Catholic groups in India have brought blasphemy charges against Sanal Edamarauku, the country’s most prominent rationalist. They may get more than they bargained for, says Caspar Melville
Edamaruku has become something of a star, the hardest working man in the debunking business – last year he estimates he did 200 appearances. He is usually called on to pour cold water on supernatural claims. In one famous instance, the “Great Tantra Challenge” of 2008, he challenged the self-styled guru Pandit Surinder Sharma to prove his claim that he was so powerful he could kill with the power of his mind. After several hours of trying to kill Edamaruku he was forced to withdraw, utterly deflated.
Alongside vanquishing charlatans Edamaruku delights in debunking miracles — revealing the mundane scientific processes that lie behind these supposed supernatural events. The statue of Ganesh that actually drinks milk? No, capillary action as the stone dries. The coconut that rolls by itself compelled by mystical force? Nope, there’s a mouse inside. A statue of Christ dripping holy water? Sorry, it’s just a leaky tap.
But this is where the trouble started. Following these last revelations in April this year concerning a “miraculous” weeping statue at the Catholic Church of Our Lady of Velan Kanni in Vile Parle, Mumbai, the debunkees went on the offensive. Various Catholic groups, including the seemingly unironically-named Catholic Secular Forum, acting, apparently, with the tacit support of the Archdiocise of Mumbai, brought a complaint against Edamaruku, under article 295(a) of the Indian Penal Code which functions as a de facto blasphemy law, making “deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage of insult religious feelings” an offence punishable by up to 3 years in jail. Letters started to arrive at Edamaruku’s Delhi offices from the Mumbai police demanding that he present himself to answer the allegations. His legal attempt to secure “anticipatory bail” — which would have meant he could be sure to be released after questioning — was turned down. He found himself facing the prospect of being picked up by the police and incarcerated for an indefinite period, pending whatever case was eventually brought. Edamaruku felt he had no option but to leave the country…
You can read more about this backstory here in our previous posts.
The Archbishop of Mumbai says if only Edamaruku apologizes, all would be fine. But why?
Edamaruku refuses to apologise for telling the truth. This case has turned into more than just a questionable church practice but about the ridiculousness of India’s blasphemy law. The law, from 1860, was meant to avoid challenge to the Raj at the time.
Does it make sense now? Other countries also think blasphemy laws are a good idea to keep the population from saying things they don’t want the public to hear.
Since the Indian constitution protects free speech and promotes “the scientific temper”, Sanal’s actions seem NOT to be blasphemous at all and he may challenge that law.
Tip: CFI’s The Morning Heresy