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'Churches promote miracles to bring in people, money'

Last updated on: April 25, 2012 14:40 IST

'It is difficult to be a rationalist in a country where superstitions are rampant'

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Vicky Nanjappa in Bengaluru

In a country where most people are religious and believe in superstitions and miracles, the toughest profession to take up is that of a rationalist. Be it the miracles proclaimed by the church or holy men and their remedies, even though many of them have been proven wrong, people continue to flock to these people and places.

Recently, a huge controversy had erupted over the claim that the water flowing from the statue at the Velankanni Church in Tamil Nadu's Nagapattinam district was caused by a leak in the sewage system and not a miracle as claimed by the church.

The revelation was made by Sanal Edamaraku, president, Indian Rationalist Association. What followed was a series of threats from the church and also a case under Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code -- outraging religious feelings by insulting religion or religious beliefs.

Edamuruku, the author of 25 books, has spoken out against miracles and god men in the country. In this interview with rediff.com's Vicky Nanjappa, Edamuraku says he has sought to exercise his constitutional right to develop scientific thinking, while lashing out at the churches, Sathya Sai Baba and Baba Ramdev for the miracles and so-called magic theories that they promote.

How does it feel to be a rationalist in India -- a country that thrives on magic, miracles and beliefs?

It is a question of choice, and the more difficult the choice is, the more important it is. No doubt it is a difficult task when one is a rationalist in a country where superstition is rampant.

Which religion according to you has the highest element of superstitions?

I would say every religion. However, there are a many that have a modern thought and others who have fanatics.

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Image: The Velankanni church in Tamil Nadu's Nagapattinam district where a miracle is said to have taken place. (Inset) Sanal Edamaraku, president, Indian Rationalists Association


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'I am not abusing any religion'

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You claimed that there was no miracle in Velankanni, but sewage water. How has the reaction been?

They were shocked and outraged. They were trying to make a miracle out of that thing. The priest himself was leading the prayers and trying to show that it was a miracle.

They were collecting that water in a bucket and giving it to devotees. I had asked for a sample of the water, but they refused to give it to me. I found that there were hardly one or two drops which had come from the statue and the Church had mixed it with extra water and were distributing it to the people.

Later, I went ahead and touched the nail on the crucifix and found that there were drops of water on it. On further examination, I found that there was a sewer pipe behind the statue which had a leak. The church obviously did not like my findings and what followed was outrage.

People have a right to follow a religion of their choice. Is it right on your part to come in the way of that?

I am not abusing any religion. I just feel that no one has the right to fool people in the name of miracles. I do believe in the right to belief.

You have written and spoken about Sathya Sai Baba as well.

Yes I have. Sathya Sai Baba used miracles to dupe people. He gave the impression that he was God. As a result, many bigwigs flocked to his ashram, and liberally donated large sums of money. I have been speaking on and also demonstrating how he did magic to rope in disciples, and trust me, it is very easy to do that magic.

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Image: A file photo of Sathya Sai Baba
Photographs: Rediff archives

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'Pilgrimage centres mean big money'

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But the other aspect to Sathya Sai Baba is his philanthropy.

Yes, that is there. However, the amount spent on philanthropy was only four per cent of the donations. The rest of the money was spent on extravagance, which is not needed for a human being.

So why do you think miracles are being promoted?

In the churches miracles are promoted so that it becomes a pilgrimage centre. There is a lot of money in such things. Once it becomes a pilgrimage centre then it automatically brings in the people who pump in a lot of money.

This is why churches artificially create miracles. What can one say about churches creating miracles when the Vatican itself has a policy of creating miracles? We have around 10,000 saints and a miracle has been attributed to each one of them.

Take the case of Sister Alphonsa from Kottayam. It is said that a boy with upturned feet was cured after he started to pray to her. Her tomb, in Bharanagaram in Kottayam, has now become a place of pilgrimage.

They are trying the same thing at Velankanni. There was also a failed attempt at the church in Mahim (in Mumbai) where they tried to say that blood was oozing out of Mother Mary's picture.

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Image: Devotees throng Prashanthi Nilayam, Sai Baba's ashram, in Puttaparthi
Photographs: Rediff archives

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'Ramdev's statements are irresponsible'

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What about Baba Ramdev?

Baba Ramdev does not speak about miracles, but about magical remedies. He has been trying to say that yoga can work like magic. He says that he has the results, but his claims are not substantiated. I feel sad when I see people in parks rubbing their fingers to prevent themselves from growing old faster.

Ramdev has also said that tulsi (basil) leaves give protection from the H1N1 virus and also claimed that yoga can also protect one from HIV. These are baseless, and more importantly very irresponsible statements.

These people continue to have a very big following. Are people then basically stupid?

Yes, they do have a following. However, take the population of the country as a whole and compare the following these people have. The number of followers is not all that great.

Yes, Sai Baba was an exception. That is because it was systematic. They had identified loopholes in religions and exploited that. For instance, not everyone can enter a mosque or some other place of worship. That was never the case in a Sai Baba ashram.

How has the response been to your campaign against miracles been?

I have had a very good response. There are people who are interested in what I am trying to say. Many others agree with me, but have been either too oppressed or scared to speak.

Are there are threats to your life?

When I embarked on this mission, I was aware of the threats that would follow, especially in the case of the church which has been intolerant right from the time of Galileo.

On Tuesday, one Catholic organisation had even said that I need to put into a mental asylum and not sent to jail because I am talking rubbish. However, I will continue with my work, since I do not care about the consequences.


Image: Baba Ramdev
Photographs: Rediff archives

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