On this date in 1902, Goparaju Ramachandra Rao, the Indian atheist leader known as Gora, was born into a high-caste Hindu family. 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 Saraswathi 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 Centre in a small village in the Krishna district. On the eve of Independence in 1947, they moved it to Vijayawada. Gora wrote many books, including 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.

The Goras organized the first “beef and pork friendship” gathering in 1972 to foster social cohesion. Among the hundreds who gathered, 138 people ate beef and pork together, including atheists, Hindus, Muslims and Christians. 

His atheism dictated his campaign to abolish the caste system with its “untouchables” and the idea of “karma” or divine fate. The Atheist Centre provides counseling, promotes intercaste and casteless marriages (more than 500 have taken place there), works to abolish child marriages, provides aid to vulnerable women, educates against belief in witchcraft and sorcery and promotes sexual education and family planning. After Gora died in 1975, Saraswathi directed the center until her death in 2006. They had nine children.

Freedom From Religion Foundation