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India: Challenges and Threats in the life of a Rationalist | Narendra Nayak

7 April

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via Facebook 5 April 2017 What I have written for the next issue of Mangalore Today

by Narendra Nayak

With the rise of intolerance and attacks on all forms of dissent, it is a difficult task indeed to pursue the calling of one’s conscience, writes Prof. Narendra Nayak

A couple of weeks ago when two strangers on a motor bike pointed out to the front tyre of my car and said there is no air, the first reaction of any sane person would be to stop and check whether it was so. But, since I do not come under that category and have been facing threats, I did not stop but drove straight to the nearby petrol pump to check and the boy who was at the air pump told there was no need for me to get out of the car as he could make out clearly that all four tyres were inflated properly. Later after a day or so when I had gone to check the blow it was perfectly all right.

Giving a thought to the incident, I later realised that it was the favourite modus operandi of the gang that had brutally murdered Vinayak Baliga a year ago. They had stopped him under the pretext of asking for someone’s address and attacked him from the back. That seems to be a good method as one would naturally get out of the car to check and would be distracted into looking down at the wheels when the attack could be from the back. Anyway complaint has been filed and the police are investigating the case and I am quite sure that the culprits would be apprehended soon. Anyway, when that happened my mind went back to all those years that I have been facing threats and attempts to finish me off.

Being in the rationalist, consumer and human rights movements for more than four decades would naturally earn a lot of enemies. The first time I received such threats was nearly three decades ago when I had moved the High Court of Karnataka along with several others challenging the grant of land to a mosque at Mangalore Harbour. As a rationalist I had felt that this would open the flood gates for a number of such demands and it would be better to nip the move in the bud. We had made a mass petition signed by thousands of people and handed it over to the then chairman of the Port Trust. Since no action was being taken on that we had obtained a stay order from the high court. Since it was alleged that quite a good amount had exchanged hands for this, those who had wanted the land were furious about me and were out to get me. But, nothing happened.

Later on I started working for the Consumer movement and we started the Consumers’ Education Trust of Mangalore and started taking on quite a few vested interests. There were supposed to be gangs of the gas distributors, the road contractors and a host of such whom we had exposed. But, one ‘agent’ of the weights and measures took the cake! We had exposed a nexus at the Department of Weights and Measures where a process of ‘verification of weights and weighing machines’ has to take place every year. One can never get this done if a direct approach is made. It has to go through agents who hang around the premises. If someone goes directly they are asked to come through these people, who even give receipts as service charges. We had exposed one such wheeler dealer and had written about him. I had forgotten about it till I was reminded by a technician in the college. It seems this man had gone for ‘lunch’ to a local made liquor shop where he met the proprietor of this enterprise who showed him a knife and said that it was reserved to stick into my chest! The technician had to climb the stairs that day as there was no lift and since he was tired after the strenuous lunch during which he had liberally imbibed spirits, took rest at each landing and told all those who were within earshot that someone is coming to stab Nayak sir! Since our department was on the third floor by the time he had reached there was a crowd of half a dozen following him and occasionally looking behind their backs to see where the will be stabber was! But nothing happened and since I was one of directors of Karnataka Consumer Protection board, the incident was taken seriously and the man was arrested and warned! Paradoxically he was a Muslim and he confessed that he had a drop too much to drink- probably the unaccustomed to consumption of alcohol might have caused a unusual reaction!

A very ingenious attempt to get rid of me was made twice. One day when I was riding my two wheeler and came out of my house early in the morning I heard a ping like a wire getting cut. Getting down, I looked all around. The scooters of old had innumerable cables for changing gears, accelerator, two brakes etc. I could not feel anything in those. But, always on the cautious side I looked at the rear brake cable and there it was! The thickest cable for two wheelers running under the chassis and nearly three times as thick as the other cables was hanging by a few strands. I took it to the garage and the mechanic said it was not due to wear and tear but an attempt at sabotage. They had not cut the cable through and through which I would have realized immediately but kept it on few strands so that it would get totally cut when applied with some force as in an emergency or at a high speed! They also told me that in all the decades of their service none of them had seen any rear brake cable getting cut by wear and tear. They said the replacement has been always by checking at servicing time. They replaced it. They advised me to check it every time it has been parked for a long time unattended. Lo, it happened again after a few months. Then they put a rubber tubing over the exposed portion where it could be cut and strongly advised me to check it every day. It did not happen afterwards.
In 1992 we had a miracle exposure program at Town Hall, Mangalore. It was our 125th program and my anti guru late B.Premanand had been invited too. It went on a for a long time and sometime during the Q-A session one person came and asked me whether there was bhoota. I said I have not seen so far. He then said in that case what is this? He started shivering and jumping around and tried to damage the sound system. I came down from the stage and asked him to come over. I gave him a tight slap and asked where is it? He said I am ok now and ran off! After an hour or so he came back with a mob who started attacking me and wanted me to say that I believe in god and one exists. I flatly refused, the police had to be called and the crowd was dispersed not before they threatened that no program of mine will be ever held in Mangalore again. Of course hundreds of them have happened and no one could stop them is another matter.

Another time I was seriously attacked was in 1995. Though it seemed that the attack was a reaction against offending ‘religious sentiments’ the motive was something different. The motive was to avenge the exposure of a sexual exploitation racket at an orphanage run by the Arya Samaj which had rubbed quite a few of the exploiters on the wrong side. The raid and the subsequent publicity had caused an outrage and the forces behind the same wanted to extract revenge. They got the opportunity in September, 1995 when the famous ‘miracle’ of Ganesh idols ‘drinking milk’ went viral. I was demonstrating to people how it was due to a phenomenon called as surface tension with various models. A mob gathered and threw stones at me and I had a scalp wound. The perpetrators were identified and convicted too. An attempt was made to ‘compromise’ by offering to pay for the damage but I put my foot down and refused the same.

The latest attempts had started after the assassination of Narendra Dhabolkar though he was the vice president of Federation of Indian Rationalist Associations and they should have started with the president, they chose to eliminate him! He had been offered police security which he had refused. Then came the turn of Pansare and Kalburgi. During that time a list of the persons on the hit list was made and I was the seventh. Number one on it was Prof. K.S.Bhagvan and when I joked with him that I was relieved to be no 7 and they had to finish six before getting to me, he retorted as to how I could be so sure of their integrity that they would abide by the order in the list!

Any way with the increase of intolerance and attacks on all forms of dissent, it is a difficult task indeed to pursue the calling of one’s conscience. But some like me refuse to learn for it is better for us to be swift rather than die inch by inch putting up with all the injustices and the like. Perhaps these are not the times for the likes of us. But, in the sands of time one would like to go with the message that he tried his best for a change.

As the eminent parliamentarian Edmund Burke said -There is a courageous wisdom; there is also a false reptile prudence, the result, not of caution, but of fear.

And also “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

But mind you the second one is not what he actually said what he said was this -when bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.
So, to all of you if you do not protest against injustice fearing the consequences you too are a part of the problem and not the solution.