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Murdering Scientific Thinking

That a man was shot dead in broad daylight in a busy area in Pune is scary. That the motive for this cold-blooded murder was to prevent that man from promoting scientific thinking among his people is outright mind-numbing. What has our country come to?


HEAR AND NOW: Nakul Shenoy listening to eminent American magician James Randi speaking while on a visit to Mumbai

The inhuman and cowardly shooting of Dr Narendra Dabholkar, one of India’s leading anti-superstition activists raises a lot of questions (and fears) to where our society is headed. Dabholkar, a doctor by education, spent three decades fighting superstition and eradicating blind belief from the minds of his fellow citizens. A most recent feather to his cap was his dedicated campaign to get the Maharashtra government to implement the “Anti-Superstition and Black Magic Bill”. Where the Bill goes from here, would remain to be seen.

India is a country perturbed by the numerous blind beliefs and superstitions that ride the minds of its people. Fighting this social evil has always been a back-to-wall situation, that is worsened by emotions and religious feelings. Recently, we had another Indian rationalist Sanal Edamaruku leaving the country as he was attacked by followers of a particular church after he demonstrated the seeming miracle of “a statue dripping blood”.

Yet it is not about religion or religious beliefs. Our people appear quick to accept any claim of a paranormal nature as being supernatural, yogic, or even godly - without asking even the basic questions or applying scientific thought. In fact, our educated and well-to-do seem to be the first-in-line to accredit the claims of the newest swami or godman on the block, thereby validating the faker to the less-qualified and not-so-privileged .

From TV babas to yogic gurus to psychic swamis, we have god-men in all hues and colours, each with more than their share of dedicated followers. We are a country looking for a magic cure for every problem: be it a pseudo-scientific bangle, a magic pill, a taveez, or a psychically-gifted baba, we are gullible to the magic bullet that cures all ills and diseases. So much so, we think our economy can also be saved in the same way!

There are many brave soldiers of rational-thinking continuing the cause spearheaded by Dr Dabholkar, and a well-defined law as canvassed by him will do wonders to strengthen their efforts against superstition. As rationalists and sceptics all over the country mourn the death of one of their key figures, they will be resolving to double their efforts to rid the country of a cancer that has been a major hindrance to its people.

The right to belief is as integral to our well-being as a society, as is the right not to be fooled. It is only a well-developed understanding of rational thinking and an open spirit of inquiry that can prevent the gullible from being fooled by the unscrupulous, fake god-men.

Article 51A of the Indian Constitution asks citizens, “to develop the scientific temper, humanism, and the spirit of inquiry and reform”. This is the same Fundamental Duties that we all read in primary school, the same section that seeks people respect the national flag and anthem, the same section that demands people uphold and protect the sovereignty, unity and integrity of India. Yet today, a man was shot dead for trying to fulfil his duties to the nation. 

Indeed, there are a lot of uncomfortable questions that come to mind, each of which warrant an answer. The real question though remains: what will we do about it?

The writer is The Mind Reader -- a magician and hypnotist based in Bangalore. He haunts Twitter as @nakulshenoy

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