India: urgently reinstate protection detail of at risk rationalist

  • post Type / Action Alert - Live
  • Date / 30 March 2023

Humanists International is deeply concerned to learn that police in Mangalore, Karnataka state, have withdrawn the protection detail assigned to prominent rationalist human rights defender, Narendra Nayak, with immediate effect. The organization calls on the authorities to restore his protection detail immediately and unconditionally.

Narendra Nayak responds to the award for his friend and colleague, the late Narendra Dabholkar. He said: “We cannot run away from these problems. We have to face them.”

Narendra Nayak – a biochemist by training – is the President of the Federation of Indian Rationalist Associations who has for decades campaigned within his community against superstition, exposing so-called ‘God men’ as fraudsters and advocating for the upholding of secularism in a country that has witnessed a sharp rise in Hindu nationalist rhetoric over the last decade.

Owing to persistent threats to his life – as a result of a career spent challenging superstition in the country – Nayak has lived under 24 hour police protection for the last seven years. In the course of an investigation into the murder of renowned journalist Gauri Lankesh, Nayak was notified that his name had been placed on a ‘hit list,’ and that he had been the subject of surveillance by a group of assassins connected to Lankesh’s murder. Nayak remains at imminent risk, as he continues to face credible threats to his life and smear campaigns.

According to documentation reviewed by Humanists International, on 4 March 2023, Nayak received notification from the Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) in Mangalore that he would be required to pay for his protection detail from there on in. Although a prominent figure in the rationalist community, Nayak does not have the means to pay for such vital protection, which he informed the DCP warning them that “stopping it would amount to an open invitation to all those forces who want to finish me.” Nonetheless, on 30 March Nayak’s protection detail was withdrawn.

The timing of the withdrawal of his security detail is of particular concern as the trial of the alleged killers of activist Vinayak Baliga is currently taking place. Nayak was instrumental in ensuring the identification and apprehension of the alleged assailants. Several witnesses in the case have reportedly been the subject of threats and harassment.

Andrew Copson, President of Humanists International

Andrew Copson, President of Humanists International, commented:

“It is completely outrageous to suddenly expect Prof. Nayak to fund his own protection in the face of threats of violence from extremist mobs. Prof. Nayak has made significant and substantial contributions to Indian society, in the pursuit of rationalism and the scientific temper.

“We call upon the authorities to urgently reverse this decision and ensure that Prof. Nayak is given appropriate security.”

Humanists International believes that Narendra Nayak is targeted for his peaceful exercise of his rights to freedom of religion or belief and freedom of expression, and urges the Karnataka authorities to reinstate his protection detail immediately removing any requirement that he personally assumes the cost.

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