Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Wall Street Journal

Religion Journal: Christ Statue in Mumbai Prompts Blasphemy Spat

May 15, 2012

Sanal Edamaruku, pictured, has spent 30 years 
debunking miracles and exposing fraudulent faith healers.

The man facing blasphemy charges after he claimed water dripping from a statue of Christ in Mumbai was not miraculous but the result of a badly plumbed toilet is preparing to ask India’s Supreme Court to abolish the blasphemy law.

Sanal Edamaruku is accused by Catholic groups in Mumbai of breaking the Indian Penal Code, which outlaws “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings.”
Mr. Edamaruku, a rationalist who has spent 30 years debunking miracles and exposing fraudulent faith healers, denies the offense and claims the law is being misused in order to silence him.
His lawyers are asking the High Court in Mumbai to intervene to stop the charges going further, but Mr. Edamaruku also plans to make a separate challenge to the blasphemy law in the Supreme Court in Delhi.
“I see this as an opportunity to make sure this law isn’t misused any more against anybody,” said Mr. Edamaruku who is president of Rationalist International, a group working to promote science and reason in place of religious belief and superstition.
The blasphemy law, created in 1860, goes against the fundamental right of freedom of expression and should be abolished, he says.
Those invoking it against him said they were offended by Mr. Edamaruku’s comments that clergy at Velankanni Church in Mumbai were using the sight of water dripping from the feet of a Christ statue to make money from visiting pilgrims.
The Catholic Secular Forum filed a first information report with the police in Mumbai, while the Association of Concerned Catholics and Maharashtra Christian Youth Forum also objected to Mr. Edamaruku’s claims. The groups also accuse Mr. Edamaruku of alleging the Catholic Church practises idolatry.
“They want to avenge and put me in prison,” said Mr. Edamaruku, who fears he could be arrested immediately if he returns to Mumbai.
The Catholic Bishop of Mumbai Agnelo Gracias has called on Mr. Edamaruku to apologize for “hurting” the Catholic community and said that no money had been collected at the shrine.
In a letter to The Examiner, a Catholic Newsletter, the bishop said he did not believe the water to be a miracle. “But to make that an occasion to hurl false allegations against the Christian community and its leaders is quite another matter,” Bishop Agnelo wrote.
Although the groups who have taken the cases against Mr. Edamaruku do not represent the bishop, he appeared to praise them for their actions. “We can rejoice that there are some people who have the courage to stand up when the attempts are made to besmirch the name of the Catholic community.”
Father Nigel Barrett, coordinator of the Catholic Communications Centre in Mumbai, said that the miracle had not yet been officially ascertained because Velankanni Church had not referred the matter to the bishop for the proper process of verification to take place.
Some in the Catholic media have come out in support of Mr. Edamaruku, including Deepika, a Catholic newspaper based in the southern state of Kerala. Mr. Edamaruku believes the groups lining up against him are “fundamentalist,” taking their inspiration from Islamic fundamentalism in order “to preserve their religion.”
During his working life, Mr. Edamaruku, who is from Kerala, has been attacked with fire by an “angry god-man” and faced the black magic of a tantrik priest trying to kill him during a televised stunt.
But he says he has never felt as much under threat as he does now.
“This is the first time I have had cases filed against me… I don’t want unexpected people to come and attack me, so only close friends know where to find me,” Mr. Edamaruku told India Real Time.
He added that his case echoes that of Salman Rushdie, whose book the “The Satanic Verses” was labelled blasphemous and led Ayatollah Khomeini, Iran’s leader, to issue a Fatwa ordering the author to be put to death. Mr. Rushdie didn’t appear at the Jaipur Literary Festival this year because of claims he would be targeted by assassins from the Mumbai underworld if he turned up.
“It’s the same category of threat [against me]… just a different form,” Mr. Edamaruku said.
However, he said he refuses to be bowed by the cases against him.
“I’m determined, I have a duty to develop scientific temper and promote inquiry so on these two grounds we will challenge the very veracity of this law in the Supreme Court.”
Mr. Edamaruku added that if the blasphemy law could not be overturned then a committee to prevent it being used as “a mechanism to stop someone’s freedom” should properly police it.
“I believe in absolute freedom of expression in any free society people should have the freedom to ridicule to criticize or to be ridiculed. That should be guaranteed in any civil society,” he said.
Rationalist International has conducted over 2,000 outreach programs in villages around India to promote reason and “liberate” people from belief in miracles, superstitions and fraudulent faith healers, according to its president.
“India is a very fast developing country, we have a very serious interest in science and we are going around the world serving people with our IT and science knowledge,” Mr. Edamaruku said.
“That’s one India that is in the 20th century. We have another India that’s in the 16thcentury – we are in constant conflict and it is 16th century India that is pulling us back.”
Joanna Sugden is freelance journalist living in Delhi. Before coming to India in 2011 she spent four-and-a-half years as a reporter at The Times of London, covering religion and education. 


