Narendra Dabholkar

On this date in 1945, Dr. Narendra Dabholkar, an atheist and rationalist assassinated for his anti-superstition activism, was born in Satara, Maharashtra state, India. The youngest of 10 children, Dabholkar was remarkably multifaceted. He was a physician, prolific writer and international level athlete who represented India in the game of kabaddi. 

After practicing medicine for a dozen years, his involvement in social work started in the 1980s and gradually focused on the harm done by organized religion. In 1989 he founded the Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti (Committee for the Eradication of Superstition).

He became well known for public criticism of godmen (self-proclaimed demigods and charlatans with cult followings) and for anti-superstition drives in his home state of Maharashtra. The state includes Mumbai and has more than 120 million people. He was also the author of several books advocating rationalism and a scientific outlook. 

Dabholkar refused police protection despite being constantly targeted with death threats and even assaults. He was murdered at age 67 on Aug. 20, 2013, in the city of Pune while on a morning walk. Although one of the two gunmen was caught, the masterminds, allegedly belonging to a fringe Hindu nationalist group, are still at large. His assassination was the first in a series claiming the lives of four freethinkers in that region, as of this writing in 2022. 

Dabholkar was occupied in his final days working on an anti-superstition bill titled “Anti-Superstition and Black Magic Ordinance,” which became law four days after his murder. The next year, the Indian government posthumously awarded him one of its top civilian honors, the Padma Shri. The date of his assassination, Aug. 20, is now observed as National Scientific Temper Day in his memory.

FFRF honored the Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti and Avinash Patil, its head at the time, with the Avijit Roy Courage Award at its 2019 convention. Dabholkar was close friends with Amol Palekar and Shriram Lagoo, two actors who are Indian legends and are included in FFRF’s freethinking pantheon. (D. 2013) 

Freedom From Religion Foundation