Thursday, August 21, 2014

The father of Hamid (Dabholkar)

....Dr. Dabholkar’s greatest victory — a law against superstition and black magic — came posthumously.....One day after he was killed, the Maharashtra government cleared an ordinance, and in December 2013, a law against superstitious practices..... 
To the untrained ear, Hamid Dhabolkar may sound a bit like Amar Akbar Anthony, an iconic Bollywood movie from 1977 (re-made as Ram Robert Rahim in Telegu and John Jaffer Janardhanan in Malayalam)- a khichdi that symbolizes all that is supposedly secular and syncretic about India.  
In this case however, the reality outpaces fiction in depicting the truth.

Traditionally, for Hindus it was the gotra (not surname) that was the principal identifier. We are not fully informed on Maharashtrian practices but here is an interesting factoid: If the surname has a -kar suffix, the prefix usually suggests the ancestral village or locality of origin.

Thus for example, Revan-kar - a title from the Daivajna family with common ancestry in Goa (hence termed Gomantak, the ancient name of Goa). The ancestral village for Revankars is Rivona (probably a Portugese adaptation). Other Gomantak Daivajna titles include Karekar (from Karai), Pednekar (Pedne), Haldonkar (Haldona)....

Looking elsewhere, we find Aurangabadkar (Aurangabad in Western Maharashtra, the capital city of Aurangzeb, then Mughal vice-roy of Deccan, in 1653) and Amalnerkar (Amalner, 200 km due north of Nashik, in the north-west corner of Maharashtra where Azim Premji of Wipro spent his childhood, his dad was the proprietor of a local dalda factory). We are a fan of the astro-physicist Jayant Vishnu Narlikar and when we looked, sure enough, there is a village named Narli in Sangli district in south-western Maharashtra.

The family name of Dr Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar is Sakpal (father: Ramji Maloji Sakpal) but the family took the surname of Ambawadekar, after the village Ambawade (Ratnagiri district, south Maharashtra). In a brief autobiographical account, Baba-saheb tells us how a school teacher (a Brahmin, who shared food with him) got the name to be shortened to Ambedkar. Incidentally, there are allegations (see link below) that Ambedkar's followers helped erase the contributions of his wife in his life (Savita Mai, a Brahmin), we wonder why?
Finally, we have Dr Narendra Achyut Dabholkar, who died for the cause of rationality one year ago in Pune (1 November 1945 – 20 August 2013). The Dabholkar title is from the Chitpavan family with common ancestry in the Konkan (hence termed Konkan-astha). Dabhol is a sea-side village on the Konkan sea-coast, 250 km south of Mumbai, near Chiplun, Maharashtra.
We are not that familiar with Narendra as a first-name (Nara- man + Indra- king of Gods, thus a king amongst men), however the ones we know of are all formidable people (coincidence?). Narendrabhai Damodardas Modi is the current Prime Minister from Gujarat, while Narendra Nath Dutta was the pre-sanyasin name of Swami Vivekananda - the Bengali monk who established the monastic order named Ramakrishna Mission.

When it came to naming his son, Dabholkar made a curious (but meaningful) choice. Hamid Dabholkar is named after Hamid Umar Dalwai who was born in a Marathi-speaking Muslim family and whose ancestral village is Mirjoli, also near Chiplun (and not far from Dabhol). Dalwai was an early follower of the socialist mass-leader (Lok Nayak) Jai Prakash (JP) Narayan and then went on to establish himself as a renowned social reformer focused (primarily) on the advancement of Muslim women. 

[ref. Wiki] Dalwai joined the Indian Socialist Party of Jai Prakash Narayan in his early adulthood, but left it to devote himself to social reforms in the Muslim community, especially regarding women's rights. 

Despite living in a period when most people were staunchly religious and orthodox, Hamid Dalwai was one among the few religiously secular people. He strove towards a uniform civil code rather than religion specific laws.
To create a platform for his views and work, he established the Muslim Satya-Shodhak Mandal (Muslim Truth Seeking Society) in Pune on 22 March 1970. Through the medium of this Society, Hamid worked towards reforming bad practices in the Muslim community especially towards women. He helped many Muslim women who were victimized to get justice. 

He campaigned for encouraging Muslims in acquiring education in the State language rather than Urdu, their mother tongue. He also tried to make adoption an acceptable practice in the Indian Muslim community.
He also established the Muslim Secular Society. He organised many public meetings, gatherings, conventions and conferences to campaign for better social practices. He was also a great Marathi litterateur. He wrote Indhan (Fuel) - a novel, Laat (Wave) - a collection of short stories and Muslim Politics in Secular India. He used the medium of his writing for social reform.

