Sanal Edamaraku

On this date in 1955, secular activist and author Sanal Edamaruku was born in Thodupuzha, India, to freethinking parents who were raised as Hindu and Christian before embracing nonbelief. In 1960 they filled out Sanal’s school admission form with “no religion” and “no caste,” making him the first-ever officially registered nonbeliever in India. He earned a master’s in political science in 1977 from the University of Kerala and an M.Phil. in 1980 from Jawaharlal Nehru University.

Edamaruku became active in the Indian Rationalist Association as a teen and served as general secretary starting in 1983 and succeeding his father, Joseph Edamaraku, as its president in 2005. He edited its publication Modern Freethinker and wrote numerous articles and several books dealing with rational thought and debunking paranormal claims. He founded Rationalist International in 1995 and serves as its president. Dubbed by some as the “Indian James Randi,” Edamaruku publicly criticized frauds perpetrated by Christians and Hindus and so-called Indian godmen.

In 1994-95 he and his team traveled through hundreds of Indian villages and cities, explaining how “miracle-mongers … exploit the ignorance of common people about certain natural phenomena to fool the gullible and win their unquestioning devotion.” A British TV crew documented the campaign in the film “Guru Busters.”  In 2012 he investigated the “miracle” of a crucifix at a Mumbai Catholic church dripping “holy” water. He and an engineer colleague traced it to an overflowing drain connected to a toilet pipe — not a miracle, just bad plumbing.

Catholic groups filed blasphemy complaints that led to Edamaruku leaving India for Finland later in the year to avoid possible imprisonment and death threats. He left behind his daughter and a grandchild. In 2013 a rationalist colleague was murdered, which definitely precluded Edamaruku’s return.

Randi and Richard Dawkins have called Edamaruku a rationalist hero. He’s a fellow of the U.S. Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and an honorary associate of the Rationalist Association of the UK. He’s appeared in The New York Times, Newsweek, Time, Asia Week, The Guardian and the Washington Post and on TV channels like Discovery, BBC and CNN. Hear his interview here with FFRF’s Freethought Radio, starting at 25:00 (June 13, 2019).

PHOTO: Edamaraku in Helsinki in 2013. Public domain photo by Robert Brotherus.

Freedom From Religion Foundation