Our friend and colleague Sanal Edamaruku, the President of the Indian Rationalist Association, is facing arrest for exposing a fraudulent ‘miracle’ in a Catholic Church - the Archdiocese of Mumbai have made the complaint and Indian law allows him to be arrested even without a warrant. He’s been denied ‘anticipatory bail’ so might end up in jail for a long time pending resolution. I spoke to him today- he is currently staying away from home and office, and getting daily calls to give himself up. He’s not worried about the substance of the complaint, which is fatuous and should be struck down by any court, but he is worried that he will have to spend a long time in jail. The single most important thing for him at the moment is international support and pressure from the outside.
Therefore we have done 2 things.
- Written a letter to be sent to the national press in the UK, copied to the Vatican and Indian High Commission, the text of which is below. If you would agree to add your signature to this letter, which we would welcome enormously, please reply to this email saying so (including the signature and any title or affiliation you would like us to use).
- We have created an online petition- calling on the Archdiocese of Bombay to withdraw their complaint. You can read and sign this petition here: http://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/we-call-on-the-catholic-archdiocese-of-bombay-to-withdraw-their-complaint-against-indian-rationalist-sanal-edamaruku# and please share it with your networks - facebook, email, websites etc..
[Text of letter to press]
Sanal Edamaruku, President of the Indian Rationalist Association, has for decades been a tireless campaigner for science and against superstition. He is widely known for his exposure of the tricks used by self-professed ‘God-Men’ and gurus and has often been on Indian television explaining the everyday science behind supposed miracles.
After one such exposure – he pointed out that the “blood” oozing from a statue of Christ at the Catholic Church of Our Lady of Velan kanni in Vile Parle, Mumbai was in fact water from a leaky pipe – the Catholic Church of Mumbai made a formal complaint about him to the Mumbai police. He stands accused of “deliberately hurting religious feelings and attempting malicious acts intended to outrage the religious sentiments of any class or community”, an offence under Section 295(a) of the Indian Penal Code. No arrest warrant has been issued but he is being harassed daily by the Mumbai authorities who, under pressure from Catholic groups, are insisting that he turn himself in. His petition for “anticipatory bail” was turned down on 3 June on the bizarre grounds that he would be safer in custody. If he is arrested he will therefore most likely be detained in jail until court proceedings are concluded, which could take several years. Fearing arrest, he dares not stay long at home or work.
India has a long suffered sectarian hatred and violence and section 295(a) is designed to prevent speech being used to foment hatred and disorder. It is not designed to enable a powerful religious institution to silence those whose message it finds embarrassing. India’s constitution explicitly protects free speech: article 19(a) guarantees the right to free speech and expression and clause 13(2) forbids the state to pass laws which take away or abridge such rights. It follows that the courts of India are required to interpret the Penal Code so as to protect free speech. Mr Edamaruku is only too happy to answer his accusers in court, confident that the Indian justice system will vindicate him. However the threat of peremptory imprisonment for an undefined period is a very serious one.
We call on the Vatican and the global Catholic community to make known their opposition to the conduct of the Mumbai diocese. We call also on the government of India, the world’s largest democracy, to defend free speech by making it clear that their laws are not to be used to suppress scientific knowledge and reasonable criticism of religious mysticism. We ask them to intercede to ensure this matter is settled without further harassment of a courageous and honest man. Sincerely
Caspar Melville, Rationalist Association
[and many more we hope]
New Humanist magazine