Thursday, 12 April 2012

Leading Indian Rationalist facing blasphemy charges over miracle clash with Catholic Church

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The dripping crucifix at the Church of
Our Lady of Velankanni in
Vile Parle, Mumbai
Sanal Edamaruku, President of the India-based organisation Rationalist International, is facing charges of blasphemy after he exposed a "miracle" involving a crucifix statue in the Vile Parle area of Mumbai.

On 10 March, Edamuruku, who is well-known in India for his debunking of supposed miracles and the abilities claimed by religious gurus (see this 2008 piece for New Humanist), was invited by the TV-9 channel to visit the Church of Our Lady of Velankanni in Vile Parle, where water had begun dripping from the feet of a statue of the crucified Christ. Worshippers claimed that this was "holy water", and the crowds flocked to the church to collect the miraculous liquid in containers.

Upon inspection, Edamuruku was able to reveal that the source of the "miracle" was a leaking drainage system, the water from which was being sucked up and ejected through the nail holes of the crucifix via a capillary action. You can see a video of his investigation here:

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Edamuruku's debunking of the leaking crucifix angered local religious leaders, who took to the airwaves to denounce his investigation. Father Augustine Palett, pastor of the Church of Our Lady Velankanni, told the Catholic press agency AsiaNews that Edamurku's claims that the Church had created the "miracle" and was exploiting believers to make money were false:
"Something has happened here that is beyond our understanding and that has gathered together Hindus, Muslims and Christians, united in prayer. Sanal Edamaruku's statements are unwarranted, unfounded and false. The Church does not try to make money from people's devotion. Its institutions relentlessly serve poor and marginalized, without any discrimination of caste or creed, to build this nation."
Edamuruku was also denounced by Msgr. Agnelo Gracias, the Auxiliary Bishop of Mumbai, who argued that the Catholic Church always tries to explain "miracles" scientifically:
"The Church is always cautious in attributing supernatural causes to out of the ordinary phenomena. Whenever possible, it always tries to find 'scientific' explanations for similar events. It does not pay great attention to things like this, although it accepts the possibility that God can intervene in human life in 'extraordinary' ways: what we call 'miracles'."
Edamuruku debated Palett and Gracias on TV, and the Rationalist International website describes how the Catholic representatives reacted to his arguments by threatening to pursue a blasphemy case against him:
"When they saw their hopes dashed to force Sanal to his knees and apologize, they publicly threatened to file a blasphemy case against him. Sanal pointed out that this would give him an excellent opportunity to support all his statements with evidence in a court of law, with the bishop of Mumbai in the witness box. Foaming with rage, the church people vowed to harass him by filing an array of cases against him in all Mumbai police stations. They did."
You can see a video of this TV debate on YouTube:

Now, Rationalist International have announced that they are aware of blasphemy petitions being filed against Edamuruku:
"We know of three petitions on the base of Article 295, Indian Penal Code that have been filed against Sanal. Meantime, Mumbai police announced that they were out to arrest him. Sanal can be arrested any moment. In every single place where a petition is filed against him. He could be forced to appear in person to answer them. If his answer is not found satisfactory, he could be arrested. He could be forced to fight a multitude of criminal cases in different places. This is not only immensely time and money consuming. Given the fanaticism of some Catholic believers, it can be a danger for his life."
Rationalist International has responded by launching a Sanal Edamaruku Defence Committe spearheaded by the human rights lawyer N.D.Pancholi, and asking supporters around the world to spread the word about these events. You can read more on their website.

We're in touch with Edamuruku and will have more on this story soon - look out for further details.
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