It is hard being a rationalist in India
In a country crazed by religion, superstition and miracles, the toughest profession to take up is that of a rationalist. Be it the miracles proclaimed by the Church or Sathya Sai Baba and even the remedies offered by Baba Ramdev, despite many of this being proven wrong people continue to flock these people and places.
Very recently a huge controversy had erupted over the claim that the water flowing from the statue at the Velankanni Church was a leak in the sewage system and not a miracle as claimed by the Church. The claim was made by Sanal Edamaraku, the president of the 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 or any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs.
Edamuruku an author of 25 books who has spoken out against miracles and God men in the country takes us through about what it is to be a rationalist in a country like India. In this interview with rediff.com, Edamuruku says that he has sought to exercise his constitutional right to develop scientific thinking while lashing out at the churches, Sathya Sai Baba and also Baba Ramdev for the miracles and so called magic theories that they promote.
How does it feel to be a rationalist in India- a country that thrives on magic, miracles and beliefs?
It is a question of choice and the more difficult the choice is the more important it is. It is a difficult task no doubt when one is doing this in a country where superstition is rampant.
Which religion according to you has the highest element of superstitions?
I would say every religion has this. However there are a many who have a modern thought and there are many who are fanatics.
Now coming to latest controversy on the Church of Velankanni. You claimed that there was no miracle, but it was 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. In a bucket they were collecting water and giving it to the people who had gathered over there. 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 pipe of the sewer system behind the statue which was giving out the drops of water. The Church obviously did not like my findings and what followed was outrage.
People have a belief and they have a right to follow whatever religion they want. Is it right on your path to come in the way of that?
I am not abusing any religion. I just feel that no one has the right to dupe people with miracles. I do believe in the right to belief.
You have written and spoken about Sathya Sai Baba as well.
Yes I have. Sathya Sai Baba had been using miracles to dupe people. He gave the impression that he was God as a result of which he roped in the big wigs to his ashram who liberally donated a lot of money. I have been speaking and also demonstrating on how he did magic to rope in the disciples and trust me it is very easy to do that magic.
However the other aspect to Sathya Sai Baba is his philanthropy.
Yes that is there. However out of the big donations which came in there was just 4 per cent which was used for philanthropy while the rest of the money was all spent on extravagance which is not needed for a human being.
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 10000 saints and to each one a miracle has been attributed. Take the case of Sister Alphonso to whom a miracle was attributed in which it was said a man started to walk. It has today become a pilgrimage place. They are trying the same thing at Velankanni. There was also a failed attempt made at the Mahim church where they tried to say that blood was oozing out Mother Mary’s picture.
What about Baba Ramdev?
Baba Ramdev does not speak about miracles, but about magical remedies. He has basically been trying to say that Yoga has a capacity which can work a magic. He says that he has the results but his claims are not substantiated. I feel sad when I see people in parks rubbing their fingers to prevent themselves from growing old faster. Ramdev had said that if we have tulsi leaves we can be protected from the H1N1 virus and also claimed that with yoga one can protect one self from HIV. Now these are baseless and more importantly very irresponsible statements.
Despite all this these people continue to have a very big following. Are people basically stupid?
Yes they do have a following. However take the population of the country as a whole and compare the following these people have. The number of followers is not all that great. Yes in the case of Sai Baba there was a very big following. That is because it was systematically done. They had identified loop holes in religions and catered to that. For instance not every one can enter into a Mosque or some other place of worship. That was never the case in a Sai Baba ashram. In a country where we have scientific temperament coming up in a big we cannot get drawn into all these miracles.
How has the response 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 agree with me but have been either too oppressed or scared to speak.
Are there are constant 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 always right from the time of Galelio. Yesterday one Catholic organisation had even said that I need to put into the mental asylum and not sent to jail as I am talking rubbish. However I will continue with my work as I do not care about the consequences.