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Convention speech: Avinash Patil — Let’s work together to eradicate superstition

Avinash Patil speaks at FFRF’s national convention on Oct. 19, 2019. (Photo by Ingrid Laas)
Avinash Patil holds the Avijit Roy Courage Award. (Photo by Ingrid Laas)

Here is an edited version of the speech given by Avinash Patil during FFRF’s national convention in Madison, Wis., on Oct. 19. He was introduced by FFRF’s Director of Communications Amit Pal:

Dr. Narendra Dabholkar was the founder of the Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti (MANS) and was killed on Aug. 20, 2013. His sacrifice was not in vain. He was awarded one of India’s highest civilian honors. Because of the pressure built due to his death, there was an anti-superstition bill passed at the state level. A medical doctor by training, he was also an international-level sports player.

It’s amazing work that MANS is doing in a state that’s larger than most countries in the world.  And it’s doing it in the face of a Hindu nationalist government, led by Narendra Modi, that’s very hostile to the sort of work the organization is doing. In fact, after Dr. Dabholkar’s assassination, there have been three more murders of rationalists in the same region of India by the same group that carried out Dabholkar’s assassination.

The current head of MANS is here to receive the Avijit Roy Courage Award. We were initially considering giving it to the organization, but now we are giving it to Avinash Patil himself because he actually is a volunteer. He doesn’t receive any salary at all. He still has no security. He has refused it even after the way his predecessor was heinously assassinated. Avinash has been doing incredible work, so it’s with real pleasure that we ask him to come up to receive the Avijit Roy Courage Award.

By Avinash Patil

I am Avinash Patil, executive president of Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti in India. I am here to receive the prestigious Avijit Roy Courage Award on the behalf of my organization, MANS. I dedicate this award to our luminary leader, the late Dr. Narendra Dabholkar, and the strenuous efforts of our thousands of activists who are struggling for the same cause: rationality. Today, I remember hundreds of thousands of well-wishers and supporters from India and abroad who have been assisting us for the last 30 years.

I express my deep sense of gratitude to the Freedom from Religion Foundation for conferring this award to MANS. We believe this recognition of our dedication and work at such an international forum will ignite our aspirations and will help us increase the credibility and reliance of our work among people.

Two years before Avijit Roy was hacked in Dhaka, Dr. Narendra Dabholkar was shot in Pune. Many freethinkers have been assassinated in the name of religion, traditions and culture. This tendency has become prevalent around the world, especially in developing countries. Further painful is the attitude of the authorities, who, in most cases, are unsuccessful in arresting the assassins. The prevalent silence of the authorities and lack of political will to address these matters has driven the rise in intolerance and insecurity.

The eradication of superstitions in a society where it is used for socio-political and economical gains of the few has become a hazardous task. The field demands a lot of patience and rationality, it also needs deep-rooted courage to face the challenges of work that can literally take your life. An award titled with the word “courage” becomes complementary to our work.

In the course of civilization, we have lost several freethinkers whose sole aim was to promote secularism, humanity, science, equality, justice, scientific temperament, and enlighten our fellow people. I have mixed emotions of pleasure and misery while receiving the award for the philosophy and ethics of courage in the 21st century world that is, on one hand, based on science and technology, while on the other lacks rational thought and is full of superstition.

Fundamentalists and extremists have not been able to digest the dialogue, sympathy and acceptance that was created by MANS and fellow rationalists. Dr. Narendra Dabholkar has sacrificed his life for the cause of our work. Not only Dabholkar, but other rational activists and social reformers like Govind Pansare, Professor M.M. Kalburgi and journalist Gauri Lankesh have sacrificed their lives for the courage they embodied in the thoughts, ideas and principles of their works. Officials and agencies have claimed these assassinations to be linked to religious extremists. I dedicate this award to their memories and contributions.

All of us gathered here dream of a society full of Mukto-Mona or freethinkers. Let me talk about the work, ideals and perceptions of MANS. MANS has been working on such ideals for the past 30 years. The “eradication of superstition” is a phrase coined in today’s sociocultural context in the state of Maharashtra due to the contributions of the MANS and the creative leadership of Dr. Dabholkar. He established this organization on Aug. 9, 1989.