India's god laws fail the test of reason


Police investigation of Sanal Edamaraku for debunking a “miracle” at a church is a crime against the Constitution.
Early in March, little drops of water began to drip from the feet of the statue of Jesus nailed to the cross on the church of Our Lady of Velankanni, down on to Mumbai's unlovely Irla Road. Hundreds began to flock to the church to collect the holy water in little plastic bottles, hoping the tears of the son of god would sanctify their homes and heal their beloved.
Sanal Edamaruku, the eminent rationalist thinker, arrived at the church a fortnight after the miracle began drawing crowds. It took him less than half an hour to discover the source of the divine tears: a filthy puddle formed by a blocked drain, from where water was being pushed up through a phenomenon all high-school physics students are familiar with, called capillary action.
For his discovery, Mr. Edamaruku now faces the prospect of three years in prison — and the absolute certainty that he will spend several more years hopping between lawyers' offices and courtrooms. In the wake of Mr. Edamaruku's miracle-busting Mumbai visit, three police stations in the capital received complaints against him for inciting religious hatred. First information reports were filed, and investigations initiated with exemplary — if unusual — alacrity.
Real courage
Mr. Edamaruku isn't the kind to be frightened. It takes real courage, in a piety-obsessed society, to expose the chicanery of Satya Sai Baba and packs of lesser miracle-peddlers who prey on the insecurities of the desperate and gullible. These actions have brought threats in their wake — but never from the state.
India's Constitution obliges all citizens to develop “scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform”. India's laws, though, are being used to persecute a man who has devoted his life to doing precisely that.
Like dozens of other intellectuals and artists, Mr. Edamaraku is a victim of India's god laws — colonial-era legislation obliging the state to punish those who offend the faith of others. Section 295 of the Indian Penal Code criminalises the actions of “whoever destroys, damages or defiles any place of worship, or any object held sacred by any class of persons”. Its sibling, Section 295A, outlaws “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class”. Section 153B goes further, proscribing “any act which is prejudicial to the maintenance of harmony between different religious, racial, language or regional groups or castes or communities”. Alarmingly, given the sweeping generalities in which these laws are written, truth is not an admissible defence.
In the decades since independence, these laws have been regularly used to hound intellectuals and artists who questioned religious beliefs. In 1993, the New Delhi-based progressive cultural organisation, Sahmat, organised an exhibition demonstrating that there were multiple versions of the Ramayana in Indian culture. Panels in the exhibition recorded that in one Buddhist tradition, Sita was Ram's sister; in a Jain version, she was the daughter of Ravan. Even though the exhibits drew on historian Romila Thapar's authoritative work, criminal cases were filed against Sahmat for offending the sentiments of traditionalist Hindus.
Punjab has seen a rash of god-related cases, mainly involving Dalit-led heterodoxies challenging the high traditions of the Akal Takht. In 2007, police filed cases against Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, the head of the syncretic Saccha Sauda sect, for his purportedly blasphemous use of Sikh iconography. Earlier, in 2001, similar charges were brought against Piara Singh Bhaniarawala, after he released the Bhavsagar Granth, a religious text suffused with miracle stories.
Islamic chauvinists have shown the same enthusiasm for the secular state's god laws as their Sikh and Hindu counterparts. Earlier this year, FIRs were filed against four writers who read out passages from Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses — a book that is wholly legal in India. Fear of Islamic neo-fundamentalists is pervasive, shaping cultural discourse even when its outcomes are not as dramatic as Mr. Rushdie's case. In 1995, writer Khalid Alvi reissued Angaarey — a path-breaking collection of Urdu short works banned in 1933 for its attacks on god. The collection's most-incendiary passages were censored out. India's feisty media didn't even murmur in protest after the magazine India Today was proscribed by Jammu and Kashmir in 2006 for carrying a cartoon with an image of the Kaaba as one among a metaphorical pack of political cards.