At 7.20 a.m. on August 20, supporters of the courageous and gritty rationalist Narendra Dabholkar will gather near the Omkareshwar Temple in Pune, where he was gunned down while on a morning walk exactly a year ago.  

Through street plays and songs, anti-superstition campaigners will pay tribute to one of India’s foremost critics of charlatan godmen and black magic.

The tribute will also be an indictment of the government’s utter failure to find his killers. Dr. Dabholkar’s daylight murder was initially probed by the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party government in Maharashtra and then transferred to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). So far it has yielded nothing.

Ironically, a month ago, Outlook magazine ran an investigation claiming that the Pune police had resorted to planchet and tantriks to trace the killers of the very man who had opposed such forces all his life. The police have denied this and have even threatened a defamation case.

However, there is widespread disillusionment with both the Centre and the State’s inability to push the probe. “It is very distressing. We are hurt and anguished. Are they trying to hide something and shield someone?” asks his son Hamid Dabholkar. “There were groups which had consistently been attacking and defaming him. They had filed many cases against him. The investigation should have focussed on that,” he emphasises.

Dr. Dabholkar was both fearless and relentless in his single-minded drive against blind faith. He had braved vilification and death threats, even physical attacks. His programs were routinely disrupted.

Yet, he continued to challenge godmen, often on their own turf surrounded by mobs of followers. His targets included the influential Sathya Sai Baba and his claims of producing “miracle ash” out of thin air.

In the late 1990s, Dr. Dabholkar had taken on Ratnagiri’s Narendra Maharaj at his own ashram. The godman, who claimed miracle cures for ailments, arrived with 20,000 followers for a tense face-off with Dr. Dabholkar and his group of 15. Narendra Maharaj finally conceded defeat after a debate monitored by an anxious District Collector.

In 2000, Dr. Dabholkar led a massive campaign demanding the entry of women into the Shani Shingnapur temple trust in Ahmednagar. The issue finally ended up in court.

Hindu right-wing groups were among his fiercest critics, mainly the Hindu Janjagruti Samiti and Sanatan Sanstha. Both organisations have vehemently denied any hand in his murder. However, the Sanatan Sanstha proclaimed in an editorial just a day after the murder that it was “God’s wish.” One member of the organisation was briefly questioned by the police before being let off for lack of evidence.

Dr. Dabholkar’s greatest victory — a law against superstition and black magic — came posthumously, after a dogged 18-year struggle. One day after he was killed, the Maharashtra government cleared an ordinance, and in December 2013, a law against superstitious practices.

The Maharashtra Prevention and Eradication of Human Sacrifice and other Inhuman, Evil and Aghori Practices and Black Magic Act, 2013 is a diluted version of the ambitious draft Dr. Dabholkar had championed. It does not allow third parties to lodge complaints. Only the affected party has that right.

However, the law has already had a massive impact with nearly 80 cases being registered across the State in less than a year. These include cases against human sacrifice, the sexual exploitation of women by local godmen and the fleecing of the gullible by promises of instant wealth. However, the cases have mostly come to the Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti (MANS) set up by Dr. Dabholkar and then been registered with the police.

“In the last year, we have received nearly one such complaint daily,” says MANS working president Avinash Patil. The survival of the organisation, founded nearly three decades ago, has been critical to continuing his campaign.

The deceptively gentle activist had built a robust movement across all the districts in the State, drawing on students and volunteers to propel the battle against superstition. Even today, MANS has nearly 250 branches and 5,000 volunteers. “Sustaining the organisation was a challenge. With his death we lost our security cover. But we have survived and passed the test,” says Mr. Patil.

Dr. Dabholkar was well aware of the risks he faced by questioning obscurantism in a country steeped in superstition. “In this movement, even expressing a thought is sometimes a fight,” he would say. Indian rationalists have long walked a vulnerable path, even though under our “Fundamental Duties”, citizens are obliged to “develop a scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform.”

Yet it’s not only rationalists who have the odds stacked against them. Whistle-blowers who have exposed corruption, now increasingly through the Right to Information (RTI) Act, have been targeted, sometimes paying with their lives.

Close to Pune city itself, RTI activist Satish Shetty was murdered in 2010. Last week the CBI filed a closure report in the case saying it had not found evidence against any of those accused of his murder. 

The probe into his father’s killing, Hamid Dabholkar feels, fits into this larger pattern.

“This is an issue which goes beyond my father. If voices which stand for social causes are silenced and no action is taken against the perpetrators, it is an attack on democracy,” he says. And on simple rational thinking itself.


Link (1): dabholkar-dissent-and-democracy

Link (2): dr-ambedkar-and-brahmins


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