A man of Indian origin who found the spotlight after exposing miraculous feats of holy men as mere tricks has exiled himself in Finland after being accused of blasphemy, fearing he will be sent to prison or assassinated even if he decides to return.
It all started when a Hindu fakir said on live television that he could kill anyone with mysterious chanting. Sanal Edamaruku, president of the Indian Rationalist Association, decided to take on the challenge and instantly proved that the fakir was making false claims.
While India is widely considered as the land of profound spirituality, rationalists see the country as a breeding ground for nothing but superstition. As part of a small group of miracle-busters, Edamaruku has dedicated his life to traveling the country and demystifying baseless beliefs among common people.
In the 1990s, Edamaruku traveled to hundreds of villages, reenacting the fabulous feats of self-proclaimed holy men, exposing to commoners the various tricks used by them to appear supernatural. Naturally, his exposes on national television ended up attracting criticism from different stakeholders.
He admits to having taken advantage of the television boom in India that tapped into an audience, which seemed to be fascinated with tales out of the ordinary.
“I was campaigning in villages for so long before the television came… But some people do not like me to be going on television and reaching out to millions of people,” he said.
He explains, in 2012, four years after his televised encounter with the Hindu fakir, a steady drip of water from the toe of a statue of Christ genuinely did, put his life in danger. The incident in a nondescript Mumbai suburb was immediately hailed as a miracle, drawing hundreds of Catholics and other curious locals to watch the hypnotic occurrence. Some devotees even drank the droplets. Edamaruku accepted a challenge to investigate the miracle and with the help of an engineer friend, he traced the source of the drop backwards. Eventually, he found that an overflowing drain connected to a nearby toilet lay adjacent to the wall that the statue was mounted on, which is where the droplets happened to emerge from.
Photo Credit: BBC
Edamaruku believes that the situation turned very ugly after he proved that this miracle was basically a case of poor plumbing. While engaging in a heated debate on live television with representatives of Catholic lobbyists, he feared for his life as a threatening crowd bearing sticks assembled outside the studio. He believes they were hired thugs.
Conveniently, religious bigots negated the veracity of the miracle and accused Edamaruku of insulting the Catholic Church as he claimed that the miracle had been manufactured by the church to make money. In the weeks that followed, three police stations in Mumbai registered blasphemy cases against Edamaruku under the notorious Section 295a of India’s penal code, which makes malicious and deliberate speech insulting religion punishable with a hefty fine and up to three years in prison.
“Under this law, a policeman can simply arrest me even though there has been no investigation... they can just arrest me without a warrant and keep me in prison for a long time… That risk I do not want to take,” said Edamaruku.
Edamaruku claims to have applied for anticipatory bail, which prevents police from taking him into custody without investigation, but his application was apparently rejected. He also says that the police made threatening calls to him asking him to apologize for his actions in case he wanted to avoid being arrested. Angry Catholics started posting comments against him on an online forum as well.
That is when Edamaruku decided to leave for a European tour and since Finland was the first to grant him a visa, he chose to settle there. Even though he had planned to return after a few weeks, he continues to stay in self-exile in Finland because the Catholic Secular Forum, one of the groups that filed a complaint against him in Mumbai, insists it will press charges against him the moment he returns to India.
Photo Credit: BBC
He continues to hold board meetings with members of the Indian Rationalist Association on Skype and strategizes ways to expose the latest tales of fraudulent holy men. Oswald Gracias, Goan Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church, asked Edamaruku to apologize for his comments so the Catholic groups could be urged to drop their cases against him but Edamaruku has refused to compromise on his freedom of expression.
“I don't regret anything I said. I feel that I have full right to express my views... I am open for discussion and correction but I am not willing to accept anybody's bullying, change my views or submit to their pressure to apologise,” he said.
Photo Credit: Robert Brotherus