CHANDRAN IYER | New Delhi, May 4, 2012 17:14
Chandran Iyer wonders if a dripping cross, an angry Church and an unapologetic rationalist are symbols of our confused secular selves…
When, in 1995, a team of scientists announced that the phenomena of Lord Ganesha’s statues sipping milk was not some wondrous miracle but plain physics, no Hindu drew out a dagger in protest and no FIRs were lodged against the men of science who had debunked this show of power from one of the most popular Gods of the religion.
In March 2012, Sanal Edamaruku, founder president of Rationalist International, had no such luck.
For the ‘profane’ act of pointing out that the miraculous flow of water from a cross at Irla, in Vile Parle, a western suburb of Mumbai was merely caused by a leakage in the church’s sewage system, he was slapped with a range of police cases that include blasphemy, hurting religious sentiments and making disparaging remarks about the Pope. Apparently the offended parties – the priest of Our Lady of Velankanni Church and representatives of the Association of Concerned Catholics (AOCC) – wanted a public apology from Edamaruku, for labeling the miracle a ‘money making racket’, but he was unwilling to offer it.
The man’s critics would point out that the flurry of cases are just desserts for Edarmaraku, a publicity hungry, self styled crusader who regularly questions the wonders of religion and religious men. The most famous of these acts was challenging a tantric on television to kill him. (The tantric failed and pronounced that Edarmaruku was protected by a powerful Godly force, despite Edarmaruku’s vocal protestations that he was an atheist and the Gods would have little to do with him).
But a thin minority could also question if Edamaruku is indeed being targeted by the Church which allegedly promotes miracles such as the 'dripping cross' to popularise Christianity in India.
Edamaruku can also be held up as a test case for our media’s inherent biases, as his tribulations haven’t gathered the tiniest fraction of space usually reserved for exposing bogus deeds of Hindu god men—the latest of who is Nirmal Baba.
Vinod Kapri, Managing Editor, India TV says, “We did a story on the row but it was not projected the way it should have been by the mainstream media. Maybe Hindus are more tolerant. However, all such affectations, in any religion, need to be exposed.”
Kali Poongundran, general secretary of the Dravidar Kazhagam, however links this lack of media attention to Edamaruku’s plight with the high caste Hindu composition of Indian newsrooms. “In our newspaper Viduthalai, we wrote about the persecution of Edamaruku at the hands of the Church. We like to have and promote a scientific view point. But the Indian media dominated by Brahmins does not consider this news as a big issue because it does not concern Hindu gods. They think it is not our god, not our religion so why bother?” he says.
The President of Maharashtra Christian Youth Forum Agnelo Fernandes believes that Edamaruku deserves little sympathy, for his basic contention—that the Church described the dripping cross as a miracle was flawed. “The Church did not project it as a miracle yet he accused the priest of fooling people and making money from it” explains Fernandes.
Fernandes filed the FIR against Edamaruku in the Juhu police station on March 10 under the Indian Penal Code’s section 295 – the routinely misused law that permits action against those who “undertake deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs.”
Bishop Agnelo Gracias, the Auxiliary Bishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Mumbai says Edamaruku would not have gotten away with his comments if made against another religious minority (see interview) and dismisses the suggestion of the dripping cross being a manufactured miracle. “The cross is not on Church property and the person who first noticed the dripping water was not even a Catholic,” he says. Go figure!
In his defense Edumaruku offers that he was only trying to ‘expose miracle mongering’. “The Church was taking advantage of people’s faith which was being capitalised to make money”, he says (see interview). Outside Mumbai, the voices of support for Edamaruku are growing.
In Chennai, social activist A Marx says, “In Christianity there is room for papal laughter and satanic feasts. In Amsterdam, I saw posters showing Pope John Paul engaged in sexual acts. In countries where Christians are a majority, such depictions are permitted. Perhaps they are in a minority here and so overtly sensitive. What Edamaruku is doing is great. He never distinguishes between religions. We have to condemn the way Christianity has responded to his criticism”.