On Aug. 9, 2019, to celebrate the 30 years of our work, we organized an international conference in Mumbai. MANS’s campaigns, imaginations, works and organizational skill have spread the work, with our group currently having 350 branches. The base of this work is the ideas of reformers in Maharashtra who criticized the caste system, superstitions and rituals. MANS continued this legacy of works with creative activism and organization.

MANS started its works with exposing so-called godmen and people claiming themselves as the incarnation of gods on Earth. Later, the work developed the basis of scientific temperament, criticism of religion, and the principles of secularism, rationality and humanity. The key role of MANS in passing a bill that outlaws black magic is a prime example of its journey.

30 years of MANS

The organization’s 30 years of work is based on the following principles and may be divided into three decades.

In the first decade, MANS existed with five to 10 branches and a handful of volunteers. The achievement of the first decade was to convey the importance of our work. Society accepted that there are superstitions and they must be eradicated. We exposed many godmen, black magic incidents, etc., and people were attracted toward this work, especially the youth.

In the second decade, society certified MANS as a chief whistle-blower of the work and recognized its expertise in the field. MANS worked on a variety of different issues.

In the third decade, the journey from constructive criticism of religion to rationality became our catchphrase, since it reflects the fundamentals of MANS.

MANS has its commitment to two major aspects: first its commitment to reformists of Maharashtra and India, who had a message of morality, ethics, brotherhood, rationality, humanity, justice and nonviolence through their works.

Second, the Constitution of India that supports all these things through its preamble and constitutional provisions. It does not make difference between man and woman and permits both the genders to function at all places. It does not support any inhuman and atrocious rituals that decrease the person’s dignity and freedom. The constitutional behavior of Indian society will lead it to a society that MANS aspires to as an “ethical and rational society.”

Our experience of 30 years shows that superstition is one of the main hurdles in forming a humanitarian society. Unscientific temperaments don’t give ample space for the development of women, downtrodden and deprived, and at the same time exposes these classes to rampant exploitation. Superstitions aid godmen in creating ritualistic businesses. Unscientific thoughts, lack of criticism and evaluation of customs, fake pride of traditions and blind followership in religion lead to all sorts of exploitation.

MANS has worked on inclusive and innovative programs, such as constitutional festivals, rational selection of life partners, awareness about pseudoscience, annihilation of caste councils, etc. Time and again, MANS has organized innovative activities. Our encounters with communities have always kept our work dynamic.

We have two major assets to work effectively and creatively: First, our activists work in this organization without any personal desires. Their tireless efforts have taken this organization to this stage after 30 years. And the second asset is the acceptance and recognition by society and media of this work.

Eradication of superstitions means eradication of hate, anger, greed, fear, unfair competitions, and negative emotions through inculcating love, cooperation, brotherhood, tolerance, peaceful coexistence, sympathy, reliance for each other, rationality and reason. This is not a momentary journey — it may take hundreds of years together. One generation is not enough for it. Generations together must contribute for this.

Join together

I, on behalf of MANS, appeal to you on this occasion to be our comrades, supporters and companions. We strongly feel that like-minded organizations that struggle for the same cause here in the United States as we do in India must collaborate in addressing the issues. We can share our scholarships and expertise with each other, since we are co-travelers on the same road — the road that leads the world toward humanity, rationality and equality.

We believe that rationality should be adopted on a wide scale. MANS has this humble standpoint while organizing Aug. 20 as National Scientific Temper Day.

Human life has traveled to scientific thoughts through logic, assessment and an inclusive thought process. The next developed stage of this is rationality. We must nurture and renew a rationality, primarily, based on carving the values and ethics of life toward a comprehensive perspective.

A determination to change human personality based on only thoughts is not enough, because human personality is the combination of thoughts and emotions. So, we must nurture human personality based on rational thoughts and ethical emotions, too.

Increasing violence and bigotry are creating a frenzy, along with a self-centered society due to the influence of globalization. These have already created several challenges. But we are firm in our attempts to form a unity of our work.

We, on this occasion, declare that MANS is bound to shoulder any responsibility, either minor or major, toward this gigantic task to form a union of all like-minded organizations toward the creation of a rational world. We want an alliance of the humanists and rationalists from all over the planet. They should come together and travel hand in hand toward the purpose of creating a beautiful and flourishing world. Thank you.