Friday, April 20, 2012
Reason Under Fire in India
THE AMAZING COLUMN
By James Randi
This week, a change of pace: I’m hoping to enlist the readers of “The Amazing Column” to join me in fighting a ridiculous, archaic attack on reason halfway around the world in India.
In brief: The public assertion that a religious statue isn’t actually crying has put prominent rationalist Sanal Edamaruku in peril. Arrest warrants have been sworn out and Edamaruku could be picked up at any time — merely for stating the obvious, in the world’s most populous democracy.
This isn’t about India-bashing — far from it. The contributions of this enormously layered (and oppressed) nation are countless, and indisputable. But the hounding of Edamaruku, at the behest of religious groups using a law that is a remnant of British colonialization, threatens to return their democratic system of justice back to medieval times.
And a man’s liberty, to say the least, hangs in the balance.
Rationalism is no stranger to India. The late Basava Premenand, with whom I shared many personal chats about the “godmen” of India, and Abraham Kovoor, whom I never met but who provided me — and the world — with critiques of those same swindlers, rank high among my heroes.
And now I bring your attention to the peril faced by Edamaruku, who is president of the Indian Rationalist Association, editor of the internet publication Rationalist International, and author of 25 books and numerous articles.
Local representatives of the Catholic Church have filed charges under section 295A of the Indian Penal Code which makes it a crime “to outrage religious feelings or any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs.”
The outrage? The priest of Our Lady of Velankanni Church, and representatives of the piously incensed Association of Concerned Catholics (AOCC) has demanded that Edamaruku publicly apologize for having the audacity to say out loud that water flowing from a statue in their church was a leak in the sewage system and not — as the Indian media and the Church had loudly proclaimed — a miracle.
Edamaruku has flatly refused to surrender to their demands, so they filed a blasphemy case against him. A Mumbai police official directed him to come to the station to face the charges and be arrested. Charges have also been filed in numerous other police stations. He remains at large.
The threat to arrest a well known and dedicated rationalist who has been exposing “miracles” and superstitious beliefs in his own country for more than three decades is a serious attack on freedom of expression, designed to harass and silence him.
Edamaruku has sought to exercise his constitutional right to develop scientific thinking, the spirit of inquiry, reform, and humanism. We at the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) firmly support these rights.
We can only imagine the conditions of an Indian jail, and we don’t want our friend to find out.
Edamaruku is in a real jam now, but this is hardly the first time he’s spoken out against belief in miracles. Recently, a wonder-worker named Ajay Kumar Gupta claimed he could cure HIV infection, cancer, tuberculosis or any known disease by splashing the afflicted with a bowl of fresh water. Gupta wanted to prove his claim, so Sanjay introduced him to JREF Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge, and briefed him on the terms and conditions to be found there.
For some reason, we haven’t received an application from Mr. Gupta.
Now, this sort of really silly claim — throwing water to supernaturally cure any ailment — is not at all unusual to us at JREF. We get far stranger notions offered to us, regularly — everything from the ability to locate buried gold, fresh water or oil with a forked willow-branch, to levitating by thought-waves (or, frankly, any which way), are fantasies we must handle. And though we often think that we’ve now “heard everything,” that notion is dashed daily.
Dear reader, I urge you to visit www.rationalistinternational.net and see the way this remarkable man has fought unreason and prejudice in the Indian continent, often at risk of his well-being. I urge you to drop him a note expressing your support and encouragement, and donate to his legal defense fund if you can.
We need to take every opportunity to promote rationality and science in opposition to blind belief and appeals to ghosts …