When we do not actively defend freedom our voice bleats.
In the preface to a series of articles, Robert Priddy and I wrote:
The foes of the ‘open society’ (Sir Karl Popper’s term) are those who use its very openness to achieve their closed and devious ends. Sai Baba and his highly authoritarian and cultist organisation have such ends, which critics have tried to make known. Its foremost leaders silence all those who question it – and never face substantive criticisms. For the first time – after six years of pained and guilty silence – since hundreds of long-term devotees left it in disgust – the Sathya Sai Organisation has found it necessary to try to defuse the debate about Sathya Sai Baba’s alleged crimes, deceits and fraudulence. Dr. Venkataraman’s tendentious cover-up article expresses untruths which have long circulated within the cult, giving an opportunity to confront him with facts and truth: The Sathya Sai Organisation’s Deception and Propaganda Exposed
Foreigners who have lived in India (in my case, several years) begin to know what always appalls questioning Indians, too – the profound and ubiquitous irrationality, ignorance and superstition. And the frequent danger for those who speak out.
Those of us who have exposed the Sathya Sai Baba cult via such bodies as UNESCO, the BBC documentary ‘The Secret Swami’ and many leading media and institutions around the world came to know at first hand of the great courage of Indians like Sanal Edamaruku and Basava Premanand (see my article: Basava Premanand. Vale. A fighter for truth who lived what others preach. Posted by Barry Pittard on October 6, 2009.
Sanal Edamaruku faces years of gaol for simply exposing the material cause for the so-called ‘weeping statue’ of Mary in the Church of Our Lady of Velan Kanni, Mumbai. My close colleague Robert Priddy and I have been glad to sign the Petition supporting Edamaruku. We urge our friends and well-wishers to sign this Petition.
See: Sanal Edamaruku – discriminatory scandal from India’s revanchist laws. Posted by robertpriddy on January 17, 2013. The Petition, inter alia, reads:
Please join the Rationalist Association (UK) in condemning the misuse of Indian law by several Catholic organisations to silence a campaigner against superstition. In March 2012, following his exposure of a supposed miracle at a Catholic Church in Mumbai as nothing more than the result of a leak, a complaint was lodged against Sanal Edamaruku by local Catholic organisations with the Mumbai police, who are now able to arrest him. He has been denied ‘anticipatory’ bail which means if arrested he faces a long term in prison merely for explaining the science behind an apparent mystery.
It is not, however, as though almost unimaginably absurd but very real threats to democratic freedom break out in a shambling, quasi democracy like India. In the UK, the great comedian Rowan Atkinson (e.g., ‘Mr Bean’ and many other immortal classics of comedy) has been the public face of a major campaign in Britain to combat laws which violate genuine freedom of speech. Atkinson speaks of a “creeping culture of censoriousness”. You can hear his eloquent speech: Rowan Atkinson’s speech at Reform Section 5 Parliamentary reception. (See transcript below). The extremely badly-defined British legislation section, now, as the result of strong, popular campaigning, to be repealed, is Public Order Act 5, Harassment, alarm or distress:
(1) A person is guilty of an offence if he —
(a) uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour, or
(b) displays any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting …
Sanal Edamaruku faces jail for revealing ‘tears’ trickling down a Mumbai church statue came from clogged drainage pipes
When water started trickling down a statue of Jesus Christ at a Catholic church in Mumbai earlier this year, locals were quick to declare a miracle. Some began collecting the holy water and the Church of Our Lady of Velankanni began to promote it as a site of pilgrimage.
So when Sanal Edamaruku arrived and established that this was not holy water so much as holey plumbing, the backlash was severe. The renowned rationalist was accused of blasphemy, charged with offences that carry a three-year prison sentence and eventually, after receiving death threats, had to seek exile in Finland.
Now he is calling for European governments to press Delhi into dropping the case. And on the first leg of a tour around EU capitals on Friday, he warned that India was sacrificing freedom of expression for outdated, colonial-era rules about blasphemy.
“There is a huge contradiction in the content of the Indian constitution which guarantees freedom of speech and the blasphemy law from 1860 under then colonial rule,” Edamaruku told the Guardian in an interview in Dublin.
“This blasphemy law can affect anyone in India – even a girl recently who wrote on Facebook against closing down a city because of the death of a famous local politician. She was prosecuted under the blasphemy law and another girl who ‘liked’ her comment on Facebook was also arrested and then charged with blasphemy.”
Edamaruku, who has the support of rationalists and atheists such as Richard Dawkins, is well known in India for debunking religious myths, and was already unpopular among Indian Catholics for publicly criticising Mother Teresa’s legacy in Kolkata.
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.
“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.”
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.”
He has been living in Finland since the summer. He was in Europe on a lecture tour in July when his partner rang to say the police had arrived at his flat. “I felt really upset because under the blasphemy law you cannot get bail until the court case begins. I would be in jail now if I had been at my apartment in Delhi,” he said.
He has spurned an offer from a senior Indian Catholic bishop to apologise for the exposure of the “miracle”.
“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.
Edamaruku asked for “mounting international pressure”, particularly from Ireland and other EU nations, on the Indian government. Delhi had the power to halt the prosecution before a court case, citing a lack of evidence to pursue it, he said.
Mick Nugent, from Atheist Ireland, the organisation hosting the Indian’s visit to the republic and Northern Ireland next week, said Edamaruku’s plight also underlined the need for Dublin’s Fine Gael-Labour government to repeal Ireland’s blasphemy law.
“Blasphemy laws are very strange because they can be both very silly and also very sinister. They are very silly because you are talking about crying statues and moving statues or Virgin Marys appearing in tree stumps in Co Limerick. But on the other hand these type of laws are used in Islamic countries to jail people or sentence them to death. Or in Sanal’s case facing a jail sentence for his work exposing bogus miracles.
“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.”
Sanal Edamaruku, Indian Rationalist, Proves ‘Weeping Christ’ Miracle A Hoax, Now Faces Years In Jail (VIDEO)
The Huffington Post | By Meredith Bennett-Smith Posted: 11/28/2012 1:08 pm EST
What started with a mysterious trickle, ended in death threats, charges of blasphemy and pleas for asylum from Sanal Edamaruku. The noted Indian rationalist argued that a “miraculous” dripping crucifix in Mumbai was caused by faulty plumbing and not divine intervention.
The controversy started in March when water began to drip from the feet of a statue of Jesus at the Church of Our Lady of Velankanni in western Mumbai. Thousands flocked to the site to collect the “holy” water, with some even drinking it in the hopes of curing various ailments, the Daily News reports.
Edamaruku, who is the founder and president of Rationalist International and president of the Indian Rationalist Association, arrived at the site to investigate.
In a July interview with Slate, Edamaruku explained what he found at Our Lady of Velankanni.
I had a close look at a nearby washroom and the connected drainage system that passed underneath the concrete base of the cross. I removed some stones from the drain and found it was blocked. I touched the walls, the base, and the cross and took some photographs for documentation. It was very simple: Water from the washroom, which had been blocked in the clogged drainage system, had been transmitted via capillary action into the adjacent walls and the base of the cross as well as into the wooden cross itself. The water came out through a nail hole and ran down over the statue’s feet.
Edamauku also explained the supposed miracle on live television. The program, shown on Mumbai’s TV-9, channel, was posted to YouTube in March and included a very heated debate between Edamauku, the priest of Our Lady of Velankanni church and representatives of the Association of Concerned Catholics.
The backlash against Edamaruku’s conclusions was swift and strong.
According to Slate, the 56-year-old rationalist has been accused of insulting religion (a charge akin to blasphemy) under Section 295A of the Indian penal code, which charges a person with “deliberately hurting religious feelings and attempting malicious acts intended to outrage the religious sentiments of any class or community.”
Death threats followed, and Edamaruku was forced to seek exile in Finland, according to The Guardian. Now, Edamaruku is rallying support in Europe to convince the Delhi prosecutor to drop the case.
“There is a huge contradiction in the content of the Indian constitution which guarantees freedom of speech and the blasphemy law from 1860 under then colonial rule,” Edamaruku told the Guardian in an interview in Dublin. “It is an absurd law but also extremely dangerous because it gives fanatics, whether they are Hindus, Catholics or Muslims, a [license] to be offended. It also allows people who are in dispute with you to make up false accusations of blasphemy.”
Renowned British atheist Richard Dawkins was quick to come to Edamaruku’s defense. The Richard Dawkins Foundation even has a link to a defense fund for Edamaruku on its website.
Edamaruku has said he’s not frightened of a possible trial.
“If it comes to a trial, I have nothing to fear,” he told Slate in July. “I would welcome the opportunity to throw some light on the role that the Catholic Church played and is still playing today here in India. The possibility of arrest is threatening, however.”
In the past, the Edamaruku has gained attention for publicly criticizing Mother Teresa’s legacy in Kolkata, particularly the quality of care in her Homes for the Dying. He has also targeted powerful spiritual leaders such as the late Sathya Sai Baba, as well as many top mystics and gurus, according to the Daily News.
Rowan Atkinson’s speech at Reform Section 5 Parliamentary reception (Video)
“My starting point when it comes to the consideration of any issue relating to free speech is my very passionate belief that the second most precious thing in life is the right to express yourself freely. The most precious thing in life I think is food in your mouth and the third most precious is a roof over your head but a fixture in the Number 2 slot for me is free expression, just below the need to sustain life itself. That is because I have enjoyed free expression all my professional life and expect to continue to do so, I personally highly unlikely to be arrested whatever laws exist to contain free expression, because of the undoubtedly privileged position that is afforded to those of a high public profile. So my concerns are less for myself and more for those more vulnerable because of their lower profile. Like the man arrested in Oxford for calling a police horse gay. Or the teenager arrested for calling the Church of Scientology a cult. Or the café owner arrested for displaying passages from the bible on a TV screen.