutely must be done for a safe and sane life, but seem either unglamorous or unworthy of overt celebration” -Stephen Jay Gould, evolutionary biologist in his foreword to the book, Why People Believe Weird Things, written by Michael Shermer.
Dr Stephen Jay Gould’s statement is only partly true in the case of Professor Abraham Kovoor, the celebrated Sri Lankan rationalist, whose 30th death anniversary falls on September 18, 2008. While Dr Gould is right in saying that debunking is an activity that must be done for a safe and sane life, it was not considered as an unglamorous one - at least as far as Professor Abraham Kovoor was concerned.
Professor Kovoor who took debunking as a full time activity after his retirement from his teaching job became extremely popular in India and Sri Lanka, the citizenship of which he accepted after leaving Kerala. He was a popular guest in radio talk shows in Sri Lanka. He had close association with Sirimao Bandaranayke, the then Sri Lankan president. The Malayalam film Punarjanmam (directed by Sethumadhavan), which was based upon Prof Kovoor’s diary (Son and Mother) and in which he acted in his own role, was a box-office hit in Kerala in the Nineteen Seventies.
Following the success of the film, it was remade in Tamil as Maru Piravi. The only two books (collections of his essays) which were published during his life-time (Begone Godmen and God, Demons, and Spirits, published by Jaico Books, Bombay) have never been out-of-print as of today. These two books have been translated into various Indian languages (Hindi, Kannada, Malayalam, Punjabi, and Tamil) and have been hits with the readers. Professor Abraham Kovoor was indeed a celebrity rationalist!
Abraham Kovoor was born in Tiruvalla, Kerala on April 10, 1898 (Thus, in this year we celebrate his 110th birth anniversary too). His father, Rev. Kovoor Eipe Thomma Katthanar, was a Vicar General of the Mar Thoma Syrian Church of Malabar. After his education in Kerala and Kolkota, Kovoor took up teaching as a profession, first working in Kottayam Kerala for a short period and later in Sri Lanka. Though born in Christian family, he denounced Christianity in his adult life and became a rationalist as he “could not accept Bible as the word of an omniscient god”.
Kovoor left Kerala, the land of his birth, and adopted Sri Lanka because “most of the Sri Lankans are followers of Gouthama Buddha who taught a more rational and tolerant philosophy than the founders of any other religion” (Page 7, On Christianity, Indian CSICOP, Podannur, Tamil Nadu).
Though Prof Kovoor had been investigating paranormal claims for decades even while he was in service, it was only after his retirement in 1958, at the age of 60, that he openly came out challenging godmen and proponents of paranormal phenomena. That itself is rare in that many people who in their younger days are staunch atheists, marxists, and social revolutionaries often turn, in their twilight years, to ideologies and religious dogmas they denounced earlier. In Prof Kovoor’s case, though he had been an atheist and a rationalist throughout his adult life, it was during the last two decades of his life that he espoused militant rationalism.
Prof Kovoor’s Challenge
In the initial days of his activism, Prof Kovoor realised that his writings and lectures did not have the desired impact on the intended targets of his criticism a la godmen, astrologers, saints, yogis, etc. This prompted him to throw an open challenge to them. The first of his challenges was made in 1963 and was published in the Ceylon Daily Mirror on 17th June 1963. He offered an amount between Rs.1000/- to Rs.25000/-to anyone who can call correctly using his/her mystical powers the serial number on a ten-rupee currency note sealed in an envelope (Page 27, Exposing Paranormal Claims).
The amount offered was subsequently enhanced to Rs.100,000/- along with the number of miracles challenged, which had by then increased to 23 items covering the entire gamut of paranormal claims usually made (See Appendix). Though his challenge was in force until his death in 1978, Prof Kovoor did not lose a single penny because of his challenge. On the contrary, he gained on a couple of occasions, when gullible followers of godmen accepted the challenge on their behalf by depositing the earnest money and later the godmen themselves failed to turn up!
Prof Kovoor - the brilliant science educator
It is not only because of his famous challenge that Prof Kovoor became a celebrity but also because of his essays and lectures that were suffused with rigorous scientific analysis. His essays on life-after-death, rebirth and reincarnation - the pet topics of Indian paranormal-mongers -are splendid examples of his brilliance as a science educator.
In the essay, “Do we survive death?”, he writes: ” I do not hold the view that my life is located in a particular spot in my body. Life is generated in all living cells in my body, and is sustained by the oxidatory chemical action which goes on in them. This chemical action is maintained by my breathing and blood circulation. It is not much different from the production of heat and light energies during the combustion of the hydrocarbon in a burning candle. Heat and light do no depart from a burning candle when it is put out, and return to it when re-lit.
“It is just a case of cessation of chemical activity and production of energy. Similarly there is nothing to get out from my body when it dies as a result of termination of breathing and blood-circulation. If by any chance my dead body is resuscitated by some of the modern techniques, it will be wrong to think that the ‘departed life or soul’ re-entered the revived body.
