Henry McDonald, a correspondent for the Observer, has been out on a road trip to meet the Indian rationalist Sanal Edamaruku (pictured) who has been threatened with jail for exposing a Catholic fraud.
Being a Belfast based correspondent Mr McDonald did not need to travel too far because Sanal had been invited to Ireland to give some talks. Personally, I’m tickled pick with Sanal for exposing a Catholic fraud being perpetrated in India, but sadly he is now being harassed for doing so, so where better for him to come but Ireland to tell his story.
Mr McDonald has now published an article about what happened to Sanal, but this is not new to me, it also came to my attention when it first happened last June, so I blogged about it back then, but it is such a bizarre story that the article prompts me to return to it once again and bring you the latest updates.
It concerns a statue of Jesus inside a Catholic church in Mumbai which was declared to be miraculous when it started to cry (Yes OK, if not familiar with the story the title here gives it away). This was not only believed to be a miracle but the water was also deemed to be holy and so it rapidly became a site of pilgrimage. That’s religious speak for “license to scam gullible locals”. The fact that they had a little scam rolling is not a surprise, but the response to it being exposed as a scam was, and that fallout still persists. Mr McDonald writes …
When the state “miracle” was pronounced, he went to Mumbai and found that the dripping water was due to clogged drainage pipes behind the wall where it stood. His revelation provoked death threats from religious zealots and ultimately charges of blasphemy under the Indian penal code in the Mumbai high court.
Remember now, these are not extreme fanatics, just your normal run of the mill Catholics, yet “Death Threats”, seriously! Edamaruku quite rightly comments …
“India cannot criticise Pakistan for arresting young girls for blaspheming against Islam while it arrests and locks up its own citizens for breaking our country’s blasphemy laws,” he said. “It is an absurd law but also extremely dangerous because it gives fanatics, whether they are Hindus, Catholics or Muslims, a licence to be offended. It also allows people who are in dispute with you to make up false accusations of blasphemy.”
So even in India, there are utterly insane blasphemy laws that protect religious fraudsters and prevent their scam being exposed so that they can continue to fleece their victims. Beyond all that, it was not simply a religious fraud, there was also an issue of basic public health here as well …
Edamaruku said his exposure of the weeping statue was also a contribution to public health in Mumbai as some believers were drinking the water hoping it could cure ailments. “This was sewage water seeping through a wall due to faulty plumbing,” he said. “It posed a health risk to people who were fooled into believing it was a miracle.”
So what happened afterwards is that while on a lecture tour last July the police turned up at his home to arrest him. If he had been there, he would be sitting in jail now because when accused of blasphemy, there is no bail until the court case begins, so he has been forced to live in exile in Finland since then.
Apparently there is an offer on the table from the local Catholic bishop …
“The Catholic archbishop of Bombay, Oswald, Cardinal Gracias, has said that if I apologise for the ‘offence’ I have caused he will see to it that the charges are dropped. This shows that he has influence in the situation but he will not use it unless I apologise, which I will not do as I have done nothing wrong,” he said.
“In a way I am lucky because I have friends and supporters in Europe. I am well known in India and have the telephone numbers of at least five Indian cabinet ministers. And I have some means of fighting back. But what would happen to the common man or woman if they were accused of blasphemy? They would be sent straight to jail without any chance of bail,” he said.
Atheist Ireland have invited Sanal over to give a series of public lectures. The issue there is that Ireland also has a set of utterly insane blasphemy laws designed to protect religious privilege and so they are calling for separation of church and state.
Talk Alert – Galway: Edamaruku is speaking tonight 7pm in the Cairnes Lodge at NUI in Galway, if you would like more details and are in the area and interested in attending, then go to … http://atheist.ie for more details.
Talk Alert – Belfast: On Tuesday (tomorrow 27th Nov) he will also be speaking at 7pm in the Malone Lodge Hotel in Belfast.
Atheist Ireland comments …
“The Irish government should pay attention to Sanal’s case and realise they must get rid of this absurd and dangerous law. Because we shouldn’t be so smug in Ireland. After all, we have had the hysteria about moving statues and a man bringing people to a shrine in Co Mayo so they can look at the sun and see the Virgin Mary.”
Edamaruku himself is a very impressive individual, this is not simply his 15 minutes of fame, he has been General Secretary of the Indian rationalist association since 1983, is well-known for debunking fraudulent claims, and has been actively campaigning against superstitions for several decades. He has carried out investigations which have helped expose many frauds, mystics and ‘godmen’ as well as campaigns against superstition in Indian villages.
- The documentary film “Guru Busters” features Edamaruku and a team of rationalist campaigners on the road in Kerala giving public demonstraions of how to perform supposedly supernatural stunts.
- He is also very famous in India for an incident in March 2008. While appearing on a live panel TV show, Sanal Edamaruku challenged a tantrik to demonstrate his powers on him by killing him using only magic. The tantrik chanted mantras and performed a ceremony to kill Sanal Edamaruku on live TV. India TV received a large boost in ratings while this was occurring. After his attempts failed the tantrik reported that Edamaruku must be under the protection of a powerful god, to which Edamaruku responded that he is an atheist.
- Angela Saini‘s book Geek Nation has a chapter “Chariot of Gods” that describes the work of Sanal Edamaruku elaborately.
If curious about that live tantrik challenge, well here it is in the video below, it ran for three hours and India TV ran announcements for The Great Tantra Challenge that called several hundred million people to their TV sets. The tantrik tried his best …
the tantrik wrote Sanal’s name on a sheet of paper, tore it into small pieces, dipped them into a pot with boiling butter oil and threw them dramatically into the flames. Nothing happened. Singing and singing, he sprinkled water on Sanal, mopped a bunch of peacock feathers over his head, threw mustard seed into the fire and other outlandish things more. Sanal smiled, nothing happened, and time was running out. Only seven more minutes before midnight, the tantrik decided to use his ultimate weapon: the clod of wheat flour dough. He kneaded it and powdered it with mysterious ingredients, then asked Sanal to touch it. Sanal did so, and the grand magic finale begun. The tantrik pierced blunt nails on the dough, then cut it wildly with a knife and threw them into the fire. That moment, Sanal should have broken down. But he did not. He laughed. Forty more seconds, counted the anchor, twenty, ten, five… it’s over!
It resulted in one of the most dangerous and wide-spread superstitions in India suffering a severe blow.