Indian Rationalist Faces Jail for Exposing ‘Miracle’

Way back in March of this year, the President of the Indian-based skeptic organization, Rationalist International, was invited by an Indian TV channel (TV-9) to visit the Church of Our Lady of Velankanni in Vile Parle, Mumbai to offer his opinion on a supposed miracle. The President, Sanal Edamaruku, is like the Indian version of James Randi or Penn Jillette. He is well known in the country and has been debunking miracles for over 30 years.

The miracle in question involved the dripping of water from the feet of a statue of the crucifixion, a miracle that that seems to crop up all around the world… at least when pieces of toast with Jesus on them are in short supply.

Edamuruku was quickly able to pin the cause on a leaking drainage system, with water being drawn up through the nail holes in the statue’s feet by capillary action. Needless to say, the locals and the church were not happy.

Sanal Edamaruku (via New Humanist)

People had flocked to the site in thousands to collect the miracle water… which turned out to be sewage… which means it’s likely many of those people became ill. That didn’t worry the church, though, eager to make a quick buck.

Edamaruku accused the church of exploiting people for money, a tactic that did not go down well. Edamaruku later participated in a heated debate with the pastor of the church, Father Augustine Palett, on national TV. Father Palett had little time for actual debate and instead spent his time threatening action, by way of a blasphemy complaint, if Edamaruku refused to apologize. Edamaruku welcomed this, as it would be a chance to present his evidence in court with the priests and bishops on the witness stand. Of course, no apology was forthcoming and Palett has since made good on his threat.

Following the TV appearance, a group called The Association of Concerned Catholics (Think Bill Donohue, but Indian) lodged a complaint against him with the Mumbai police. They have now arrested him, charging him with “hurting the religious sentiments of a particular community.” This is a section in India’s penal code intended to prevent hate speech and should be used against deeply sectarian groups or individuals. The complaints against Edamaruku, however, are a grave misuse of these laws.

Edamaruku had applied for “anticipatory bail,” which would have meant he could have avoided jail during any trial. Bizarrely, this was rejected on the grounds that the judge thought jail would be the safest place for him.

India’s Constitution only adds to the confusion. Clause (h) of Article 51-A states:

It shall be the duty of every citizen of India to develop the scientific temper, humanism and spirit of inquiry and reform.

In other words, Edamaruku was not only not breaking the law, he was fulfilling the Indian Constitution!

While it is not the official Catholic Church bringing forth these charges, it is standing back and refusing to condemn members of the Church who are responsible. A petition has been set up to put international pressure on the Catholic Church to step in and call for the charges to be dropped. You can sign that petition here.

About Mark Turner

Mark Turner was born and raised as a Catholic in the North East of England, UK. He attended two Catholic schools between the ages of five and sixteen. A product of a moderate Catholic upbringing and an early passion for science first resulted in religious apathy and by mid-teens outright disbelief.

@markdturner

  • http://www.facebook.com/rogi.riverstone Rogi Riverstone

    Are any US or international atheist, skpetics, freethinkers, etc. organizations going to pony up and help him hire lawyers & pay expenses for this mess? Let’s put our money where our mouth is!

  • mouftastic

    “…charging him with “hurting the religious sentiments of a particular community.” This is a section in India’s penal code intended to prevent hate speech and should be used against deeply sectarian groups or individuals.”
    Um… what the hell, man? You actually think there’s a place for blasphemy laws? That they “should” be used against people we disagree with?

    • Patterrssonn

      Its possible he law was intended to prevent hate groups from whipping up intersectarian violence. I guess it’s not worded very well if it can be used as an anti blasphemy law, or maybe that’s just how it’s been interpreted in this case due to corruption.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Hemant Mehta

      Blasphemy isn’t hate speech. That’s not what Mark is talking about.

  • Sharon Hypatia

    If religions were as “real” as they claim, churches would consider passing off fake “miracles” to be blasphemous and not try to cover up the truth.

  • GodlessPoutine

    Signed the petition.

    Whenever I see things like this I think of the new Office of Religious Freedom our stupid Canadian government is going to set up.  But who’s going to stick up for the atheists and the skeptics?  I seriously doubt it will be this office.

    It’s a shame.  Martyrs for Reason.

    • AxeGrrl

      Whenever I see things like this I think of the new Office of Religious Freedom our stupid Canadian government is going to set up. But who’s going to stick up for the atheists and the skeptics? I seriously doubt it will be this office.

      I was JUST going to post this very sentiment!  Harper and co. went to all the trouble of starting this special, specific office (instead of just pursuing such objectives via the dept of external affairs) and this incident should be on their plate of things to pursue…….I hope every atheist/freethinker aware of this calls or emails John Baird and/or Harper to say “so, are you going to support this man’s religious freedom and fight against his persecution?”.  Not that it would make any difference, they have to be listening……

      and be careful, GP, it’s the ‘Harper government’ now, not the ‘Canadian government’ ;)

      • GodlessPoutine

        I need to find some time to write a snail mail letter to Baird. I forgot to call it the Harper Government!

