Indian Skeptic to Challenge Blasphemy Law

I reported a few weeks ago about Sanal Edamaruku, head of Rationalist International, who is being charged with blasphemy for debunking a Catholic “miracle” — a statue of Jesus with water leaking from its feet. He faces up to three years in prison, but is preparing to challenge the validity of that law in the courts.

The 56-year-old has spent the last three decades exposing what he says are fake miracles and fraudulent gurus across India, whose top mystics and yoga masters have amassed huge followings and fortunes.

Edamaruku’s targets have included powerful spiritual leaders such as the late Sathya Sai Baba, who was revered by millions and famed for producing baubles out of thin air.

Now Edamaruku welcomes the moves against him as “an opportunity, not a thing to be afraid of”, he said, and is challenging India’s blasphemy law.

The legislation bans “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs” — a rule Edamaruku believes runs counter to freedom of expression.

His lawyers are preparing to lobby India’s Supreme Court to overturn the colonial-era section of the penal code, as well as asking a court in Delhi to prevent his arrest.

Edamaruku said the Catholics’ response had been “like Islamic fundamentalists speaking” and drew parallels with the opposition to Mumbai-born British author Salman Rushdie.

Rushdie’s 1988 book “The Satanic Verses” remains banned in India for allegedly insulting Islam and the writer withdrew from a literary festival in January this year after death threats and angry protests.

“I always think there are two Indias,” said Edamaruku. “The 21st century, which is progressive, modern, scientific” and “17th-century India, which is pulling us back to the dark ages of intolerance, bigotry, superstition”.

I certainly hope he succeeds. Such laws are barbaric and dangerous and should be done away with in every country.

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About Ed Brayton

After spending several years touring the country as a stand up comedian, Ed Brayton tired of explaining his jokes to small groups of dazed illiterates and turned to writing as the most common outlet for the voices in his head. He has appeared on the Rachel Maddow Show and the Thom Hartmann Show, and is almost certain that he is the only person ever to make fun of Chuck Norris on C-SPAN.