The idea of religious intolerance in India ranges back in history to the colonial period where the first instances occurred. It was due to this very reason that the country was partitioned in land, resources and people. Despite being a sovereign and ‘secular’ nation, we find ourselves surrounded in an air of communal disharmony and animosity. Religion is not restricted to god or faith. It entered the realm of politics as the vote bank strategy and has been put since independence. With a majoritarian Hindu religion dominating the country, there’s a never-ending need to ‘protect’ it.
Intolerance is the unwillingness to accept views, beliefs, or behaviour that differ from one's own. Religious Intolerance means the hesitation to accept the views and beliefs of another religion. It is the lack of understanding and keeping one’s own religion supreme.
Political and religious bigots have printed money in the name of religion. Eg. Asaram Bapu, a self-proclaimed god-man had blind followers. This ‘god-man’ is currently serving his sentence in prison for the rape of a minor. These religious leaders use the vulnerability of the poor and needy in order to make them believe in a utopian vision. They live a lavish lifestyle and treat religion as a business. Holding opinions which differ from the masses have negative responses in the country. Time and again there have been cases of harassment of journalists, activists and students holding anti-government sentiments. The bigots have pushed the narrative that is, being faithful to your government equates to patriotism. Hence, someone opposing this idea is shamed and labelled.
Narendra Dabholkar was a doctor, social activist, rationalist, writer and editor and the face of the anti-superstition movement in Maharashtra for more than two decades. The Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmulan Samiti (MANS), which he co-founded, campaigned for social reform and a law against black magic and superstitious practices across religions, saying they exploit the poor and uneducated. Dabholkar had been painted as “anti-Hindu” and had received multiple threats to his life. Between the years, 1990–2010, Dabholkar was active in movements for the equality of Dalits and against India's caste system and caste-related violence. He advocated renaming the Marathwada University after Babasaheb Ambedkar, who is the author of India's constitution and fought for the equality of Dalits. Dabholkar wrote books on superstitions and their eradication and had addressed over 3,000 public meetings.
On August 20, 2013, Dabholkar was shot dead by two gunmen while he was out for morning walk. His assassination was condemned by several social activists and political leaders. Soon after he passed away, the Maharashtra cabinet cleared the Anti-Superstition and Black Magic Ordinance and in December 2013 it was enacted as an ordinance. After Dabolkar’s murder, a chain of murders of rationalists took place; Gauri Lankesh, Govind Pansare and M.M. Kalburgi.
Sharad Kalasker was arrested in 2018 for the conspiracy and murder of Gauri Lankesh. In the questioning, he revealed details about Dabolkar’s murder. The Maharashtra Anti-Terror Squad had arrested Sharad Kalaskar in connection with raids at a pistol manufacturing unit at Nallasopara in Palghar district. During questioning, they stumbled upon information that established a link between the murders of the rationalists and Gauri Lankesh and right-wing groups. This information was later shared with the Karnataka police. Pansare revealed that he had been approached by a ‘right-wing group’ who gave him a “crash course” in using firearms, and how the Sanstha’s Virendra Tawde had told him “We have to finish off some evil men”.
With multiple trails leading to the Sanstha, the police have not closed in on the group yet; it campaigns for a “Hindu Rashtra”. It had openly threatened Dabholkar with dire consequences for his “anti-Hindu” work. The CBI stopped its investigation after the arrest of eight individuals.
Seven years later, there are questions still unanswered. The Sanstha is up and functioning while endangering the lives of free minds. The intolerance and bigotry of these religious groups have posed a problem. Functioning as ‘supremacists’, these organisations are never questioned by the law enforcers. Anand Dabolkar’s legacy lives on, leaving the society with his ideals. MANS has since been led by Avinash Patil, groomed by Dabholkar himself. The investigation must go on to connect the entire trail and real justice is delivered.