Please join the Rationalist Association (UK) in condemning the misuse of Indian law by several Catholic organisations to silence a campaigner against superstition. In March 2012, following his exposure of a supposed miracle at a Catholic Church in Mumbai as nothing more than the result of a leak, a complaint was lodged against Sanal Edamaruku by local Catholic organisations with the Mumbai police, who are now able to arrest him. He has been denied 'anticipatory' bail which means if arrested he faces a long term in prison merely for explaining the science behind an apparent mystery.
Sanal Edamaruku, President of the Indian Rationalist Association, has for decades been a tireless campaigner for science and against superstition. He is widely known for his exposure of the tricks used by self-professed ‘God-Men’ and gurus and has often been on Indian television explaining the everyday science behind supposed miracles.
After one such exposure – he pointed out that "miraculous" water dripping from a statue of Christ at the Catholic Church of Our Lady of Velan Kanni in Vile Parle, Mumbai in fact originated from a leaky pipe – Mr Edamaruku was widely condemned by the Catholic authorities in Mumbai, with the Auxiliary Bishop of Bombay, Agnelo Rufino Gracias calling on him to apologise for "hurting" the Catholic community. Formal complaints about Mr Edamaruku were then made to the Mumbai police by three local Catholic groups, the Catholic Secular Forum, the Association of Concerned Catholics and the Maharashtra Christian Youth Forum.
He stands accused of “deliberately hurting religious feelings and attempting malicious acts intended to outrage the religious sentiments of any class or community”, an offence under Section 295(a) of the Indian Penal Code. No arrest warrant has been issued but the case is "cognisable" meaning the police can arrest without warrant at any time. He is being harassed daily by the Mumbai authorities who, under pressure from Catholic groups, are insisting that he turn himself in. His petition for “anticipatory bail” was turned down on 3 June 2012 on the bizarre grounds that he would be safer in custody. If he is arrested he will therefore most likely be detained in jail until court proceedings are concluded, which could take several years. Fearing arrest, he dares not stay long at home or work.
India has long suffered sectarian hatred and violence and section 295(a) is designed to prevent speech being used to foment hatred and disorder. It is not designed to enable a powerful religious institution to silence those whose message it finds embarrassing. India’s constitution explicitly protects free speech: article 19(a) guarantees the right to free speech and expression and clause 13(2) forbids the state to pass laws which take away or abridge such rights. It follows that the courts of India are required to interpret the Penal Code so as to protect free speech. Mr Edamaruku would be happy to answer his accusers in court, confident that the Indian justice system will vindicate him. However the threat of peremptory imprisonment for an undefined period is a very serious one.
We call on the Catholic authorities in Mumbai, particularly the Archbishop and Auxiliary Bishop of Mumbai, to clarify their Church's position on the attempts to silence Mr Edamaruku's criticisms through legal channels, and ask them to use their influence with local Catholics to encourage them to publicly withdraw their complaints.
We call also on the Vatican and the global Catholic community to make known their opposition to the conduct of the Catholic Secular Forum, the Association of Concerned Catholics and the Maharashtra Christian Youth Forum .
Finally we call on the government of India, the world’s largest democracy, to defend free speech by making it clear that their laws are not to be used to suppress scientific knowledge and reasonable criticism of religious mysticism. We ask them to intercede to ensure this matter is settled without further harassment of a courageous and honest man.
[This petition was amended at 15:10 on Friday 8 June 2012 to clarify the fact that, at present, the complaints against Mr Edamaruku are believed to have originated with the Catholic Secular Forum, the Association of Concerned Catholics and the Maharashtra Christian Youth Forum, and not directly from the Archdiocese of Bombay]