Organization, Operation and Meetings:
ANiS has 230 branches spread out in 30 out of 35 districts of Maharashtra. It has a strong hold in the triangular area formed by three major cities-Dhule, Nanded and Kolhapur. It receives strong support from cities and villages in this area. Maharashtra has in all 353 Talukas and ANiS intends to build a branch in each of them.
Although Dr. Dabholkar was undoubtedly the supreme leader of this Organization, he was not the so called “High Command” to whom everyone looks up to take the final decision. Future of this organization, unlike many other Rationalist Organizations, is not left to destiny or the Charisma of a superman. The power structure of this organization-if one may call it so- is not hierarchical but horizontal. ANiS works at three levels-State, District and Taluka. The Branches in the villages work at local level where members meet once a week. They choose their representatives to attend the meetings at Taluka and District level, who in turn choose members of the working committee at the state level. The working committee meets once in four months. District presidents and state level office bearers attend these meetings. But the most important aspect of these meetings is that any activist from any part of the state is welcome to attend and participate in their proceedings.
Workshops and training camps are regularly organized to keep the activists well informed and up to date regarding ANiS’ policies and the present and future strategies, programmes, activities, etc. Psychiatrists, counsellors, environmentalists and other experts are consulted and invited to these training camps. At times activists are sent for specific training to other organizations. One activist, a professional from in the field of building and construction has written a booklet on the ancient Indian Vastushastra. Dr. Dabholkar has written books on aims and objectives, methods and practices, thought and action, every aspect of ANiS’ work. The local units look up to the centre for advice and guidance but take decisions and carry out programmes on their own. It is a completely decentralized organization; all decisions, even at the state level are taken democratically. Peculiarly, in all the meetings and programmes the activists sing in chorus at the beginning, end and even in between, so that the atmosphere is kept light and lively. Every member knows all the songs by heart. Johannes Quack too learned and some of them and sang along with others. (About Johannes we will learn later.) The meetings never become debating platforms for scoring Browne points or boring lectures and sermons. Every small and big contribution of every activist receives recognition in the meeting. Everyone is able to take stock of his own work, report it and respond to criticism with clarity of thought and self confidence.
The main objective of these meetings is to discuss the problems before the organization, taking decisions regarding further actions and plan future activities. All this is done completely democratically. The problems that ANiS faces and the points discussed in the meetings are: reading reports of work at various levels, ways of strengthening the organization, attracting young generation to it, gathering support for the anti superstition bill, getting new subscribers for the magazine ‘Vartapatra’, building rapport with mass media, other big and small problems, assessing the work accomplished, etc.
About the members:
ANiS’ members come from all castes. Dabholkar and a few others are Brahmins. But all of them have given up their caste labels and nobody’s caste is ever mentioned. ANiS believes that excluding upper castes strengthens the dividing walls between them. All of them belong to one religion and that is Humanism. ANiS members seem to be in the same proportion of population as are the castes to the total population of India. However women count less than a fifth of the total number of members. ANiS is encouraging women participation, but knows full well that it is a long drawn process. The unity and activism of these members, rarely seen anywhere else, strengthens the organization. All seem to be geared up to accomplish their joint mission.
Magazines and Publications:
ANiS publishes two magazines to spread its message. The first is a Marathi monthly-‘Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Vartapatra’ and the other is a quarterly in English-‘Thought and Action’. There are more than 40 books in Marathi. Dr. Dabholkar has written a number of articles and booklets to guide the activists for different activities. In addition to this there are annual and other reports published and widely circulated. The Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Vartapatra’ contains reports of all activities of ANiS – their public meetings, rallies, exposing Baba-Buvas, or how some specific problems of Bhanamati, possession, etc. were solved. Now it also contains other articles covering a number of topics such as encouraging inter-caste and inter-religion marriages; avoiding expenses on marriages, religious rituals and funeral rites; women’s rights and exploitation and discrimination. ‘Thought and Action’ contains articles published by eminent persons and appearing in various publications concerning topics relevant to ANiS and is aimed at the English speaking population of India and rationalists of other countries for which ANiS also maintains an extensive Web Site www.antisuperstiton.org. Anis has also presence on Face book, Twitter and Google page. ANiS also make promotional DVDs and Video cassets.
All organizations need to raise funds for their activities from various sources. In this respect ANiS is different than other organizations in that it solely depends on the devotion and commitment of its members. No Activist is paid any honorarium for his work. Even for travels and other purposes they spend from their own pockets. Traveling expenses are borne by ANiS only in the case of those few who cannot afford. Financial matters are openly discussed in the meetings. Johannes Quack, the foreign researcher was not asked to leave a meeting during such discussions. ANiS’ aims and means are quite clean and therefore they have nothing to hide from anyone, be he a member of the coterie, an outsider or even a foreigner. Members collect funds for their own activities from selling books, the small amounts they charge for their Science behind Miracle programs, subscription of magazine, advertisement and such other means.
ANiS actively supports, co-operates with and participates in the activities of many other like-minded organizations fighting for just causes. It is a member of the Federation of Indian Rationalist Associations (FIRA) and had organized its 6th All India Conference in Pune in the year 2007.
Assessment of ANiS’ work:
And lastly, although ANiS does not need to flaunt any foreigner’s certificate, it will be appropriate to mention the conclusion drawn about ANiS’ work by a young German Scholar, Johannes Quack who came to India in his quest for ‘Disenchanting India’. He studied the ANiS movement; got his thesis “Disenchanting India” published by the Oxford University and earned his Ph.D. He found that India is no more enchanted as the Westerners think it to be and rationalist movements are progressing here. ANiS activists quite justly feel proud that of all the rationalist movements going on in this country, Johannes Quack found ANiS the most active and widely spread movement, functioning democratically at the grass root level and unlike all other NGOs sustains itself without any Government or foreign funding. This young Student of Philosophy spent a lot of time with ANiS activists, going to villages and staying with them, eating whatever food that could be provided and observing the proceedings from close quarters. ANiS Activists co-operated with him enthusiastically for a lengthy period of over two years. Johannes was allowed to attend all their meetings and had free access to all their literature, reports, accounts whatever he wanted. This was a sort of a thorough external assessment of the organization. The conclusion he drew were quite encouraging; especially that, ‘the rationalist movement in India does have a place in the narrative of the worldwide disenchantment and ANiS is the most active rationalist movement that has taken roots in rural India and is making progress. This organization born in 1989 has not only sustained itself so long but is also steadily growing and spreading into the nooks and corners of Maharashtra. Rationalists in India and their critics regard it as the leading light of the historical movement of ‘disenchantment ‘- rationalization, secularization and modernization of thought and action.’
Organization, Operation and Meetings: