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File photo of Narendra Dabholkar
The murder of renowned rationalist Narendra Dabholkar, which has led to a massive outpouring of grief and anger in Maharashtra, has prompted the state government to push an anti-superstition law that he had championed for years.
The state government today cleared an Anti-Superstition and Black Magic Ordinance to replace a Bill that had been approved by the cabinet but had lapsed before it could be taken up in the assembly. The Bill has been pending for eight years.
Among other things, 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.
Dr Dabholkar had relentlessly campaigned for a law against superstition and black magic in the face of criticism from right-wing groups who had called him "anti-Hindu".
Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, who attended Dr Dabholkar's funeral in his native place in Satara, yesterday compared the murder to the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi.
"The way Gandhiji's voice was suppressed, the same way Dr Narendra Dabholkar's views and its power were killed by people who did not agree with it. The government will find out the killers and their sources," the Chief Minister said.
Mahatma Gandhi, the father of the nation, was shot dead on January 30, 1948, by Nathuram Godse, a Hindu activist who opposed his teachings on non-violence.
The comparison by Mr Chavan could rattle the groups that had fought Dr Dabholkar on the anti-superstition Bill.
Two such groups, the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti and the Sanatan Sanstha, issued statements expressing shock at the 70-year-old activist's killing.
A Sanatan Sanstha spokesperson said though they had serious differences with Dr Dabholkar, there was no enmity. "We had opposed Dabholkar by all democratic means for his atheist thoughts," he said.
Sunil Ghanavat, convener of the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti, too admitted that they had differences with the activist over the anti-superstition bill.
But he also said that the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti opposed the Bill "through the mediums of discussions on TV channels, agitations in a lawful manner".
"Debate on this bill has been going on for past six-seven years," he said. He added that they would continue to oppose the bill, but in a democratic manner.
Narendra Dabholkar was shot dead by two men on a motorcycle while he was out for a morning walk near Omkareshwar Temple in Pune on Tuesday. The attackers shot him at point blank range in the head and chest and escaped. The police are yet to make arrests in the case but have released the sketch of a suspect, believed to be around 25-years-old. Cops are also studying footage from closed circuit television or CCTV cameras in the area.
The Maharashtra government has announced a Rs 10 lakh reward for any information on the murder and said it was a "planned killing."