Hemant links to an article in Open magazine about Sanal Edamaruku, the Indian skeptic who has been exiled from his own country to avoid facing criminal charges for debunking a fake Catholic “miracle” shrine of an allegedly weeping Jesus (turns out it was a leaking water line). It’s easy to forget about people like this and the religiously-motivated brutality and oppression they face.
As promised, two FIRs were soon lodged against Edamaruku. They were both filed under Section 295A of the IPC—India’s blasphemy law, which punishes anyone who outrages a religion or the religious beliefs of another individual. It is a non-bailable offence and carries a maximum punishment of three years, plus a fine. A few years ago, an Andhra Pradesh author and translator with the pen name Krantikar was arrested under the same section for translating some of the works of Taslima Nasreen into Telugu. Another incident occurred late last year when, under the same section and Section 66(A) of the IT Act (related to sending offensive messages through a computer or communication device), two girls in Mumbai were held by the police for questioning the shutdown imposed during Bal Thackeray’s funeral.
According to Edamaruku, he started to receive threatening calls from a policeman in Mumbai on a daily basis.
These calls were always late in the night and from a mobile phone. He applied for two anticipatory bails—one in a lower court in Delhi and another in Mumbai’s High Court—but both were thrown out on technical grounds. During the Delhi court hearing, lawyers representing the Catholic groups argued that his case had to be tried in Mumbai. In Mumbai, the High Court decided that his case should first be heard in a lower court. Meanwhile, according to Edamaruku, friends in Mumbai closely connected with the Church and Catholic groups, told him there was talk of getting people to forcefully bring him to Mumbai to get him arrested. He was also afraid that a fanatic might try to murder him. Edamaruku went into hiding.
He spent the next month and a half living in student hostels and various friends’ homes. He stopped driving his car. While he was hiding in a post-graduate hostel, he would live in a room with the door latched from outside. When it became likely that he would soon be arrested, he flew to Helsinki in Finland.
Edamaruku has now spent over a year in Finland. “I have travelled to some of the most backward and rural areas of India to expose myths and superstitions. But I have never faced a situation like this. One would assume that people in Mumbai would be more sensible and tolerant,” he says on the phone from Helsinki. He says he wants to return to India but as the situation stands, he will get arrested without bail here.
The church in Mumbai, on the other hand, has refused to get involved. The archbishop of Mumbai issued a press statement last year, stating that the Cardinal was out of the country when the issue of the Irla cross surfaced and that he was in no way connected with the filing of the FIR. However, he did make an appeal. Not to the groups to withdraw the FIR, but to Edamaruku to issue an apology for his comments. After this, he suggested, the FIRs should be withdrawn.
Remember this whenever the Pope or any other Catholic official talks about their support for religious freedom. It’s a lie.