Even religious belief, ironically enough, can invite prosecution by the pious. Last year, the Kannada movie actress, Jayamala, was summoned before a Kerala court, along with astrologer P. Unnikrishna and his assistant Reghupathy, to face police charges that she had violated a taboo against women in the menstruating age from entering the Sabrimala temple.
For the most part, judges have shied away from condoning criticism of the pious, perhaps fearful of being held responsible for public disorder. In 1958, the Supreme Court heard litigation that grew out of the radical politician, E.V. Ramaswamy Naicker's decision to break a clay idol of Ganesha. Lower courts had held, in essence, that the idol was not a sanctified object. The Supreme Court differed, urging the lower judiciary “to pay due regard to the feelings and religious emotions of different classes of persons with different beliefs, irrespective … of whether they are rational or otherwise”.
‘Insult to religion'
Earlier, in 1957, the Supreme Court placed some limits on 295A saying it “does not penalise any and every act of insult to or attempt to insult the religion”. Instead, it “only punishes the aggravated form of insult to religion perpetratedwith deliberate and malicious intention” (emphasis added). The court shied away, though, from the key question, of what an insult to religion actually was.
Hearing an appeal against the Uttar Pradesh government's decision to confiscate Naicker's contentious Ramayana, the Supreme Court again ducked this issue. In 1976, it simply said “the law fixes the mind of the Administration to the obligation to reflect on the need to restrict and to state the grounds which ignite its action”. “That is about all”, the judges concluded.
That hasn't, however, been all. In 1998, the Supreme Court upheld Karnataka's decision to ban P.V. Narayanna's Dharmakaarana, an award-winning re-reading of the Hindu saint, Basaveshwara. In 2007, the Bombay High Court similarly allowed Maharashtra to ban R.L. Bhasin's Islam, an aggressive attack on the faith. There have been several other similar cases. In some, the works involved were scurrilous, even inflammatory — but the principles established by courts have allowed State governments to stamp out critical works of scholarship and art.
Dangers ahead
Indians have grappled with these issues since at least 1924, when Arya Samaj activist Mahashe Rajpal published the pamphlet that led the state to enact several of the god laws. Rangila Rasul — in Urdu, ‘the colourful prophet' —was a frank, anti-Islam polemic. Lower courts condemned Rajpal to prison. In the Lahore High Court, though, Justice Dalip Singh argued that public outrage could not be the basis for legal proscription: “if the fact that Musalmans resent attacks on the Prophet was to be the measure [of legal sanction]”, he reasoned, “then an historical work in which the life of the prophet was considered and judgment passed on his character by a serious historian might [also] come within the definition”.
In 1927, when pre-independence India's central legislative assembly debated the Rangila Rasul affair, some endorsed Justice Singh's message. M.R. Jayakar likened religious fanaticism to a form of mental illness, and suggested that those who suffer from it be segregated “from the rest of the community”. This eminently sane suggestion wasn't, however, the consensus: the god laws were expanded to expressly punish works like Rangila Rasul.
Perhaps Indians can congratulate themselves that the god laws have not been used to persecute and kill religious dissenters, as the ever-expanding blasphemy laws which sprang up in Pakistan. Mr. Edamaruku's case ought to make clear, though, just where things are inexorably headed. If Indians wish to avoid the fate of the dystopia to the country's west, its citizens desperately need to accept the right of critics to attack, even insult, what they hold dear.
In 864 CE, the great physician, Abu Bakr Muhammad Ibn Zakaria al-Razi, wrote: “The miracles of the prophets are imposters or belong to the domain of pious legend. The teachings of religions are contrary to the one truth: the proof of this is that they contradict one another. It is tradition and lazy custom that have led men to trust their religious leaders. Religions are the sole cause of the wars which ravage humanity; they are hostile to philosophical speculation and to scientific research. The alleged holy scriptures are books without values”.
Following a rich scholarly life, and a tenure as director of the hospital in Baghdad patronised by the caliph Abu al-Qasim Abd 'Allah, al-Razi died quietly at his home in Rey, surrounded by his students. In modern India, his thoughts would have led him to a somewhat less pleasant end.


