Blasphamy Law in India: Yes It Really Is that Bad

December 8th, 2012
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In recent years, India has been advancing toward becoming a fully industrial country and a world power.   Across the country, technology companies are taking root.  Indian Universities are improving their engineering and science departments and becoming true world-class institutions.   The Indian Space Agency has developed and deployed highly capable indigenous launch systems and is planning ever more ambitious missions.

Still, there is quite a way to go.  Many Indians still have not seen their standard of living increase, despite the development of much of the country.  The general state of healthcare is still poor for most Indians.   Lack of reliable infrastructure remains a problem and has reduced the appeal of India for some business development.   Large areas of the Indian countryside have not benefited from technical development.

One of the major issues that has held India back seems to be the enshrinement of superstition in government policy, resulting in some astoundingly bad laws and judgements.  Homeopathy is fully embraced by the Indian healthcare system, and courts have ruled astrology to be a “science.” One might expect this kind of thing in an exceptionally backward area of a third world country, such as in Nigeria, where police took a goat into custody, after it was claimed to be an armed robber who had transformed into the animal through black magic. However, for a country which is trying to become a modern, industrial power, such idiocy cannot be tolerated.

One especially absurd and downright dangerous problem is Indian law regarding blasphemy.   In India, anyone who attempts to disprove or otherwise openly questions claims made in the area of religion can face stiff punishment.

Such laws offer a great degree of protection for the various scam artists who bilk poor Indians out of their meager savings with a combination of magic tricks and claims of magical cures and rituals.   Charismatic gurus, known as Godmen, commonly travel across the country, mostly preying on the poor and amassing fortunes in the process.  Although organizations like the Indian Rationalist Association have worked to debunk such scams, blasphemy laws have been used to silence many critics of these and other religious-based scammers.

One recent and exceptionally dramatic example of what can happen when the claims of religious authorities are questioned or shown to be false is that of Sanal Edamaruku:


Video Source

If you want a more detailed explanation of exactly what was happening that caused the “Weeping Jesus” effect, it can be found here. Basically, what happened is that the local sewage system outside the church had become backed up, resulting in raw sewage being expelled into the local ground. The problem was so severe, that the ground had become waterlogged to the point of saturation underneath the outdoor Jesus statue. The wooden cross of the Jesus statue penetrated the pavement into the waterlogged ground, where a combination of back-pressure and capillary action resulted in some of the water traveling up through the wooden cross. The nail where the feet of the Jesus statue are attached provided a point where the water could drip out from the cross. Thus, water would dribble out from the feet of Jesus (so it wasn’t really “weeping either.)

This is not a religious claim and it’s not an affront against the basic faith of the Catholic Church. You can continue to believe that Jesus died for your sins. You can continue to believe Catholic doctrine in general. You can continue to believe that miracles and signs from god happen. This in no way challenges that. However, this one isolated case was not a miracle, it was a case of extremely poor sewage system design and maintenance.

The fact that this would be prosecuted is absurd, nevermind the fact that such blasphemy laws are ridiculous to begin with. Given the circumstances, I have to question the motives of the authorities and the Association of Concerned Catholics, who filed the charges. If they were indeed honestly looking to express their faith, they should not be so concerned that one particular event would be discovered to not be divine. Indeed, the Catholic church in other parts of the world routinely dismisses claims of miracles after an obvious cause is discovered. The motives in this case are thus very transparent. The statue was making the church money and Sanal Edamaruku threatened that. Moreover, as an unapologetic atheist and vocal critic of faith healers and godmen, Sanal Edamaruku is a thorn in the side of all the scam artists of India. Prosecutions like this are nothing more than an attempt to silence such critics.

Question: Where is the international Catholic Church?   Why hasn’t the Pope said anything?

Of course, there is one organization that could easily end this insanity.  Although India may be far from Rome, the Vatican has authority over all Catholic churches. Whether or not the “Association of Concerned Catholics” is officially aligned with the international Catholic Church, as self-described Catholics, they would have a hard time not withdrawing the complaint if the Pope told them to.   After all, the Pope is infallible.   Thus, all that would have to happen is Ben saying “This is ridiculous.  It’s not blasphamy to point out that a statue is actually leaking sewage when it clearly is.”

Unfortunately the Catholic Church has stayed quiet on this one.  The official position of the church is that they support religious freedom and freedom of speech.  The church does not advocate for blasphemy laws like this to be passed in first world countries.  (Granted, they were not always so liberal, but now they claim to be.)

So why the silence?   My guess is they just don’t care.  Hand out condoms in Africa and they will get very upset, but persecute people in their name?  That does not draw any attention.   Perhaps they just don’t want to risk turning off a sect in India, where they don’t have many followers to begin with.   Or perhaps they are not even as enlightened as they would seem to indicate.  Could it be that they are only so accepting of freedom in many countries because they have concluded they are stuck with it?

Still, the blasphemy law of India continues to stand and Sanal Edamaruku remains in exile.  Neither the Catholic Church nor the Indian government seem to see this as a problem.


This entry was posted on Saturday, December 8th, 2012 at 8:27 pm and is filed under Bad Science, Culture, Misc, religion. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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12 Responses to “Blasphamy Law in India: Yes It Really Is that Bad”

  1. 1
    DV82XL Says:

    The Pope is only considered infallible when he is speaking ex cathedra, that is while defining a doctrine concerning faith to be held by the whole Church. A matter like this would be dealt with by Roman Curia, rather than the Pontiff himself, if they dealt with it at all. The Church is ambivalent over the whole issue of supernatural phenomenon involving inanimate objects. It is easy to see that they would be happy if they never heard of another one. In general Rome has left dealing with these up to the local Bishop and I suspect that this is the case here.