    • Kevin_Of_Bangor

      I was going to sign it but everytime I typed a letter it would display a letter I didn’t press on my keyboard.

  • http://twitter.com/silo_mowbray Silo Mowbray

    Evidently “hurting the religious sentiments of a particular community” was read as “giving diddums an emotional boo-boo” by the authorities. Fucking hell.

    • adrianratnapala

      That’s exactly what the law is meant for.

  • gski

    Someone is going to court to argue that capillary action and sewage falls under their religion. I’m speechless, so I’ll just sign and donate.

    • hoverFrog

      Well they certainly spout sewage.

  • http://nonprofitwebsitesolution.com/ Nonprofit Websites

    Pathetic when someone tries to shut up the one who exposes the lie and goes after the truth.

    • http://twitter.com/PuppaX Pups

      Like Bradley Manning.

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/GodVlogger?feature=mhee GodVlogger (on YouTube)

    I love Penn Jillette, but I don’t know how much time he spends debunking or correcting so-called miracles (so called super-natural events). 
    This Indian guy is more like an Indian version of Joe Nickell, who has been called “the modern Sherlock Holmes,” the “real-life Scully” (from the X-Files), and has been doing this valuable work in the USA for decades.  http://www.joenickell.com/We need more people like this. 

  • Erp

    As far as I know he hasn’t been arrested yet.   He has been told to turn himself in (in Mumbai) but has not done so (I believe he lives in a different state).   What he wants is a guarantee of bail so he won’t be jailed until and during the trial (which could take a long, long time) hence an anticipatory bail request.

  • Marco Conti

    “I am sorry you are a bunch of backwards morons that could not figure out the water was coming from a sewage pipe”.

    There is the apology.

    • Iikagenbob

       Considering this is a country that considers the sewerage outlet known as the Ganges as a sacred icon, is it any wonder they consider the leaks coming out of this statue as holy…

    • Tom

      There’s a certain kind of person, and authoritarian religions seem to attract them like flies, who interprets any and all criticism, even helpful, constructive criticism, even couched in the most inoffensive terms, even patently true criticism that they *know* will benefit them if they just listen to it, in almost the same way as a physical attack.  It’s rarely a pleasant feeling finding out you’re wrong, but whereas some people are smart enough to attribute their hurt feelings to the actual state of being wrong, and seek to get rid of it by becoming right, others can apparently get no further than “This person said something and now I feel bad, ergo this person intends to hurt me. I must retaliate.”  Once they’ve shot the messenger and feel vindicated, some of them will probably proceed to follow his advice anyway.

      When dealing with such people, it sometimes helps to leave them some kind of escape route, so they don’t feel so cornered that they have to counterattack (especially if they lack the ability to make a counterargument and decide to actually fight you instead).  Maybe couching the whole “oh, the tears of god you’re drinking are actually liquid dookie” thing in terms of something along the lines of “Well, now you know this miracle is a false positive, you’re free to go and look for a real one!  See, I just helped you get closer to god after you stumbled a little!” would have defused things a little.

      Then again, maybe not – we’re not talking about rational people here.

  • Tinker

    only about 600 more signatures needed. But let’s blow it past that!

  • Sindigo

    People were *drinking* this “miracle water”. In a country where a significant portion of the population has limited or no access to safe drinking water anyone who manages to stop people drinking sewage deserves a f*cking medal not a lawsuit.

    And what a huge surprise that the Catholic church is “standing back and refusing to condemn members of the Church who are responsible”. In other words, standing at the back with its fingers in its ears and singing “tra la la, I can’t hear you” while its devotees are complicit in another atrocity.

    Where are the good Catholics who stand up and say “not in our name”? Where are you all?!

  • Chrisjeffers

    when it comes to religious zealots clinging to threadbare beliefs, the truth will get you jailed

  • hamilt0n

    “This is a section in India’s penal code intended to prevent hate speech
    and should be used against deeply sectarian groups or individuals. The
    complaints against Edamaruku, however, are a grave misuse of these laws.”

    Good article, but this part is total bullshit. These types of complaints are exactly why these laws exist.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-Alexander-Thacker/597252629 John Alexander Thacker

    This is a section in India’s penal code intended to prevent hate speech
    and should be used against deeply sectarian groups or individuals. The
    complaints against Edamaruku, however, are a grave misuse of these laws.

    Nope, this is exactly how you should expect such laws to be used. “Deeply sectarian groups or individuals” *always* means “some minority group (an individual is the smallest minority of all) who offends the majority.”

    It is ludicrous to expect “hate speech” laws to be used against anything other than unpopular speech. Let the majority determine what sort of speech is acceptable, and that’s what you’ll get.


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