Caspar Melville interviews Sanal Edamaruku
As we reported back in April, Sanal Edamaruku, leading Indian rationalist and scourge of fakirs and charlatans, is facing prosecution for blasphemy in India, after the Catholic Church made complaints about his myth-busting to the authorities. We have been in touch with Sanal and asked him to clarify what's happening, what he's doing about it and how his supporters can help. Here's what he told us:
What are you accused of by the catholic Church, and why?
Actually, I do not know. Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code, charges a person with “deliberately hurting religious feelings and attempting malicious acts intended to outrage the religious sentiments of any class or community”. I have no idea how this applies to me. And strangely, we never got a copy of any of the charge sheets filed against me nor any other official document.The church people – stretching my words like chewing gum – keep complaining about this and that statement that I have allegedly made in the TV debate. Well, since all my statements are both perfectly documented and factually correct, there should be nothing to worry about. In fact, I would love to support all that I said about the Catholic Church with evidence in a court of law:about its miracle-mongering throughout history, about its support for fascist regimes, about its promotion of exorcism etc. That would be a landmark historic trial. But it seems that this is not exactly what they want.
What have they actually done?
They have filed charges in at least three police stations against me. And they manage to keep at least one police station very actively engaged in persuing the case. There is a police inspector from Juhu station, who calls me nearly every day and urges me to come to Mumbai and offer myself for arrest.Section 295A is a special criminal law that applies as and when the allegedly offended party makes enough noise. In this context the vigorous smear campaigns against me are crucial. They are not just the outburst of a fringe fanatic group, they are setting the stage for a potentially successful trial. It is a classic set-up with the Bishop of Mumbai lamenting that I have allegedly hurt Catholic feelings and the mob howling.Of course, though I am immune to such things, there is also the psychological warfare angle: The police are calling every night. The mob is baring their teeth: (Should such a blasphemer “go scot-free”? What would “other religious communities”, e.g. Islamists, do with him? Put him in a “mental asylum”! etc.) Finally the bishop is offering the classical escape route: I should apologise!
How seriously are you taking the charges?
I think nobody takes the charges serious. They have not been filed on merit. The case is a political one, stage managed by the Catholic Church to silence me. Formally, the attack is launched by a kind of Catholic “vox populi”, but there is no doubt who writes the script. “We can rejoice that there are some people who have the courage to stand up when the attempts are made to besmirch the name of the Catholic community”, stated the Bishop of Mumbai.The Catholic Church is a serious opponent, known for being both rigorous and relentless in destroying its critics. Being aware of this we are looking beyond the legal case. While my lawyers are asking the High Court to intervene and stop the charges against me going further, we have considered it necessary to establish precautionary measures for my personal protection.
What kind of support are you getting?
Thousands of people are writing letters, tweets and blog comments in my support. There have been some really wonderful articles published and some very sensible interviews with me. Also monitory support for the Defence Fund has come in. It is mainly coming in hundred Rupee and ten Dollar notes: As always, the section of people who cannot really afford it turns out to be most generous. Their donations do add up to real help. Still, we all have to put in our personal money to make my life a little safer, to buy the necessary flight tickets to Mumbai to get things going and to enable our dedicated legal team to work smoothly. Besides fighting the case, we are planning to challenge the blasphemy law in the Supreme Court of India. This law goes against the fundamental right of freedom of expression and we want to put an end to the history of its misuse. We want it to be abolished.
Do you intend to continue exposing frauds like this?
I have been exposing frauds and miracle mongers for more than 30 years now. The Mumbai interlude would not change that in any way. It has rather strengthened my resolve to do more. And undoubtedly, it has moved the Catholic Church from an up to now rather marginal position on the Indian rationalist radar a little bit more towards the centre.Since Catholic forces are trying to stop me in a way radical Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs or Buddhists never did, I feel enormous energy in me to fight against obscurantism. The pace is increasing: during the last three weeks, I have done nearly 100 hours on air, participating in various TV panel discussions to corner faith healers of different religious origin. These programs are quite successful and they seem to trigger a public wave of awareness that may go a long way.
What can people do to help?
Regarding the blasphemy case, there are mainly two ways to support us: to spread information about the Catholic attempt to silence me and to donate to the Defence Fund, enabling us to cover the direct and indirect costs of the case.The Defence Fund is in urgent need of money and any penny helps. Some people seem to worry there could be a surplus after running the cases. A very friendly blogger (unknown to me) moved me by expressing hopes I would finally be able to buy the Ferrari that I – according to his opinion – deserved. Nice wishes, indeed, but so far not realistic. Still, if there is any overflow of the Defence Fund anytime, it will be absorbed into a rationalist trust that we are planning to establish soon. It will power the engines of our work, and could yield great results.