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Murder of a Skeptic

Murder of a Skeptic August 29, 2013

The New York Times has an article about Dr. Narendra Dabholkar, a prominent Indian skeptic who was murdered last week. The identity and motives of the murderers is not yet known, but the Times notes that Dabholkar had a long list of enemies because he routinely debunked the tall tales and myths that gave them wealth and power.

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.

Dr. Dabholkar’s killing is the latest episode in a millenniums-old wrestling match between traditionalists and reformers in India. 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. His home state, Maharashtra, was considering legislation he had promoted for 14 years, banning a list of practices like animal sacrifice, the magical treatment of snake bites and the sale of magic stones.

Several FTB bloggers — Avicenna, Taslima, the Nirmukta folks — live in India. Taslima has long been the victim of death threats, both there and in other countries, and we should not forget the plight of Sanal Edamaruku, who is still exiled from his home at the threat of being arrested on blasphemy charges. American skeptics may often be met with a hostile culture, but nothing like this. These people are risking their lives and their freedom by standing up for rationality.

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