Friday, 20 July 2012

Sanal Edamaruku update: Indian Catholics demand apology over miracle debunking

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Sanal Edamaruku at the Church of Our Lady
of Velankanni in Vile Parle, Mumbai, where crowds had
flocked in March to see an alleged miracle
As regular readers will be well aware, we have been campaigning in support of Sanal Edamaruku, the head of the Indian Rationalist Association who is facing jail over his debunking of a purported miracle at a Catholic Church in Mumbai. For a summary of the how the case came about, read our petition, which you can also add your name to if you haven't already.

Last time we provided an update on Sanal's situation, the High Court in Mumbai had refused him "anticipatory bail", which would have enabled him to fight the case without fear of pre-trial custody, and police officers had begun seeking his arrest in his home city of Delhi. In order to avoid jail, Sanal had left India for Europe.

In terms of the potential for arrest, the situation remains the same – he still faces arrest if he returns to India, and as a result he remains in Europe. But in the meantime, details have emerged as to what those who reported Sanal to the police over his debunking of the dripping crucifix in the Church of Our Lady of Velan Kanni in Mumbai are demanding in return for withdrawing their complaints.

Last weekend, a piece appeared in the Sunday Indian newspaper by the Christian journalist John Dyal, who is well known for his civil rights activism on behalf of India's religious minorities. As a former president of the All-India Catholic Union, Dyal is a respected figure in India's Catholic community, and he used his Sunday Indian column to call on the Catholic groups that reported Sanal to withdraw their complaints. While Dyal is critical of Sanal's approach to debunking religious complaints, he does not believe that legal action is justified:
"I believe Christ is absolutely capable of defending Himself, if perhaps not the church in India. These statements by Sanal or the probe by his Rationalists must not be taken as an attack on the church or on the community. It certainly is not an attack on the faith in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
The faithful of Mumbai think they are defending faith when they go on hunger strikes against books of fiction or films from Hollywood and Bollywood. But in reality they are defending their own positions and constituencies and do not want them to be exposed to the sunlight.

Christ does not have to drip water from crucifixes to prove the love he has for each one of us. His healing is deeper and needs no instruments. I have experienced this in my own life. Catholics of Mumbai possibly realise the controversy is not getting the Church any new friends, nor is it adding to its lustre.

It is time the church leadership really forgave Sanal. He has learnt his own lesson – not to mock at genuine faith of the people and not confuse a passing popular fancy for a “miracle”, however untenable, to say the community is being taken for a ride by the church. The police case against Sanal Edamaruku should be withdrawn as a sign that a mature Church in India needs no props for the depth of its faith in God."
Sanal has been in touch with us this week, and informed us of correspondence between Dyal and himself following the publication of the Sunday Indian piece. Dyal has been in touch with those behind the complaints (three local Mumbai Catholic groups with close connections to the Archdiocese of Bombay complained to the police), and through this correspondence we now know what they expect from Sanal in exchange for dropping the complaints.

The Mumbai-based Catholic Secular Forum was one of the groups that complained, and its founder Joseph Dias has told Dyal that he will drop the complaint in exchange for an apology from Sanal. Unsurprisingly, Sanal refuses to apologise for exercising his right to free speech in criticising religion:
"I can understand that Joseph Dias might be inspired by the stories of Inquisition and Witch-Hunting in the Middle aAges. We live in the 21st century. There are courageous people who would defend the right to speak what they are convinced about, even if stakes are invoked against them. I am one amongst them. I would not apologize or succumb to any pressures."
Our petition calling on the Catholic authorities to withdraw the complaints has now acquired more than 10,000 signatures, but clearly this has not been enough to convince them that this legal action against Sanal is misguided. We need to keep up the pressure – we are looking at passing the petition on to Catholic authorities here in Europe, including the Vatican, but in the meantime, the more signatures it gets, the better.

Please take the time to sign if you haven't already, and pass it on to anyone you can.
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