NEW DELHI: Police said Saturday they detained two men suspected of gunning down an activist who campaigned in India against superstition and religious charlatanism — a killing that shocked the nation and led hundreds of self-proclaimed rationalists to protest in a west Indian city.
The suspects, both from Mumbai, were detained for allegedly firing four shots at Narendra Dabholkar as he was taking a morning walk on Aug. 20 in Pune, police said, without identifying the men. A witness described the motorcycle-borne assailants as being in their 20s.
Police tracked the suspects down to the seaside resort state of Goa and arrested them Friday afternoon before transferring them to Pune for questioning, according to Police Inspector Rajendra Prabhudessai of Goa’s capital Panaji.
The arrests could mark the first major breakthrough in the case in more than three months. Dabholkar’s family has demanded that the case be taken over by the Central Bureau of Investigation, India’s equivalent to the FBI. Police have given no information about a suspected motive. India has long held secularism as a keystone of its constitution — and a necessity for keeping the peace among its many cultures defined by caste, clan, tribe or religion, including Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Sikhism, Jainism and Buddhism.
Dabholkar, a 68-year-old doctor-turned-activist, had received years of death threats and demands that he stop traveling to hundreds of villages across Maharashtra state to give lectures promoting rationalist thought and discouraging superstitions, religious extremism, black magic and animal or human sacrifice, according to colleagues in his organization, the Maharashtra Blind Faith Eradication Committee.
Immediately after his killing, hundreds of students and anti-superstition activists marched through the streets of Pune, which is about 200 km southeast of Mumbai, India’s financial and entertainment capital.