Sanal Edmaruku charged after debunking crying Jesus statue

10:00 PM, Dec 6, 2012   |    comments
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By Ram Ramgopal, CNN

An effort to debunk what many considered a miracle has triggered an argument over free speech and religious tolerance in the world's largest democracy.

A man was charged with blasphemy after giving a rational explanation for a statue of Jesus that seemed to weep.

It's known to happen all over the world; a religious statue appears to cry, devout Catholics flock to it believe it to be a miracle.

From weeping Mary statues in California, to a tearful Jesus in Israel, usually it's just a matter of personal faith.

But now one man in Mumbai is facing jail time for debunking what was thought to be a similar miracle.

In March, water began dripping down a statue of Jesus on the cross at Our Lady of Velankanni in Mumbai. Parishioners collected the so-called Holy Water others drank it hoping it would cure ailments.

But rationalist and atheist Sanal Edamaruku investigated, and said it was actually sewage water percolating through the statue, because of a leaky water pipe.

"The priest stopped the prayer for a while for this water to be distributed. And he has been giving this water, the assistant priests have been distributing this water and they brought it to me also. People during this poured from the pot and they were just licking it not knowing what it was," said Edamaruku.

Now he's being charged with blasphemy under Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code, which accuses him of "deliberately hurting religious feelings and attempting malicious acts intended to outrage the religious sentiments."

Edamaruku argues his actions fall under free speech.

"It's against the fundamental right that I have. It's against my own duty. This is a question of human rights," he said.

But the Catholic Christian Secular Forum, which filed the complaint to police, says the law is the law.

"Sanal should realize that his right to expression must not encroach on my right to freedom of faith of belief, of religion which is guaranteed under the Indian constitution," said Joseph Dias, Gen. Secretary of the Catholic Christian Secular Forum.

After being denied anticipatory bail in June, Edamaruku flew to Finland, where he remains in exile.

The Catholic Christian Secular Forum says they're willing to withdraw the complaint against Edamaruku, if he apologizes. Edamaruku says he will not.

"The moment I apologize and admit that I've made a mistake, I didn't make any mistake. Rather, they should be thankful to me, at least helping to stop this dirty water being distributed to people further," he said.

Edamaruku has even appealed to India's prime minister to change the century-old blasphemy law, with no success. He wants to see the law abolished because he says it contradicts the country's constitution.

Some believe Edamaruku's actions aren't criminal at all.

"295A requires a deliberate and malicious act. What has this man done? He's a rationalist. He's giving you a rational, non-spiritual, non-hypothetical explanation," said Colin Gonsalves, a human rights lawyer.

This case may come down to India's contradictory laws of blasphemy and free speech, but it may also be a question simply of fact versus faith.

Either way, speaking the truth has come at a high price for Sanal Edmaruku.


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