Narendra Dabholkar

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Two unidentified gunmen on motorcycles shot Narendra Dabholkar in the city of Pune while he was taking an early-morning walk, according to local reports. The gunmen fled the scene. Dabholkar died from injuries sustained to his neck and back, police said.

Dabholkar was the editor of a weekly Marathi-language print magazine called Sadhana (Spiritual Devotion), which promotes scientific thought and covers topics including caste, politics, and religion. Over the years, Dabholkar had angered many Indians with his lectures and writings, which propagated rationalism and scientific thinking in a country where superstitious beliefs are still rampant, the reports said.

Dabholkar, a prominent campaigner against religious superstition, had also spent several years writing in support of legislation to ban fraudulent and exploitative superstitious practices. A few days before his murder, the Maharashtra state government said it would introduce a controversial anti-superstition bill, according to reports.

Dabholkar had received threats in the days before his murder, his son, Hamid, told NDTV. Sadhana often published articles on sensitive issues, including the creation of a separate Telangana state, student suicides, farmer suicides, slums, and the ideology behind India’s Naxalite movement.

Dabholkar had also founded the Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti (Committee for Eradication of Blind Faith), a group that encouraged social reform in India.

Maharashtra Home Minister R. R. Patil said on August 23, 2013, that police were investigating the murder.

Also in August 2013, Pune police arrested two alleged arms dealers, Manish Nagori and Vilas Khandelwal, on charges of extortion, reports said. The pair, who were later named as suspects in the journalist’s murder, were released on bail because of a lack of evidence, police said, according to reports. Because the men face charges in other cases, they remain in jail. Both have denied any role in the murder, and Nagori said that investigating authorities offered him money to accept involvement in the murder, reports said. Authorities denied the allegation.

In May 2014 the Maharashtra state government handed the case to the Central Bureau of Investigation. Investigations were delayed for a year because of staff shortages at the agency, according to reports. In July and August 2015, the bureau wrote to the state government to request that more officers be assigned to the case, The Hindu reported.

In July 2015, relatives of Dabholkar filed a writ petition at the Bombay High Court seeking court monitoring of the investigation, according to reports. In December 2015, the Central Bureau of Investigation informed the Bombay High Court that it had identified two suspects and handed the names to the court, reports said. The names were kept confidential, The Hindu reported.

In 2016, the bureau questioned several members of the hard-line Hindu group Sanatan Sanstha, which is believed to be behind the killing. The Sanatan Sanstha denies any role in the murder, reports said. Forensic analysis of the bullet cartridges found at the scene of Dabholkar’s killing and that of writers Govind Pansare and MM Kalburgi suggest a common set of killers, reports said.