he Maharashtra police suspects that leaders of jaat panchayat (caste committee) could be behind the killing of well-known social worker Narendra Dabholkar. The police has started collecting Dabholkar's speeches against the one-upmanship of jaat panchayats and look if someone felt offended by his speeches. They have failed to trace the killers after Dabholkar was shot dead by two bike borne assailants in Pune on 20 August.
The jaat panchayats are dominant in western Maharashtra from where Dabholkar belonged. He had turned his attention to the dictates issued by jaat panchayats in the recent past. Jaat panchayats have been ordering honour killing, brutal punishments and social boycott for the people who act against their caste leaders' wish. Dabholkar had received 17 such cases in the last three months. He had raised a strong voice against the jaat panchayat's dictates at a rally in Nashik on 8 August.
Dabholkar had asked the workers of the anti-superstition movement, Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti (ANS), to get ready for a battle against the mighty jaat panchayats, said an ANS worker. The jaat panchayat of the Gosavi community in Sangli had socially boycotted a family because its head talked in Marathi instead of their community language. In another incident, the jaat panchayat in Nashik had ordered one Anna Hingmire to kill his daughter Pramila for marrying outside her caste.
Maharashtra Home Minister R.R. Patil said that the police was investigating the case from every angle. "We are not ruling out any possibilities. We have formed a big police team for the investigation. I have asked them not to take any other case till the mystery over Dabholkar's murder is solved," said Patil, a former ANS activist.
Shyam Manav, the founder of ANS, refuted the jaat panchayats' hand in Dabholkar's murder. "I don't think jaat panchayats were any threat even though he had planned an agitation against them. Dabholkar's killing is an outcome of the brainwash by Jayant Athavale. Even if Sanatan Sanstha is not involved in his murder I would blame Athavale's harsh criticism of Dabholkar and his fiery words," Manav told The Sunday Guardian. Ironically, Manav and Athavale had cordial relations till the last few years. Their relationship took a bizarre turn after Manav started talking about religious superstitions.
Athavale is the founder of the right wing organisation Sanatan Sanstha, which works for "spreading religious knowledge in a scientific manner". Abhay Vartak, spokesperson of the organisation, rubbished Manav's allegation. "We had differences with Dabholkar over several issues. We believe in democratic ways, not violent," he said.
Many believe that those who were not in favour of Dabholkar's emphasis on passing the anti-superstition bill have engineered his killing. The state government has decided to bring an ordinance to implement the Maharashtra Prevention and Eradication of Human Sacrifice and other Inhuman, Evil and Aghori Practices and Black Magic Bill, which is pending since 1995. Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan has claimed that the thought that killed Mahatma Gandhi also murdered Dabholkar.