Life is the greatest of all miracles

May 02 2012, By PARVEZ IMAM

In the 15th century, there lived a man who was a mathematician, a physicist, an astronomer, and a philosopher. Among his many achievements were the evolution of the telescope and the astronomical observations that supported the Heliocentric theory put forward by Nicolaus Copernicus. Copernicus was haunted by the church throughout his later life for the ‘blasphemous idea’. But, our man, Galileo Galilei, with complete knowledge of the religious abhorrence to the idea of shifting the centre of universe from the earth to the sun, still continued to follow his heart and his observations. Slowly, his thoughts, arising from his work, began to find its way beyond the four walls of his workspace into the domain of the common people.

They did not understand the mathematics or the deductions that led him to believe that the earth is moving around the sun. But people found it interesting that someone was questioning what the priest (a strong symbol of power during those times) claimed to be a part of the scriptures. Those were repressive times, with all kinds of taxation on the common man from both the king and the religious leaders supporting the king in the name of the lord. Wonder how much has changed since then? Anyway, people were only too happy to find a chink anywhere in the religious armour to somehow challenge its godly absoluteness and to challenge the guardians without the fear of god. Galileo Galilei was beginning to give them an excuse.

Neither the majority of the astronomers of that time nor the church was happy by his Copernicus-like ideas. Both preferred the geocentric theory, perhaps for their own stability and status, the tendency to resist change that is so well entrenched in all of us. So, when Galileo continued, an inquisition was set up to examine his work. Not surprisingly, they found him ‘vehemently suspect of heresy’ and the man was placed under house arrest for the rest of his life. Publishing any of his work (not just the heliocentric theories), but even those he may write in the future, was banned. The ban on the reprinting of his work was finally lifted in 1718.

More than 300 years later, in October 1992, Pope John Paul II expressed his regret and acknowledged the error committed by the tribunal that had judged Galileo. Meanwhile, the earth continued to move. The sun remained motionless. Galileo died. And our behaviour towards new ideas seemed to remain unchanged.

I recently read about a man explaining an apparent miracle in a religious place in Mumbai. Sanal Edamaruku, president of the Rationalist International, visited a site of the miracle where water was trickling out from the feet of Jesus. The news brought many devotees to collect the holy water in bottles. Sanal, however, identified the source of the water and explained the phenomenon through the mechanism of capillary action. That unfortunately did not go down well with some. Soon he was facing FIRs for ‘hurting the religious sentiments’ and a potential arrest by the police under some sections of the IPC. And the earth continued to move quietly as always while the sun shone on it from the same spot.

I sit here wondering what or how many lives will it take for us to understand that one need not seek miracles to exhibit one’s faith in religion. In our effort to claim our gods, we forget to marvel and enjoy the greatest miracle that unfolds every second. Every single moment that flows by, as our hearts tick along telling us that we are alive, is perhaps all that we need to understand the uselessness of any other miracle ever.

(The writer is a filmmaker, traveller and doctor)


Cross Connections

CHANDRAN IYER | New Delhi, May 4, 2012 

Chandran Iyer wonders if a dripping cross, an angry Church and an unapologetic rationalist are symbols of our confused secular selves… 

When, in 1995, a team of scientists announced that the phenomena of Lord Ganesha’s statues sipping milk was not some wondrous miracle but plain physics, no Hindu drew out a dagger in protest and no FIRs were lodged against the men of science who had debunked this show of power from one of the most popular Gods of the religion.

In March 2012, Sanal Edamaruku, founder president of Rationalist International, had no such luck.

For the ‘profane’ act of pointing out that the miraculous flow of water from a cross at Irla, in Vile Parle, a western suburb of Mumbai was merely caused by a leakage in the church’s sewage system, he was slapped with a range of police cases that include blasphemy, hurting religious sentiments and making disparaging remarks about the Pope. Apparently the offended parties – the priest of Our Lady of Velankanni Church and representatives of the Association of Concerned Catholics (AOCC) – wanted a public apology from Edamaruku, for labeling the miracle a ‘money making racket’, but he was unwilling to offer it.

