Are you Dabholkar?

This art installation is all wrong. ‘I am Dabholkar’ by the Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti was unveiled in Pune on August 20 to commemorate rationalist Narendra Dabholkar. The mirror in place of his face is supposed to mirror those who look at it and implies that there is a Dabholar in everyone.

There isn’t. That is the reason the cops have not been able to trace his killers a year later. He was on his morning walk when he was attacked by people who opposed his views. He had several enemies because he fought what to many is a faith superior to any faith – superstition.

I can understand the sentiments behind such an artwork, but it only serves to preach to the choir. The mirror image should ideally have been distorted to show us how skewed perceptions can be and how others might view us. The process of identification is often a temporary placebo. Take the Shiv Sena president Udhhav Thackeray. He expressed anger that Dabholkar’s killers have not been traced and in the next breath he was endorsing the view that India is a Hindu nation.

One might not find any contradiction in the two statements, and I do believe that a person of religion might be rational in non faith-induced stupor moments. But those who kill a rationalist obviously believe he is a threat to a faith as it is marketed today. In almost every part of the world, superstitions come as a package deal with religion and they are sold as rituals.

There is also the ‘religion’ of the wannabe makers of destiny. The “I am X” is reminiscent of the not too distant street tamasha of ‘I am Anna’ and later of ‘I am the aam aadmi’, where the common man had to carry the burden of the hubris of his saviours.

The tragedy of the other common man, and Narendra Dabholkar typified him in many ways, is that few will find their reflection in a mirror that questions.

~Farzana Versey