Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Star, Malaysia reports about Sanal Edamaruku

Sunday August 19, 2012

The rationalist’s Olympic quest


If there were a ‘clear thinking and myth debunking’ game, one man would stand out as an obvious winner.
OUR dive darling (as dubbed by one newspaper), Pandelela Rinong, has captured the imagination and hearts of Malaysians. I am one of those who followed her sporting path to Olympic glory, not least because of the musicality of her name, Pandelela Rinong, which has fascinated me since I first heard it.
It is like this, isn’t it? Some names resonate with us more than others.
Another name that I roll off my tongue with delight and admiration is Sanal Edamaruku. If you don’t believe me, say Sanal Edamaruku aloud. Say it as if you read it. There are no tricks. Say it as if you were speaking Bahasa Baku, the world’s simplest and most logical language. Phonetically speaking that is.
In my books, Sanal Edamaruku is also a medal winner of the highest calibre. If ever there is a prize for publicly defending science, reason and rationality, I would nominate him for it.
Rationalist Edamaruku has written many books and articles, and made numerous television appearances, which deal mainly with rationalist thought and anti-superstition.Rationalist Edamaruku has written many books and articles, and made numerous television appearances, which deal mainly with rationalist thought and anti-superstition.
Edamaruku is the founder-president of Rationalist International, president of the Indian Rationalist Association, and honorary associate of the UK Rationalist Association.
Edamaruku obtained a Master’s degree in Political Science from the University of Kerala, and a Master of Philosophy degree in International Studies from the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.
The eponym is fitting as, Nehru, the first prime minister of India, was as secular and scientific as they come. I cannot think of any other prime minister in modern times who is as committed to modern science, reason and technology as Nehru was. And this was 65 years ago!
Thirty years ago, Edamaruku went to work full-time for all the “reason” NGOs, and my, what a rollicking, fruitful and exciting 30 years it has been. He has written many books and articles, and made numerous television appearances that deal mainly with rationalist thought and anti-superstition.
He has carried out many investigations to expose frauds, mystics and “godmen”. Last year, he was elected as a fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry.
However, to me, the greatest accolade ever bestowed on Edamaruku is honorary associate of the Rationalist Association of UK (formerly Rationalist Press Association). Among the good and the great to have been honorary associates were Bertrand Russel, HG Wells, Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud and Francis Crick.
This, to me, is like winning the gold medal of the “clear thinking and scientific inquiry” event.
In March 2008, while appearing on a TV show panel, Edamaruku challenged a tantric to demonstrate his powers by killing him using only magic. The tantric chanted mantras and performed a ceremony to kill Edamaruku on live TV.
India TV received a large boost in ratings while this was going on.
After his attempts failed, the tantric said that Edamaruku must be under the protection of a powerful god, to which Edamaruku responded that he is an atheist.
Pandelela’s path to fame, honour and glory was paved with hard work, discipline and perseverance. It was the same with Edamaruku.
Fortunately in Pandelela’s case, there was no threat of a criminal or civil suit.
A house of worship in Mumbai was promoting the idea that water dripping from the feet of the deity’s statue could cure all ailments. This is in some way like the rhinoceros horn myth, which is touted to cure all diseases, including cancer, and has led to the indiscriminate killing of the endangered and protected rhinos for their horn. (Trying to debunk the myth of rhinoceros horn as a cure-all has taken up a good bit of my time and resources.)
Edamaruku was recently invited by a television station in Delhi to comment on and investigate this phenomenon in Mumbai. The authorities agreed. Our intrepid and industrious sceptic had a close look at a nearby washroom and found that the drainage system was blocked. Sewage water from the clogged drainage pipes had been transmitted via capillary action into the adjacent walls at the base of the statue.
As a result of this expose, charges were filed against Edamaruku by two lay religious organisations under Section 295A of the Indian penal code. This charges a person with “deliberately hurting religious feelings and attempting malicious acts intended to outrage the religious sentiments of any class or community”.
That is, of course, truly absurd. If anything, Edamaruku should be thanked for preventing diarrhoeal diseases and septicaemia that may have been caused by drinking bacteria-laden sewage water.
If it comes to a trial, I hope the ghost of Nehru will be there to exert a steadying and rational influence on the court proceedings.
We have the summer and winter Olympics where participants who excel in sports and games are rewarded with medals, cash, sponsorships and endorsements.
There soon will be medals awarded at the “clear thinking and myth debunking” games.
Do you think we can then bag that elusive gold medal?

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