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'This is the New Freedom Struggle'

Activist Narendra Dabholkar’s death in Pune yesterday morning will actually strengthen rationalists and others fighting to encourage scientific temper and sceptical thinking, say defiant rationalists.


Voice choice: People at Shivaji Mandir in Dadar yesterday, protesting against the killing of activist Narendra Dabholkar. Pic/Datta Kumbhar

Dabholkar, who was shot in broad daylight was found dead at Omkareshwar bridge in Pune. He was the face and voice of a campaign to persuade the Maharashtra Government to pass an anti-superstition and black magic bill.


The real picture: Sanal Edamaruku in Zurich (Switzerland)

Sanal Edamaruku, India’s most renowned rationalist, president of Rationalist International, who has fled the country and is currently at an undisclosed location in Europe, thanks to the death threats against him, says on the telephone, “We are regularly threatened. Yet, this should not stop us. We realize the danger that we face every day. The fact that we are playing with our life, but this is the new freedom struggle. I call Narendra Dabholkar the martryr of this new freedom struggle. His death will not be in vain. It will encourage people to join this movement make them more courageous.”

Edamaruku was based in Delhi for the last 35 years but was born and spent his childhood in Kerala. He says he is in Europe, “After receiving death threats for exposing the Mumbai Vile Parle crucifix water dripping miracle. The church groups filed several cases against me under Article 295A of the Indian Penal Code, the Indian blasphemy law. The Archbishop of Mumbai demanded my apology, which I refused to give. I am now a guest with Rationalist groups in Europe, travelling and giving lectures advocating free speech.”

In fact, Edamaruku sees this as a reaction to the fact that “people who are against us are feeling threatened because the Rationalist movement is growing very fast. Dabholkar was very articulate and committed to the cause. Rationalism is catching on very quickly and we have more than 200 groups in India now. As they say, there is strength in numbers. We will not back down.”

Blasphemy Charges
Sanal Edamaruku, faced charges of blasphemy after he exposed a “miracle” involving a crucifix statue in Vile Parle last year. Early last year, Edamaruku was invited by a TV channel to visit the Church of Our Lady of Velankanni in Vile Parle, where water had begun dripping from the feet of a statue of the crucified Christ. Worshippers claimed that this was “holy water”, and the crowds flocked to the church to collect the miraculous liquid in containers. Upon inspection, Edamuruku claims he was able to reveal that the source of the “miracle” was a leaking drainage system, the water from which was being sucked up and ejected through the nail holes of the crucifix via a capillary action. He now faces several blasphemy charges. 

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