The Vicious War Over Superstition In India

“The general root of superstition [is that] men observe when things hit, and not when they miss, and commit to memory the one, and pass over the other.” —Sir Francis Bacon

In A Nutshell

Campaigners in India fighting against the country’s rampant superstition have been violently targeted. Rationalist Sanal Edamaruku has been forced to live in exile for over a year after he found a leaky sewage pipe to be the cause of a “miraculous” dripping cross in a church. A warrant was issued for his arrest on suspicion of blasphemy. He believes he was set up by what he describes as a “mafia” that makes its money selling superstition. In August, Narendra Dabholkar, a supporter of a bill to ban the practice of fraudulent black magic, was shot dead by gunmen that escaped on motorcycles.

The Whole Bushel

India is a very superstitious country. From the witch doctor who reportedly stood on babies to cure them of colds to animal sacrifice, astrology, and treating snake bites with magic, a lot of people make a lot of money peddling untruths. The rationalism movement in India seeks to combat this with education and legislation, but those with a stake in the superstitious culture have reacted viciously.

Narendra Dabholkar spent decades traveling around India, exposing sorcerers, shamans, and others. He campaigned for legislation to protect the public by banning the practice of harmful nonsense. He gathered a lot of enemies as a result, from India’s Hindu right-wing as well as followers of the people he debunked. His enemies would often react with violence: In August 2013, he was shot at point-blank range and killed.

Sanal Edamaruku, another Indian skeptic and the founder of campaign group Rationalist International, has been forced to live in exile in Europe for over a year. He rose to prominence in 2008 when appearing opposite a tantric magician on a daytime chat show. The magician claimed he could kill Edamaruku with his magic, to which the skeptic replied, “Go on then.” The impromptu attempt to kill Edamaruku with chanting and hand-waving failed, but was watched by hundreds of millions all over India when the next show was canceled in order to let the event continue.

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Edamaruku’s newfound celebrity got him his own television show investigating paranormal claims. He was called to a church to investigate a “miraculous” cross that was dripping water with apparently no source. Believers were drinking and rubbing the water on their bodies. After a short amount of looking, Edamaruku found a nearby sewage pipe that was leaking onto the cross (we repeat, people were drinking the stuff).

Unfortunately, India has very strict anti-blasphemy laws. Complaints were made to local police and a warrant was issued for his arrest, and if he returns to India, Edamaruku may well be charged and imprisoned for uncovering the fact that a miracle was anything but. He has stated in an interview (heard here) that he believes the whole thing may have been a set-up by his opponents. He could well be correct—the enemies of rationality in India have shown that is the least they are capable of.

Show Me The Proof

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