An anti-superstition campaigner in India has been slain by gunmen on a motorcycle.
Dr. Narendra Dabholkar, 72, who led a committee for the eradication of blind faith (Andhashraddha Nirmulan Samiti), was found outside in a pool of blood Tuesday morning in Pune, southeast of Mumbai, and rushed to a hospital where he died.
Dabholkar, a celebrated rationalist, was at the forefront of a movement to legislate against superstition in a country where bogus witchcraft guised as religious ceremony regularly gets the better of both educated and uneducated Indians.
His death comes days after the Maharashtra state government announced plans to introduce a controversial anti-superstition bill, one that Dabholkar has been pushing for the last 14 years, much to the consternation of Indian right-wing groups.
"I'm fighting against religious practices that are 5,000 years old," said Dabholkar in an Indian Express newspaper interview published on his committee website. "I am asking people to rethink."
Dabholkar's committee members note that they aren't against God and religion as much as they are against bogus rituals, sacrifices and fraudulent "godmen" with dubious origins.
'I'm fighting against religious practices that are 5,000 years old.'— Dr. Narendra Dabholkar
Deepak J. Girme, a volunteer with the anti-blind-faith committee for nearly 20 years, told CBC News Dabholkar had received death threats in the past, but never thought the "terrorists" would actually go through with it.
Two months ago at a Mumbai rally, a fundamentalist Hindu organization announced that they would "make a Gandhi of Dhabolkar," Girme said, "meaning that they would assassinate him."
Girme said religious groups were afraid that Dabholkar and his followers were encroaching on their territory by educating people to give up blind faith, appreciate science and adopt an attitude of reason.
"Faith is the last word of the conperson," Girme said. "They ask you to have faith when they have no other explanation," he added, referring to Indian priests, witch doctors and politicians whom he said prey on people's religious devotion.
Girme told CBC News that in certain Maharashtran villages people have been fooled into seeing witch doctors rather than seeking necessary medical attention, and have even been persuaded to sacrifice children to appease the gods.
Dhabolkar was trying to get people out of that "hellhole," and was attacked because fundamentalists were losing power over people, Girme said.
"If you can’t fight thought with thought, reason with reason, then the only weapon that they have is to shoot him," Girme said. "But that will not stop the progress that has been made."
Dhabolkar also ran an addiction treatment centre and worked to improve education among women.
Girme said that there are currently no plans for a memorial, though Dhabolkar's followers have already organized a march in Pune.
"He was a simple man," said Girme, pointing out that Dhabolkar was not one for ceremony.