Three years after the assassination of Dr Narendra Dhabolkar, and a year on from the death, in similar circumstances, of Comrade Govind Pansare and Professor M. M. Kalburgi, progressive and democratic organisations all over the country came together to condemn the targeted murder of rationalists and the deliberate inaction of the government against the perpetrators. To create awareness among the youth against the growing fascist offensive in the country, organisations across the states of Maharashtra and Karnataka led the Lokshahisathi Sangharsh Yatra from September 21 to 26, 2016, from Pune to Dharwad. Organisations like Lokayat, Vidrohi Sanskritik Chalwal, Rashtra Seva Dal, CPI, Janata Dal (Secular), Socialist Party of India, Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti (MANS or Maharashtra Blind Faith Eradication Committee), Shramik Mukti Dal (Lokshahiwadi), Lal Nishan Party (Leninist), AISA, AISF, CPM, SFI and Chhattra Bharti came together after a series of meetings and workshops that began on the 20th of July in New Delhi with the Dharna Andolan ‘Against Violence, Towards Humanity’ [‘Hinsa ke Khilaf, Manavta ki Aor’]. Meetings were held in Pune, Kolhapur, Belgaum, Sangli and Satara to invite more progressive groups and organise the yatra. Simultaneously, various participating organisations took up the task of hosting workshops on the social and economic aspects of fascism in Pune, Islampur, Nagar, Kolhapur and Satara. From collecting funds for yatra-related expenses to finalising the route – these issues were brought forth and discussed in the meetings.
The Yatra began on the evening of September 21 at the Mahatma Phule Wada in Pune, and reached the Shinde Bridge where Dr Dhabolkar was murdered. Then, via Satara and Sangli on September 22, the yatra reached Kolhapur – where Comrade Pansare was murdered – by September 23. And finally, via Belgaum the yatra reached Dharwad on September 24 – to the place where Professor Kalburgi was murdered. The primary objective of the Lokshahisathi Sangharsh Yatra was to expose the regressive social agenda of the BJP government and organisations like the RSS pushing the fascist agenda. This policy is visibly threatening the very conception of India as a sovereign, socialist, secular and democratic republic as visualized by the country’s founders and enshrined in the Constitution of India. In order to recognize and fight this assault on democracy, the Lokshahisathi Sangharsh Yatra undertook the task of spreading awareness among the youth and uniting democratic and progressive forces in the country. With a motorcycle rally of young men and women through Pune, Satara, Sangli, Kolhapur, Belgaum and Dharwad, and four-wheeler yatra of older participants throughout the highway route, the yatra conducted public meetings, oath-taking ceremonies under the leadership of local organizations, and distributed literature, booklets and pamphlets en-route, the message of fighting against the fascist agenda, against superstition, and for a rationalist, democratic country was spread.
In preparation for this rally, mobilization took place all over the country. In Delhi, the organisers screened films at Studio Safdar earlier in September on the issue of anti-superstition and for promoting scientific temperament. Furthermore, efforts are being made to push for the Bill of Law Against Social Boycott in Maharashtra State. There has also been an on-going campaign for the Anti-Black Magic Act in different states of India. In this political climate, the role of regressive Hindutva organizations like Sanatan Bhartiya Sanstha has been to spread the fascist agenda through fear-mongering, and as agent provocateurs, to disrupt the social fabric that has historically held the people of this country together. The organisers have been pursuing the Central Government to ban such fascist organizations that masquerade as cultural organizations while spreading the message of hate against the principles of democracy and the minority communities, dalits, adivasis, rationalists, and women all over the country.
The yatra saw the participation of thousands of youth and people from all walks of life and it was received eagerly by the residents of the cities through which it passed. Around 150 motorcycles and nearly a dozen cars and tempos proceeded through the cities, and at certain points the rally was almost a kilometre long. In Kolhapur, the rally was greeted by huge crowds of people at the entrance to the city itself, and marched slowly and cheerfully through the city, with slogans of unity blasting through the loudspeakers. There were small public meetings in Karad, Islampur, Sangli, Nipani and Belgaum and larger ones in Satara, Kolhapur and Dharwad. In some cities, girls on motorcycles or riding pillion led the rally. Baba Adhav read the oath at Shinde Bridge in Pune, N. D. Patil read the oath in Kolhapur and A. H. Salunkhe addressed the rally in Satara. The boarding and food for the organisers and the participants were organized by local committees, and each moment was celebrated with songs, dance and slogans. Books by the organisers launched during the course of the yatra include texts in Marathi and English speaking of the lives of Dhabolkar, Pansare and Kalburgi, texts on recognizing RSS and its agenda, on fascism, on the neoliberal attack on education. The funds for the yatra were raised locally by the committees and centrally by the organisers, who appealed widely for contribution and support for this yatra.
In light of the yatra and its success, the objective of such an initiative needs to be reiterated. The growing climate of fear and intimidation under the rule of a BJP-led government at the Centre and the increasing influence of organizations like the RSS, Sanathan Sanstha and Hindu Janjagran Samiti in each state, district, town and village, the need for progressive and democratic organizations to stand united becomes imperative. The influence of regressive Hindutva organizations extends deep within society and affects the cultural milieu by building a vocabulary of fear from ‘love-jihad’ to ‘gau-raksha’. The Lokshahisathi Sangharsh Yatra has been one such step towards fighting fascism, and in turn, upholding the democratic principles enshrined in the Constitution of India.