When water started trickling down a statue of Jesus Christ at a Catholic church in Mumbai earlier this year, locals were quick to declare a miracle. Some began collecting the holy water and the Church of Our Lady of Velan Kanni began to promote it as a site of pilgrimage.
So when Sanal Edamaruku arrived and established that this was not a matter of holy water so much as holey plumbing, the backlash was severe. The renowned rationalist was accused of blasphemy, charged with offenses that carry a three-year prison sentence and eventually, after receiving death threats, had to seek exile in Finland.
Now he is calling for European governments to press New Delhi into dropping the case.
On the first leg of a tour around EU capitals on Friday, he warned that India was sacrificing freedom of expression for outdated, colonial-era rules about blasphemy.
“There is a huge contradiction in the content of the Indian constitution which guarantees freedom of speech and the blasphemy law from 1860 under then colonial rule,” Edamaruku said in an interview in Dublin.
“This blasphemy law can affect anyone in India, even a girl recently who wrote on Facebook against closing down a city because of the death of a famous local politician. She was prosecuted under the blasphemy law and another girl who ‘liked’ her comment on Facebook was also arrested and then charged with blasphemy,” he said.
Edamaruku, who has the support of rationalists and atheists such as Richard Dawkins, is well known in India for debunking religious myths.
When the state “miracle” was pronounced, he went to Mumbai and found that the dripping water was the result of clogged drainage pipes behind the wall where it stood. His revelation provoked death threats from religious zealots and charges of blasphemy under the Indian penal code in the Mumbai high court.
“India cannot criticize Pakistan for arresting young girls for blaspheming against Islam while it arrests and locks up its own citizens for breaking our country’s blasphemy laws,” he said.
“It is an absurd law but also extremely dangerous because it gives fanatics, whether they are Hindus, Catholics or Muslims, a license to be offended,” he said.
Edamaruku said his exposure of the statue was a contribution to public health in Mumbai as some believers were drinking the water hoping it could cure ailments.
“This was sewage water seeping through a wall due to faulty plumbing,” he said. “It posed a health risk to people who were fooled into believing it was a miracle.”
He has been living in Finland since the summer. He was in Europe on a lecture tour in July when his partner rang to say the police had arrived at his apartment.
“I felt really upset because under the blasphemy law you cannot get bail until the court case begins. I would be in jail now if I had been at my apartment in Delhi,” he said.
He has spurned an offer from a senior Indian Catholic bishop to apologize for the exposure of the “miracle.”
“The Catholic archbishop of Bombay, Oswald Cardinal Gracias, has said that if I apologize for the ‘offense’ I have caused he will see to it that the charges are dropped. This shows that he has influence in the situation but he will not use it unless I apologize, which I will not do as I have done nothing wrong,” he said.
“In a way I am lucky because I have friends and supporters in Europe. I am well known in India and have the telephone numbers of at least five Indian cabinet ministers. And I have some means of fighting back. But what would happen to the common man or woman if they were accused of blasphemy? They would be sent straight to jail without any chance of bail,” he said.
Edamaruku asked for “mounting international pressure” particularly from Ireland and other EU nations to be placed on the Indian government. The Indian state would have the power to halt the prosecution before a court case, citing a lack of evidence to pursue it, he said.
Mick Nugent from Atheist Ireland, the organization hosting Edamaruku’s visit to the republic and Northern Ireland next week, said Edamaruku’s plight also underlined the need for the Fine Gael-Labour government in Dublin to repeal the Irish blasphemy law.
“Blasphemy laws are very strange because they can be both very silly and also very sinister. They are very silly because you are talking about crying statues and moving statues or Virgin Marys appearing in tree stumps in Co Limerick. But on the other hand these type of laws are used in Islamic countries to jail people or sentence them to death. Or in Sanal’s case facing a jail sentence for his work exposing bogus miracles,” he said.
With YouTube videos “debunking” allegations of human rights abuses and diatribes on Western “conspiracies” against China, an unlikely set of foreigners is loudly defending Beijing against international critics. They are teachers and business owners from the UK, Colombia and Singapore, a collage of YouTubers garnering fame for their video takedowns of what they say are unfair accusations against Beijing. Videos alternate between praise of China’s rapid development and rebuttals of negative foreign reports about the country. Experts say they are being deployed as a weapon in the information war against China’s critics, with hundreds of videos reaching millions of viewers. “I am trying to
ELEVATED PARTNERSHIP: The agreement enables Japan to share its equipment and technology, as the countries deepen defense ties amid China worries Japan is to give defense equipment and technology to Vietnam under an agreement signed on Saturday, as the two countries step up their military cooperation amid worries about China’s growing military influence. Japanese Minister of Defense Nobuo Kishi said the deal elevates the countries’ defense partnership “to a new level,” and that Japan and Vietnam plan to deepen defense ties through multinational joint exercises and other means. Details about the transfer of specific equipment, including naval vessels, is to be worked out in subsequent talks, the ministry said. Kishi’s meeting with Vietnamese Minister of Defense Phan Van Giang in Hanoi
Hospitals are overwhelmed, ventilators are difficult to find and there is no longer enough space at the main cemetery for COVID-19 victims in Mauritius. Barely three weeks before it fully opens its doors to international travelers at the start of the peak tourist season, the island nation is struggling with an alarming explosion in COVID-19 infections and deaths. In just two months, cases have jumped more than fivefold to more than 12,600 as of Friday, by far the largest increase across Africa during this period, data compiled by Agence France-Presse showed. Since the pandemic started, Mauritius has recorded 1,005 cases of COVID-19 per
A Chinese businessman on Wednesday was sentenced to two years in prison for illegally exporting marine technology with uses in anti-submarine warfare from the US for the benefit of a Chinese military university. Qin Shuren (覃樹人), who founded a company that sold oceanographic instruments, was sentenced by US District Judge Denise Casper in Boston after admitting he illegally exported devices called hydrophones that can be used to monitor sound underwater. Prosecutors had sought seven-and-a-half years in prison for Qin, who was also fined US$20,000. His guilty plea was conditional, allowing him to appeal a ruling by Casper not to suppress the evidence against