Date: Thu, Apr 26, 2012 at 8:44 AM
Subject: Rationalist persecuted for proving Velankanni Church "Miracle" is Dirty Sewage Water leaking from Mary's Statue
Recently, a huge controversy had erupted over the claim that the water flowing from the statue at the Velankanni Church in Tamil Nadu's Nagapattinam district was caused by a leak in the sewage system and not a miracle as claimed by the church.
The revelation was made by Sanal Edamaraku, president, Indian Rationalist Association. What followed was a series of threats from the church and also a case under Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code -- outraging religious feelings by insulting religion or religious beliefs.
You claimed that there was no miracle in Velankanni, but sewage water. How has the reaction been?
They were shocked and outraged. They were trying to make a miracle out of that thing. The priest himself was leading the prayers and trying to show that it was a miracle.
They were collecting that water in a bucket and giving it to devotees. I had asked for a sample of the water, but they refused to give it to me. I found that there were hardly one or two drops which had come from the statue and the Church had mixed it with extra water and were distributing it to the people.
Later, I went ahead and touched the nail on the crucifix and found that there were drops of water on it. On further examination, I found that there was a sewer pipe behind the statue which had a leak. The church obviously did not like my findings and what followed was outrage.
People have a right to follow a religion of their choice. Is it right on your part to come in the way of that?
I am not abusing any religion. I just feel that no one has the right to fool people in the name of miracles. I do believe in the right to belief.
So why do you think miracles are being promoted?
In the churches miracles are promoted so that it becomes a pilgrimage centre. There is a lot of money in such things. Once it becomes a pilgrimage centre then it automatically brings in the people who pump in a lot of money.
This is why churches artificially create miracles. What can one say about churches creating miracles when the Vatican itself has a policy of creating miracles? We have around 10,000 saints and a miracle has been attributed to each one of them.
Take the case of Sister Alphonsa from Kottayam. It is said that a boy with upturned feet was cured after he started to pray to her. Her tomb, in Bharanagaram in Kottayam, has now become a place of pilgrimage.
They are trying the same thing at Velankanni. There was also a failed attempt at the church in Mahim (in Mumbai) where they tried to say that blood was oozing out of Mother Mary's picture.
How has the response been to your campaign against miracles been?
I have had a very good response. There are people who are interested in what I am trying to say. Many others agree with me, but have been either too oppressed or scared to speak.
Are there are threats to your life?
When I embarked on this mission, I was aware of the threats that would follow, especially in the case of the church which has been intolerant right from the time of Galileo.
On Tuesday, one Catholic organisation had even said that I need to put into a mental asylum and not sent to jail because I am talking rubbish. However, I will continue with my work, since I do not care about the consequences.
Reason Under Fire in India
Photo: Sanal Edamaruku
In brief: The public assertion that a religious statue isn't actually crying has put prominent rationalist Sanal Edamaruku in peril. Arrest warrants have been sworn out and Edamaruku could be picked up at any time — merely for stating the obvious, in the world's most populous democracy.
THE AMAZING COLUMN
This isn't about India-bashing — far from it. The contributions of this enormously layered (and oppressed) nation are countless, and indisputable. But the hounding of Edamaruku, at the behest of religious groups using a law that is a remnant of British colonialization, threatens to return their democratic system of justice back to medieval times.
And a man's liberty, to say the least, hangs in the balance.
Rationalism is no stranger to India. The late Basava Premenand, with whom I shared many personal chats about the "godmen" of India, and Abraham Kovoor, whom I never met but who provided me — and the world — with critiques of those same swindlers, rank high among my heroes.
And now I bring your attention to the peril faced by Edamaruku, who is president of the Indian Rationalist Association, editor of the internet publication Rationalist International, and author of 25 books and numerous articles.
Local representatives of the Catholic Church have filed charges under section 295A of the Indian Penal Code which makes it a crime "to outrage religious feelings or any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs."
The outrage? The priest of Our Lady of Velankanni Church, and representatives of the piously incensed Association of Concerned Catholics (AOCC) has demanded that Edamaruku publicly apologize for having the audacity to say out loud that water flowing from a statue in their church was a leak in the sewage system and not — as the Indian media and the Church had loudly proclaimed — a miracle.
Edamaruku has flatly refused to surrender to their demands, so they filed a blasphemy case against him. A Mumbai police official directed him to come to the station to face the charges and be arrested. Charges have also been filed in numerous other police stations. He remains at large.
The threat to arrest a well known and dedicated rationalist who has been exposing "miracles" and superstitious beliefs in his own country for more than three decades is a serious attack on freedom of expression, designed to harass and silence him.
Edamaruku has sought to exercise his constitutional right to develop scientific thinking, the spirit of inquiry, reform, and humanism. We at the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) firmly support these rights.
We can only imagine the conditions of an Indian jail, and we don't want our friend to find out.
Edamaruku is in a real jam now, but this is hardly the first time he's spoken out against belief in miracles. Recently, a wonder-worker named Ajay Kumar Gupta claimed he could cure HIV infection, cancer, tuberculosis or any known disease by splashing the afflicted with a bowl of fresh water. Gupta wanted to prove his claim, so Sanjay introduced him to JREF Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge, and briefed him on the terms and conditions to be found there.
For some reason, we haven't received an application from Mr. Gupta.
Now, this sort of really silly claim — throwing water to supernaturally cure any ailment — is not at all unusual to us at JREF. We get far stranger notions offered to us, regularly — everything from the ability to locate buried gold, fresh water or oil with a forked willow-branch, to levitating by thought-waves (or, frankly, any which way), are fantasies we must handle. And though we often think that we've now "heard everything," that notion is dashed daily.
Dear reader, I urge you to visit www.rationalistinternational.net and see the way this remarkable man has fought unreason and prejudice in the Indian continent, often at risk of his well-being. I urge you to drop him a note expressing your support and encouragement, and donate to his legal defense fund if you can.
We need to take every opportunity to promote rationality and science in opposition to blind belief and appeals to ghosts …