Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Sanal Edamaruku and Indian Blasphemy Laws

In March, 2012, worshipers at the Church of Our lady of Velankanni, a Catholic church in Mumbai, India's financial centre, reported seeing a statue of Jesus on a crucifix with water collecting like tears at its feet. Soon after, hundreds of people began to arrive at the church to see the 'miracle' and collect drops of the water in bottles.

Sanal Edamaruku, author and head of the Indian Rationalist Organisation, was asked to investigate by television channel TV-9. He found that water was building up close to the crucifix from a broken drain, passing up the wall due to capillary action and collecting on the statue. He later reported this during a televised interview and debate. It might be expected that this would have been the end of the matter, but soon afterwards formal complaints were filed against Edamaruku for inciting racial and religious hatred under British colonial-era legislation which obliges the state to punish those who offend the faith of others. Arrest warrants are currently out for him and he faces the prospect of three years in prison if tried and found guilty.

While it does seem to me that his comments did cause offence to believers of the 'miracle', I don't think he set out deliberately to do so, but rather to carry out a rational investigation. It also seems strange that a country like India, founded on secularism, may be prepared to punish one of its citizens under a law on blasphemy. However, you may take the view that there was no need to debunk a phenomenon which was bringing comfort and happiness to a large number of people and, under the letter of the law, he did cause offence regardless of his motives. The application of this law reminds me in some ways of the case of Simon Singh, the science author who was sued for libel by the British Chiropractic Association (BCA) after he critisised their claims of being able to heal a number of childhood illnesses by massage of the spine.

Edamaruku's blog can be found here, and, below, I've posted an article about his story from the Indian newspaper, the Hindu:
  Debunking a Miracle

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