The man’s critics would point out that the flurry of cases are just desserts for Edarmaraku, a publicity hungry, self styled crusader who regularly questions the wonders of religion and religious men. The most famous of these acts was challenging a tantric on television to kill him. (The tantric failed and pronounced that Edarmaruku was protected by a powerful Godly force, despite Edarmaruku’s vocal protestations that he was an atheist and the Gods would have little to do with him).

But a thin minority could also question if Edamaruku is indeed being targeted by the Church which allegedly promotes miracles such as the 'dripping cross' to popularise Christianity in India.

Edamaruku can also be held up as a test case for our media’s inherent  biases, as his tribulations haven’t gathered the tiniest fraction of space usually reserved for exposing bogus deeds of Hindu god men—the latest of who is Nirmal Baba. 
Vinod Kapri, Managing Editor, India TV says, “We did a story on the row but it was not projected the way it should have been by the mainstream media. Maybe Hindus are more tolerant. However, all such affectations, in any religion, need to be exposed.”

Kali Poongundran, general secretary of the Dravidar Kazhagam, however links this lack of media attention to Edamaruku’s plight with the high caste Hindu composition of Indian newsrooms. “In our newspaper Viduthalai, we wrote about the persecution of Edamaruku at the hands of the Church. We like to have and promote a scientific view point. But the Indian media dominated by Brahmins does not consider this news as a big issue because it does not concern Hindu gods. They think it is not our god, not our religion so why bother?” he says.

The President of Maharashtra Christian Youth Forum Agnelo Fernandes believes that Edamaruku deserves little sympathy, for his basic contention—that the Church described the dripping cross as a miracle was flawed. “The Church did not project it as a miracle yet he accused the priest of fooling people and making money from it” explains Fernandes. 
Fernandes filed the FIR against Edamaruku in the Juhu police station on March 10 under the Indian Penal Code’s section 295 – the routinely misused law that permits action against those who “undertake deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs.”

Bishop Agnelo Gracias, the Auxiliary Bishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Mumbai says Edamaruku would not have gotten away with his comments if made against another religious minority (see interview) and dismisses the suggestion of the dripping cross being a manufactured miracle. “The cross is not on Church property and the person who first noticed the dripping water was not even a Catholic,” he says. Go figure!  

In his defense Edumaruku offers that he was only trying to ‘expose miracle mongering’. “The Church was taking advantage of people’s faith which was being capitalised to make money”, he says (see interview). Outside Mumbai, the voices of support for Edamaruku are growing.

In Chennai, social activist A Marx says, “In Christianity there is room for papal laughter and satanic feasts. In Amsterdam, I saw posters showing Pope John Paul engaged in sexual acts. In countries where Christians are a majority, such depictions are permitted. Perhaps they are in a minority here and so overtly sensitive. What Edamaruku is doing is great. He never distinguishes between religions. We have to condemn the way Christianity has responded to his criticism”.
V Kumaresan, general secretary of the Tamil Nadu based Rationalist Forum says the furore against his fellow rationalist goes against the fabric of the Constitution. “According to Article 51 A(h) it is the fundamental duty of every citizen to develop scientific temper, rationalism, humanism and reform. It is not only the duty of rationalists like us,” he notes. Kuamaresan’s own efforts of late have concentrated on busting the myth of vampires in Tamil Nadu’s districts of Dharmapuri and Krishnagiri where the sudden death of cows are being attributed to the blood sucking beings even as veterinarians try to get to the bottom of the cause.

As for the beleaguered Edamaruku, he is yet to present himself to the police for questioning. Arun Bhagat, senior inspector at the Juhu police station who is investigating the charges says, “We have registered a case for hurting religious sentiments on the basis of a complaint filed by the Christian association members. We will take a call on what needs to be done only after we question him.” But for now, the case is stuck between an adamant Edamaruku and an angry Church, even as most of us choose to look away in affirmation of our secular selves.