“My death will not be taking place abruptly at a particular moment in time. I began to die some 70 years ago. I started my life as parasite on my mother. About one-eighth of my body died in the form of the umbilical cord and placenta on the day I terminated my parasitic mode of life. From that day onward I have been dying as well as growing. While numerous cells in my body died daily, numerous new ones were born. Large quantities of dead tissues have escaped my body by way of cropped and shaved hair, peeled off skin, cut nails, dropped teeth, and the million of internal cells dead and discarded as waste during urination and perspiration.
“The process of continued death will go on till the day when there will be no more cells left behind to multiply. Even after the death of all the cells in my body, the cornea of my eyes will continue to live in the eyes of a lucky stranger.
“My last breath will not be any way different from the present ones. Then, as well as now, I shall be breathing out carbon dioxide and water vapour.
“I do not believe that I have a soul or spirit to survive my death and go to heaven or hell, or to roam about as my ghost, or even to be reborn. It at all there is a soul, the major part of it should have escaped from me long ago with the large mass of dead tissues which have left meal ready; and even after the death of the present 125 pounds of tissues, a fraction of that soul should remain in the body of the stranger who would be receiving the corneal graft” (Page 41, Soul, Spirit, Rebirth & Possession).
Divine Miracle Exposure Campaigns
The Divine Miracle Exposure tours Prof Kovoor undertook in India in the 1960s and 1970s was unparalleled. He along with his team members directly confronted a number of prominent godmen in their den. The confrontation his team had with Sathya Sai Baba, the number one spiritual fraudster in India for decades, is memorable. After the Sai Baba failed to respond to Kovoor’s letters repeatedly requesting to have an audience with him, he informed the godman that he would be visiting the godman’s ashram at Whitefield in Bangalore. By the time Kovoor arrived, the godman had absconded and left for his ashram in Puttaparthy.
Prof Kovoor’s campaigns also resulted in reinvigorating the rationalist movements in India. He infused a new vigor into the existing rationalist groups in India. It also resulted in starting new skeptic groups in various parts of the country. Undoubtedly, the skeptic movements in India are indebted to Prof Kovoor’s campaigns, lectures, and writings for what they are today.
Abraham Kovoor’s challenge
I, Abraham T. Kovoor of “Tiruvalla”, Pamankada Lane, Colombo-6 do hereby state that l am prepared to pay an award of 100, 000 Sri Lankan rupees to any one from any part of the world who can demonstrate supernatural or miraculous powers under fool-proof and fraud-proof conditions. This offer will remain open till my death or till I find the first winner.
Godmen, saints, yogis, and siddhas, who claim that they acquired miraculous powers through spiritual exercises and divine boons win this award if they can perform any of the following “miracles”.
1. Read the serial number of a sealed up currency note.
2. Produce an exact replica of a currency note.
3. Stand stationary on burning cinders for half a minute without blistering the feet.
4.Materialise from nothing an object I ask.
5. Move or bend a solid object using psychokinetic power.
6. Read the thought of another person using telepathic powers.
7.Make an amputated limb grow even one inch by prayer, spiritual or faith healing powers, Lourdes’ water, holy ash, blessing etc.
8. Levitate in the air by yogic power.
9. Stop the heart-beat for five minutes by yogi power.
10. Stop breathing for thirty minutes by yogi power.
11. Walk on water.
12. Leave the body in one place and reappear in another place.
13. Predict a future event.
14. Develop creative intelligence or get enlightened through transcendental or yogic meditation..
15. Speak or understand an unknown language as a result of rebirth or by being possessed by a spirit, holy or evil.
16. Produce a spirit or ghost to be photographed.
17. Disappear from the negative when photographed.
18. Get out of a locked room by spiritual power.
19. Increase the quantity by weight of a substance by divine power.
20. Detect a hidden object.
21. Convert water into petrol or wine.
22. Convert wine into blood.
23. Astrologers and palmists, who hoodwink the gullible by saying that astrology and palmistry are perfectly “Scientific”, can win my award if they can pick out correctly-within a margin of five percent error-those of males, females, and living and the dead from a set of ten palm prints or astrological charts giving the exact time of birth correct to the minute, and places of birth with their latitudes and longitudes.
I invite miracle performers like Satya Sai Baba, Pandrimalai Swamigal, Neelakanta Tathaji, Nirmala Devi Srivastava, Pujya Dadaji, Dattabal, Triprayar Yogini, Gtirudev Anandamurthi, Kamubhai, Chinmayanand, Acharya Rajnessh, Muktanand, Swami Rama, Swami Haridas, Sivabalayogi, Bhagavan Gnanananda, Gurumaharaj-ji, Maharish Mahesh Yogi, Hazarath Ali, Dr. Vadlaimudi, C. S. Teerthangar, R.P.Tiwari, Uri Geller, Ne1iya Michailova, Jeane Dixon, Sybil Leek and the numerous “professors” of astrology and palmistry, in India and numerous other gurus, swamijis, mahants, acharyas, andas, babas and bhagavans who have found fresh pastures and wealthier gullibles in Western Countries, to take up my challenge and prove to skeptics like me that they are not hoaxers.
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