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Antisuperstition activist gunned down in India

NEW DELHI — The killing of an Indian crusader against superstition and religious charlatans prompted hundreds of protesters to shut down a city near Mumbai on Wednesday as a group of Indian scientists decried an ‘‘atmosphere of intolerance and antiscience attitude’’ that could undermine development.

Police were hunting for two unidentified men suspected of firing four shots at Narendra Dabholkar as he was taking a morning walk Tuesday in Pune. A witness reported seeing the assailants flee on a motorcycle. Police released a sketch of one suspect and said the two were believed to be in their 20s.

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Dabholkar, a 67-year-old doctor-turned-activist, had been receiving death threats for years since he began traveling by public buses to hundreds of villages around Maharashtra state to lecture against superstitions, religious extremism, black magic, and animal or human sacrifice, according to his friend and fellow activist, Deepak Girme.

‘‘He wanted to expose the people who cheat the poor in the name of gods, who promise false cures for cancer or do black magic to perform so-called miracles,’’ Girme said.

Hundreds of activists marched through the streets of Pune to protest the killing.

Dabholkar had refused to join any political party and, while Hindu by birth, eschewed its traditional teachings. Instead, he believed that the best people could do for society was to ‘‘live in harmony with each other and use your brain,’’ Girme said.

Dabholkar’s body was cremated Tuesday night in his home town of Satara, where he ran a clinic for alcoholics.

Responding to the public outcry, Maharashtra’s government said it would pass legislation that Dabholkar had worked on to ban religious exploitation and fraudulent medical workers. Activists urged the federal government also to pass a bill.

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