On this date in 1902, Goparaju Ramachandra Rao, the Indian atheist leader known as Gora, was born into a high caste Hindu family in India. He wrote in his autobiography, We Become Atheists, that he grew up "conventionally orthodox and superstitious." He pursued a botany degree, eventually earning his Master's in botany at Presidency College in Madras. He and his wife Saraswati were married in 1922 when she was only 10. Both their families were Orthodox Hindu, which dictated that girls must marry before puberty, until the Child Marriage Restraint Act was passed in 1935. Gora was excommunicated by his family for his atheism, and devoted his life to propagating it. In 1940, he and his wife co-founded the Atheist Center, in a small village in the Krishna district. On the eve of Independence in 1947, they moved the center to Vijayawada. Gora wrote many books, such as Atheism Questions and Answers, An Atheist Around the World, An Atheist with Gandhi, The Need of Atheism, and Positive Atheism. From 1949 on, he wrote a column on atheism, and began publishing The Atheist, a monthly, in 1969. Gora's atheism dictated his campaign to abolish the caste system with its "untouchables," and the idea of "karma" or divine fate. The Atheist Center, which continued under the guidance of Saraswati, provides counseling, promotes intercaste and casteless marriages (more than 500 have taken place there), works to abolish child marriages, provides aid to prostitutes, unwed mothers and vulnerable women, explodes superstitious beliefs by holding firewalking demonstrations and debunking other "miracles," educates against belief in witchcraft and sorcery, promotes sexual education and family planning and many other reforms. D. 1975.

“The greatest contribution of atheism is the provision of a firm basis for ethical conduct. Atheism explains that morality is a social obligation but not a passport to heaven and salvation. The theistic belief in divine retribution sidetracked moral behavior. Believers were more prone to please the god of their imagination by prayer and ritual than to conform to rules of moral conduct. Consequently immorality and anti-social activities spread wild wherever people were absorbed in the worship of god and in the propitiation of fate. Atheism brings about radical changes in the outlook of people in this context. Truth, tolerance, love and equality are the basic needs of social harmony.”

—Gora, Note on Atheism

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

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