With inputs from Anuradha Preetam (Delhi) and N Asokan (Chennai) 

“Sanal Edamaruku would not have dared to offend Muslims”!

Targeting of Edamaruku has created an impression that the Church is intolerant of any 
rationalist viewpoint?
This is incorrect. We are not opposed to rationalist perspectives. In fact we encourage them. We never claimed that the dripping cross in Vile Parle was a miracle. It is quite possible that it has a natural explanation. Edamaruku’s comments were thus unwarranted.

So why is the Church and Christian community upset? 
We are not against him for expressing his opinion. The community is hurt by his highly derogatory utterances. He has charged the priests of having created the dripping cross to make money. To the best of our knowledge, no money has been collected by any priest. Besides, priests do not build churches. It speaks volumes about his ignorance. He has also made unwarranted statements against the Pope and the Church.

But aren't you overreacting by filing police cases against him? Even Jesus preached tolerance and forgiveness?
The police cases have not been filed by the Church but by Christian association members who are loyal to it. He has no right to hurt other people’s sentiments. He has made these and other unwarranted statements out of ignorance. The least he could do is apologise to the Catholic community. But he has no remorse. He dared to make these remarks only because he knows that Christianity preaches tolerance and so he can get away with it. Would he have dared to make any uncharitable remarks against the Muslim community?

Is there a process in the Church for identifying what is a 'miracle' and what is just a natural phenomenon?
Yes. There is a lengthy scientific process to be undergone before any official pronouncement is made. In this case, the Church did not make any pronouncement. As a rule,  the Church is slow to attribute supernatural causes to extra-ordinary phenomenon we observe in life. As far as possible it tries to explain such phenomenon by natural causes.

Do you think Edamaruku made such comments for cheap publicity? 
I do not want to attribute any motive. May be he felt that he was launching a crusade. Whatever be his motive, the approach was unacceptable. 

“Father, forgive them, 

they do not know what they are doing”

Sanal Edamaruku

Maharshtra Christian Association Forum President and the Priest of Vile Parle Church claim that they never called the dripping cross a miracle. Why are you then criticising them?
There was a definite propaganda to project this dripping cross as a miracle. People should visit You Tube to find out how it was presented by them in a televised debate.

But why have you alleged that the dripping cross miracle has been created by priests to make money? 
When I visited the Church I saw water from the cross being distributed as ‘holy’ water.

But the Bishop says that the Church had not made any pronouncements on the phenomenon.  
The Church had launched a propaganda about the ‘miracle’. But now the Bishop seems to have taken a different stand.

What about the police complaints filed against you? 
They have been made to victimise me. They want to punish me for exposing their miracle mongering by getting me arrested on trumped up charges. I have not said anything that can hurt the religious sentiments of Christians. They wanted to create a sensation that what happened was a miracle to get a stamp of approval from the Vatican. Now that their efforts are wasted, they are retaliating.

Are you willing to render the unqualified apology being demanded of you? 
There is no question of me tendering any apology. It is they who should apologise to me. I would like to quote from Jesus in the Bible – “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing."   

Hindustan Times

Batting for reason in a land of faith
Vrushali Lad, Hindustan Times

When Sanal Edamaruku visited a church in Irla, Mumbai, in March, he was the only one not surprised by what he saw.