V Kumaresan, general secretary of the Tamil Nadu based Rationalist Forum says the furore against his fellow rationalist goes against the fabric of the Constitution. “According to Article 51 A(h) it is the fundamental duty of every citizen to develop scientific temper, rationalism, humanism and reform. It is not only the duty of rationalists like us,” he notes. Kuamaresan’s own efforts of late have concentrated on busting the myth of vampires in Tamil Nadu’s districts of Dharmapuri and Krishnagiri where the sudden death of cows are being attributed to the blood sucking beings even as veterinarians try to get to the bottom of the cause.
As for the beleaguered Edamaruku, he is yet to present himself to the police for questioning. Arun Bhagat, senior inspector at the Juhu police station who is investigating the charges says, “We have registered a case for hurting religious sentiments on the basis of a complaint filed by the Christian association members. We will take a call on what needs to be done only after we question him.” But for now, the case is stuck between an adamant Edamaruku and an angry Church, even as most of us choose to look away in affirmation of our secular selves.
With inputs from Anuradha Preetam (Delhi) and N Asokan (Chennai)
“Sanal Edamaruku would not have dared to offend Muslims”
Targeting of Edamaruku has created an impression that the Church is intolerant of any
This is incorrect. We are not opposed to rationalist perspectives. In fact we encourage them. We never claimed that the dripping cross in Vile Parle was a miracle. It is quite possible that it has a natural explanation. Edamaruku’s comments were thus unwarranted.
So why is the Church and Christian community upset?
We are not against him for expressing his opinion. The community is hurt by his highly derogatory utterances. He has charged the priests of having created the dripping cross to make money. To the best of our knowledge, no money has been collected by any priest. Besides, priests do not build churches. It speaks volumes about his ignorance. He has also made unwarranted statements against the Pope and the Church.
But aren't you overreacting by filing police cases against him? Even Jesus preached tolerance and forgiveness?
The police cases have not been filed by the Church but by Christian association members who are loyal to it. He has no right to hurt other people’s sentiments. He has made these and other unwarranted statements out of ignorance. The least he could do is apologise to the Catholic community. But he has no remorse. He dared to make these remarks only because he knows that Christianity preaches tolerance and so he can get away with it. Would he have dared to make any uncharitable remarks against the Muslim community?
Is there a process in the Church for identifying what is a 'miracle' and what is just a natural phenomenon?
Yes. There is a lengthy scientific process to be undergone before any official pronouncement is made. In this case, the Church did not make any pronouncement. As a rule, the Church is slow to attribute supernatural causes to extra-ordinary phenomenon we observe in life. As far as possible it tries to explain such phenomenon by natural causes.
Do you think Edamaruku made such comments for cheap publicity?
I do not want to attribute any motive. May be he felt that he was launching a crusade. Whatever be his motive, the approach was unacceptable.
“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing”
Maharshtra Christian Association Forum President and the Priest of Vile Parle Church claim that they never called the dripping cross a miracle. Why are you then criticising them?
There was a definite propaganda to project this dripping cross as a miracle. People should visit You Tube to find out how it was presented by them in a televised debate.
But why have you alleged that the dripping cross miracle has been created by priests to make money?
When I visited the Church I saw water from the cross being distributed as ‘holy’ water.
But the Bishop says that the Church had not made any pronouncements on the phenomenon.
The Church had launched a propaganda about the ‘miracle’. But now the Bishop seems to have taken a different stand.
What about the police complaints filed against you?
They have been made to victimise me. They want to punish me for exposing their miracle mongering by getting me arrested on trumped up charges. I have not said anything that can hurt the religious sentiments of Christians. They wanted to create a sensation that what happened was a miracle to get a stamp of approval from the Vatican. Now that their efforts are wasted, they are retaliating.
Are you willing to render the unqualified apology being demanded of you?
There is no question of me tendering any apology. It is they who should apologise to me. I would like to quote from Jesus in the Bible – “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing."