Freethought Activism

Challenges and Threats in the life of a Rationalist

A few weeks ago when I was on my way to the swimming pool from my residence early in the morning when it was still a little dark, two strangers on a motor bike pointed out to the front tyre of my car at the junction where the cross road joins the main road and said there is no air. The first reaction would be to stop and check whether it was so.

But, since 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 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 early in the morning near his residence under the pretext of asking for someone’s address and attacked him from the back. Pointing out that the tyre is deflated 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. In retrospect it seems to be foolish on my part to have ventured out alone that too when it was still a little dark. Anyway a 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. I have been provided with a gunman by the police since July,2016 and now the security has been enhanced to round the clock.
Later on I started working for the Consumer movement and we started the Consumers’ Education Trust of Mangalore, a monthly newsletter Balakedarara Chalavala 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 who were out to get me. 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!
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 since 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 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 I feel that if we do not protest against injustice fearing the consequences we too are a part of the problem and not the solution

(This article first appeared in Mangalore Today.)

About the author

Narendra Nayak


  • It must be taxing after a while to put up with all the nonsense, but there’s no alternative. Thank you for your work!

  • This reminds me of a similar incident.
    About a year ago, on March 15, 2016, 11:08 am, while driving past Pune bypass on NH4, I also came across a stranger on a motorcycle who indicated to me that the my front left wheel’s air pressure was low. Since the car was relatively new and had logged only about 3000 km, I decided to ignore him and continued to drive till Bangalore. When I checked I did not find anything wrong with any of the tires.

  • @ NarendraNayak,
    Thanks for spreading this message. They can be criminals and this could be their rob or harm innocent passersby. Please alert maximum possible people. This is a serious issue.

    But your attempt to connect these gangsters to Hindu right groups and attempts to criticize Hinduism is condemnable. By doing so (taking advantage of a dangerously bad exp) you are cheating yourselves.

    I am a Hindu theist . Dharma( The religion or Hinduism) is the edifice on which this universe exists and no one can destroy it. I don’t consider you as a threat to Hinduism and it’s not Hindu way to harm any one by word or action either.

  • It is increasingly becoming difficult to live as a rationalist, let alone question some archaic values publicly. The hindu fanatics pounce on anyone randomly and attack ( even though one tries to pacify them citing ‘ Charvaka Upanishad’ and try to reason on their lines!). One feels those days were better when Abraham Koovur lived and proved the myth of obscurantism with rationality and tried to wean away people from bigotry

  • Tremendous respect from a fellow rationalist for your invaluable and courageous work. I can only imagine and applaud your perseverance in the face of stress and distress and also nonsense.

    I am now pursuing my education away from India, and it gratifies me immensely to see the kind of work that you are doing. Quite simply, it makes me happy and optimistic to read Nirmukta. Especially during these times when the news seems almost uniformly bad with lynchings, mob justice, and attacks on nearly all forms of freedom, in general. And the superstitions that plague India and seem to grow rather than decline, even among the younger people. Nirmukta makes me believe that all is not lost yet and much can still be retrieved.

    I wonder if there is some way, I, or people like me who do not reside in India any more, can also contribute?

  • Sir , Rationalists like you are a big threat to those who make lot of profit spreading pseudo science , magic and so called miracles .I suggest you start a video series in youtube that exposes all these pseudo science and quacks and those videos can help reach many people without you going through each and every place demonstrating the same . Also you can use FaceBook to keep posting your thoughts through text and Video so that it reaches more people .

  • Mr. Nayak, you are my hero. I look up to you. Kudos for your courage and tremendous work you do especially in India where mob can do anything. Lack of true freedom of speech in India is also a major reason for many people to keep quite and not speak up against religion. Keep up your great work and folks like us will not hesitate to speak up.

  • Sir Narendra Nayak,
    Your moon sign seems to be Capricorn or Makara. Guru or Jupiter will enter 10th house from moon sign i.e Libra on sept 20, 2017. Jupiter will roughly stay there for an year
    career wise you will see better results for one year.
    This year Jupiter had been in 9th house of course till sept 2017. 9th is a house of previous punyas and good religious activities and luck. So yo must have been little inclined to religion this year

    Saturn on the other hand will move from 11th to 12th in Oct 2017 which will start sade sathi. Do not worry, in sade sathi (7.5 years) you will have to put more effort, but things will move.

    For people having Makara as moon sign, may 17 2012 – june 2013 seems to be good for mind/kids if any as Jupiter was transiting the fifth house from moon (fifth denotes children, mind)

  • Life of an atheist who debunks magic of fraudsters is a tough one. Cheers to that!

    However, I see Mr Nayak as needlessly confrontational and fallen into the same trap as extreme moralists. Being against cults for the longest time and tasted success, scoffing people’s dumb beliefs and superstitions probably gives him a high.

    Was at Agumbe a long time back, and Mr. Nayak was also at sunset point with a group of his kind or his disciples (you know any group can devolve into a cult pretty soon, religion is not a pre-requisite). We arrived at the spot too, it’s a public place, the place is fantastic. As any hot headed youth would probably be, a bunch of us were exhilarated at the sight and cried out loud a “woohoo” and others just excited speaking loud.

    But, our man would have none of it. He started berating the group for being loud. He did not even give us a minute or so to settle down, which we eventually did. I knew instinctively who this gentleman was and asked others to just quietly move away. But our man was pretty defiant having scored an easy victory, scoffing and mumbling and grumbling before going into his “trance” again.

    That was pretty petty, low on commonsense, unappreciative of other’s rights and probably insecure. Good luck with Whatever you are upto Mr. Nayak, carry on with your “religious fight”.

  • @winoth Rai We are more concerned of one’s ‘matters’ than manners. It is not important who scores the brownie points. Let us be friends (not fiends) and opt for mutual improvement.

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