For nearly three decades, an earnest man named Narendra Dabholkar traveled from village to village in India, waging a personal war against the spirit world.
If a holy man had electrified the public with his miracles, Dr. Dabholkar, a former physician, would duplicate the miracles and explain, step by step, how they were performed. If a sorcerer had amassed a fortune treating infertility, he would arrange a sting operation to unmask the man as a fraud. His goal was to drive a scientist’s skepticism into the heart of India, a country still teeming with gurus, babas, astrologers, godmen and other mystical entrepreneurs.
That mission ended Tuesday, when two men ran up behind Dr. Dabholkar, 67, as he crossed a bridge, shot him at point-blank range, then jumped onto a motorbike and disappeared into the traffic coursing through this city.
When detectives began putting together a list of Dr. Dabholkar’s enemies, they found that it was long. He had received threats from Hindu far-right groups, been beaten by followers of angry gurus and challenged by councils upholding archaic caste laws.
But Dr. Dabholkar never put stock in sudden breakthroughs, said his son, Hamid Dabholkar, as mourners filtered through the family’s home. “He knew this kind of battle is fought across the ages,” he said. “The journey we have chosen is one that started with Copernicus. We have a very small life, of 70 to 80 years, and the kind of change we will see during that time will be small.”
“Instead of dying of old age, or by surgery, which causes a lot of suffering, the death Mr. Dabholkar got today was a blessing from God,” the leader, a former hypnotherapist now known as His Holiness Dr. Jayant Athavale, wrote in an editorial in the organization’s publication, Sanatan Prabhat.
His wife, Shaila, recalled that her family had offered her an array of young men they considered marriageable, and she had chosen him for his idealism. “We thought only about society, and that was what we spoke about,” she said. “Even though we were married, there was nothing like romance, or anything like that. Both of us were patriots of idealism. We wanted a good society.”
[From the International Herald Tribune (Pakistan print edition) of August 26, and The New York Times of August 24, 2013.]
See the full story: Battling superstition, Indian paid with life