Way back in March of this year, the President of the Indian-based skeptic organization, Rationalist International, was invited by an Indian TV channel (TV-9) to visit the Church of Our Lady of Velankanni in Vile Parle, Mumbai to offer his opinion on a supposed miracle. The President, Sanal Edamaruku, is like the Indian version of James Randi or Penn Jillette. He is well known in the country and has been debunking miracles for over 30 years.
The miracle in question involved the dripping of water from the feet of a statue of the crucifixion, a miracle that that seems to crop up all around the world… at least when pieces of toast with Jesus on them are in short supply.
Edamuruku was quickly able to pin the cause on a leaking drainage system, with water being drawn up through the nail holes in the statue’s feet by capillary action. Needless to say, the locals and the church were not happy.
People had flocked to the site in thousands to collect the miracle water… which turned out to be sewage… which means it’s likely many of those people became ill. That didn’t worry the church, though, eager to make a quick buck.
Edamaruku accused the church of exploiting people for money, a tactic that did not go down well. Edamaruku later participated in a heated debate with the pastor of the church, Father Augustine Palett, on national TV. Father Palett had little time for actual debate and instead spent his time threatening action, by way of a blasphemy complaint, if Edamaruku refused to apologize. Edamaruku welcomed this, as it would be a chance to present his evidence in court with the priests and bishops on the witness stand. Of course, no apology was forthcoming and Palett has since made good on his threat.
Following the TV appearance, a group called The Association of Concerned Catholics (Think Bill Donohue, but Indian) lodged a complaint against him with the Mumbai police. They have now arrested him, charging him with “hurting the religious sentiments of a particular community.” This is a section in India’s penal code intended to prevent hate speech and should be used against deeply sectarian groups or individuals. The complaints against Edamaruku, however, are a grave misuse of these laws.
Edamaruku had applied for “anticipatory bail,” which would have meant he could have avoided jail during any trial. Bizarrely, this was rejected on the grounds that the judge thought jail would be the safest place for him.
India’s Constitution only adds to the confusion. Clause (h) of Article 51-A states:
It shall be the duty of every citizen of India to develop the scientific temper, humanism and spirit of inquiry and reform.
In other words, Edamaruku was not only not breaking the law, he was fulfilling the Indian Constitution!
While it is not the official Catholic Church bringing forth these charges, it is standing back and refusing to condemn members of the Church who are responsible. A petition has been set up to put international pressure on the Catholic Church to step in and call for the charges to be dropped. You can sign that petition here.