Yes, there were drops of water falling from the feet of a statue of Jesus. But he had seen — and explained — much stranger events in his 30-year career as a rationalist
 and debunker of myth.
What did surprise him was the outrage — and arrest warrant — that followed his explanation that the water came from a leaking tank nearby.
“They wanted me to apologise for airing my scientific opinion on TV. Why would I apologise for stating a fact? Saying that a statue cannot release water on its own is not blasphemous,” says the 56-year-old author, rationalist activist, president of the Indian Rationalist Association and co-founder and president of 17-year-old Rationalist International. “Let them arrest me. It will only highlight how intolerant religious leaders can be.”
Born in Kerala to Joseph and Soley Edamaruku — journalists, activists and practicing rationalists — Sanal grew up in an atmosphere of scientific inquiry. As children, he and his younger sister were told they should not adopt a religion until they were old enough to choose for themselves.
Joseph even petitioned a local court to enable his children to keep religion off their school admission forms.
It was the death of a young woman in the neighbourhood, however, that pushed Edamaruku to embrace rationalism as a cause.
When he was twelve, a 22-year-old state-level athlete who lived 5 km from his home was diagnosed with leukaemia. “Local doctors said she should be admitted to hospital for a blood transfusion, but her family belonged to a Christian group that believed transfusions were a sin, and that prayer would heal her,” says Edamaruku.
The entire neighbourhood, including Edamaruku, prayed for the girl’s recovery, but she could not be saved.
“The idea that these beliefs had cost her her life disturbed me deeply,” he says. “From being a passive rationalist, I was galvanised into action.”
Three weeks after her death, Edamaruku started attending local rationalist meetings. By age 15, he had founded a rationalist group for students. Two years later, he became convenor of the Rationalist Forum of Kerala, a position he continued to occupy while pursuing his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in political science.
By his mid-twenties he was already busting myths and exposing false godmen by explaining their tricks and replicating them for devotees.
“Statues and portraits cannot release holy water or suddenly spring out of the earth. People should question such phenomena without anyone prompting them,” says Edamaruku. “The fact that a spirit of inquiry is still not encouraged in our country, whether through our education system or general upbringing, pushes me to continue my work.”
Edamaruku now lectures extensively, has written books on rationalism and conducts free workshops in which he demonstrates how ‘miracles’ are wrought.
“I don’t charge to impart common sense,” he says.  Edamaruku earns his living mainly from royalties on his 20 books on rationalism.
For 17 years, ever since he used physics to explain the ‘miracle’ of Ganesha idols drinking milk, Edamaruku has also been the go-to man every time another phenomenon needs to be explained.
“My schedule for the past four years has involved travelling around the country for TV shows,” he says. “But it is my work with youngsters in colleges and science camps that is my real mission.”
Every year, Edamaruku trains about 100 volunteers to conduct workshops on their own. “Our work should be replicated all over the country,” he says. “Word must spread even after I am gone.”

Wednesday, May 2, 2012


As mentioned in the quickies a few weeks ago, Sanal Edamaruku, president of the Indian Rationalist Association, revealed that a “weeping” cross was not actually a miracle at all, but in fact caused by a leaky drain. When he refused to retract his findings, the local Catholic Church filed a case against him for blasphemy and he now has arrest warrants out for him.

Some background: In March, Edamaruku was contacted by an Indian TV channel and asked to investigate a miracle in Mumbai. Edamaruku is no stranger to investigation. You may remember this story from a few years ago when he challenged a guru to kill him on live TV.

Edamaruku was being asked to investigate a crucifix in front of the Church of Our Lady of Velankanni. The crucifix had water dripping from the feet of the statue for several days. This water was being given to people to drink and claims of its healing powers had already begun to fly. When Edamaruku investigated, he quickly identified the the source of the water as a drain from a nearby washroom and explained the capillary action that caused the water to reach Jesus’ feet.

In presenting his findings on live TV, he also accused the priests of the church of ‘miracle mongering’ for publicity. The local church leaders quickly filed First Information Reports (FIR) against Edamaruku, accusing him of blasphemy, which is illegal under section 295A of the Indian Penal Code. Salim Fadhley from the Pod Delusion spoke with Edamaruku about the situation – it’s a great interview. (Click the Pod Delusion icon to listen)

Salim Fadhley, London

Although he has not been arrested yet, the Indian Rationalists fear it could happen at any time:

Sanal can be arrested any moment. In every single place where a petition is filed against him. He could be forced to appear in person to answer them. If his answer is not found satisfactory, he could be arrested. He could be forced to fight a multitude of criminal cases in different places. This is not only immensely time and money consuming. Given the fanaticism of some Catholic believers, it can be a danger for his life.

If you are interested in helping out with Edamaruku’s Defense Fund, you can donate here.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Indian rationalist under attack for exposing Catholic Church “miracle” !

Sanal Edamaruku, the founder president Rationalist International and the president of the Indian Rationalist Association, is under attack by the Catholic church leaders for exposing a “miracle”. According to the email I received, he will be arrested soon for blasphemy as an array of cases has been filed against him in Mumbai, India. The email is reproduced below.

Sanal Edamaruku under attack for exposing Catholic “miracle” !
As he exposed the “miracle” of the drippling Jesus in Mumbai, revengeful Catholic Church leaders vowed to harass Sanal Edamaruku with an array of blasphemy cases. The harassment has started. Sanal can be arrested any moment.    

      Sanal Edamaruku                                    

“It is nothing new that the Catholic bishops try to sentence their opponents to the stake when they run out of arguments.  Giordano Bruno’s is a case in point. But try as they may, they cannot stop me to stand for reason, science and historic facts. And I am not alone. Freedom of expression is under attack and we are going to defend it!”                                                        - Sanal Edamaruku

Exposing the “miracle”
On 10th March, Sanal Edamaruku flew to Mumbai. The TV channel TV-9 had invited him to investigate a “miracle” that caused local excitement. He went with the TV team to Irla in Vile Parle to inspect the crucifix standing there in front of the Church of Our Lady of Velankanni. This crucifix had become the centre of attraction for an ever growing crowd of believers coming from far and wide. The news of the miracle spread like wild fire. For some days, there were little droplets of water trickling from Jesus’ feet. Hundreds of people came every day to pray and collect some of the “holy water” in bottles and vessels. Irla was about to become a pilgrimage centre.

But Sanal Edamaruku spoilt this prospect. Within minutes, he clearly identified the source of the water (a drainage near a washing room) and the mechanism how it reached Jesus feet (capillary action). The local church leaders, present during his investigation, were far from pleased. See the investigation in detail on YouTube.

TV debate with the Bishop
Some hours later, in a live program on TV-9, Sanal explained his findings and accused the Catholic Church of miracle mongering, as they were beating the big drum for the drippling Jesus statue with aggressive PR measures and by distributing photographs certifying the “miracle”. A heated debate began, in which the five church people, among them Fr. Augustine Palett, the priest of Our Lady of Velankanni church, and representatives of the Association of Concerned Catholics (AOCC) demanded that Sanal apologize. But he powerfully argued against them. Via telephone, Msgr. Agnelo Gracias, auxiliary bishop of Mumbai, intervened in order to rescue the image of the Catholic Church. He claimed the Church was “always cautious in attributing supernatural causes” to such phenomena and always striving “to find ‘scientific’ explanations.” He even assured the Pope was a friend of science. Sanal countered elegantly, referring to the case of Giordano Bruno. He also discussed the Vatican’s official process of canonization in which “miracles”, certified by a Vatican commission, are obligatory for every saint. Since there are more than 10,000 Catholic saints, the Vatican surely qualifies for “miracle mongering”.  And the allegedly so science-loving Pope allows exorcism in the Vatican itself. According to recent press reports, he even personally lent a hand to cast out the devil from the body of a Swiss Guard man. In this highly interesting debate, Sanal triumphed over his shouting opponents. The whole TV program is recorded. You can watch an abridged version of it on YouTube.

Threat live on TV
When they saw their hopes dashed to force Sanal to his knees and apologize, they publicly threatened to file a blasphemy case against him. Sanal pointed out that this would give him an excellent opportunity to support all his statements with evidence in a court of law, with the bishop of Mumbai in the witness box. Foaming with rage, the church people vowed to harass him by filing an array of cases against him in all Mumbai police stations. They did.

Sanal can be arrested any moment
We know of three petitions on the base of Article 295, Indian Penal Code that have been filed against Sanal.

Meantime, Mumbai police announced that they were out to arrest him.

Sanal can be arrested any moment. In every single place where a petition is filed against him. He could be forced to appear in person to answer them. If his answer is not found satisfactory, he could be arrested. He could be forced to fight a multitude of criminal cases in different places. This is not only immensely time and money consuming. Given the fanaticism of some Catholic believers, it can be a danger for his life.

Sanal Edamaruku Defence Committee
Rationalist International has formed a Sanal Edamaruku Defence Committe. The convener is Supreme Court lawyer and Human Rights activist Mr. N.D.Pancholi.

If you wish to support Sanal Edamaruku now, you can do it in two ways.
- Spread the videos and the information about the cases where ever you can.
- Support the Defence Fund with a donation. [Click here]