    That is not to let them off the hook, only to point out that the silence may be driven by policy rather than indifference.


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  2. 2
    drbuzz0 Says:

    No, but if the pope said anything against this, even off hand, it would be very hard for a Catholic group to continue. You just don’t do that. My experience having been raised catholic is that if the Pope were to remark that he didn’t like maroon carpet in churches, it would be torn out. He just has that kind of sway.

    Yes, the catholic church has had a lot of bad experiences with supernatural phenomena and intimate objects. That’s why they basically never sanction that kind of thing anymore. A number of major scams have come to light.

    I do think this *should* be a priority. The church should not want to see anyone in any country using its name for such transparent idiotic scam artistry and oppressing others through these bully laws. It gives them all a bad name and, if they are true to their beliefs in tolerance and honesty, should want to slap down anyone who is pulling this BS in their name and making a mockery of them in general.

    I don’t think it would be hard for Rome to slap this down with even an indirect statement. They could just write a letter stating they are “We concerned over the situation with regards to sewage problems and the possible public health dangers involved. We hope that everyone has been made aware of the situation and that they will no longer be in contact with the water and that repairs will be made.”

    Something like that would convey a pretty clear and unmistakable message that they are not going to accept the event being branded as divine and that, by extension, they won’t support a blasphemy charge against it and indeed agree with the debunkers.

    Like I said, even if it’s not an outright order to stop, as a catholic, you just plain don’t disobey the vatican.


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  3. 3
    DV82XL Says:

    I was raised Catholic too and true, obedience was expected and still is, but notice that the Church is very careful about invoking it these days. I agree that Rome should speak out on this issue but as I wrote above, policy seems to be to leave this in the hands of the local Bishop. I suspect that this is because some older so-called ‘miraculous phenomena’ like the Incorruptible Heart of Saint Christina the Astonishing that has been around since the twelfth century are tolerated because they have been for so long but they want to keep a lid on any new stuff.

    If this is the case that local bishop might have his own reasons for not wanting to stir things up and that is why he is keeping still on the issue.

    But I agree that this is a case where the opportunity to speak out should be taken.


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  4. 4
    Sanjay Patel Says:

    Perhaps the Catholic Church could do something, but that is only going to stop this ONE person being prosecuted for this ONE act in this ONE case. That is not the problem here. The author is spot on in the assessment that these laws and the acceptance of idiotic notions of magic by the government are holding back the whole country.

    I lived in India the first 19 years of my life and I love the country as my homeland and my family home. It is true that India has blossomed with better technology and science in the past ten years and that gives me hope. There are many very smart people in India. They work very hard to make it a better place and yes they have done much.

    I am angered and saddened that these efforts too often conflict with the people in power who wish to keep things in the stone age or will throw every road block of incompetence and idiocy into the way of progress. You try hard to educate the children of India in science but the government idiots tell them myths. You try to build hospitals, but the government tells people to see homeopaths and godmen. You try to teach philosophy and rationality, but the government says shut your mouth or you commit blasphemy.

    Corruption and idiocy runs deep and I think more Indians need to get angry about it and start speaking up. Same officials who defend these laws and are the problem, yet they cannot seem to commit their time to get the electrical system to work properly.

    The intelligent and educated Indian all too often throws their hands up in the air and says why should I fight this when I can go to north America or Europe and not have to have such idiocy. That is what I did myself, though I am partially sorry. When I find myself thinking that maybe I would move to India and become part of the growing industry there something like this happens and I am reminded why I do not.

    Sorry if I am angry about it.


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  5. 5
    Q Says:

            DV82XL said:

    I was raised Catholic too and true, obedience was expected and still is, but notice that the Church is very careful about invoking it these days. I agree that Rome should speak out on this issue but as I wrote above, policy seems to be to leave this in the hands of the local Bishop.

    Rome leaves too many things in the hands of the local bishop. I think that it might be to insulate them from the bad decisions made by them. Remember the same thing happens in business all the time. Leave the dangerous decisions to middle management and when something goes wrong, let them take the blame!

    Note with the priest abuse scandal the Vatican never went so far as to say much to the bishops who were making the decisions. They simply turned a blind eye to priests being reassigned.

    What have they said of it? That they pray for its resolution or that it is a bad thing and they hope it ends?

    Anyone with a brain in their head can see that it’s very simple what the Vatican should have done. Years ago they should have made one simple and short statement to all bishops. They should have just said “If credible accusations of abuse against a priest exist, remove him immediately from his post and don’t let him preach or work with the public or children unless he is cleared of all wrongdoing. Also, inform local law enforcement.”

    It is not a difficult thing to realize that’s how to do it, but the bishops and cardinals kept reassigning and shielding priests and the Vatican never did the right thing and just told them point blank that this is the wrong thing for them to do.


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  6. 6
    Jay T Says:

    Blasphemy laws have no place in a modern secular country but many countries still have them as a throwback to less reasoned times. Most countries don’t enforce them like this, but some do and it’s stupid and has to go. Every time something like this happens it draws attention and I really hope that makes change.


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  7. 7
    Bob Wilson Says:

    Interesting how Mr. Packard looks for an example of this that (a) involves a developing country and (b) involves the Catholic Church.

    Actually, according to Wikipedia, these laws are common in first world countries:
    “A religious insult is forbidden in Andorra, Cyprus, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Spain, Finland, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Lithuania, Norway, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Russian Federation, Slovakia, Switzerland, Turkey and Ukraine.” en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blasphemy_law

    Muslim countries abuse this concept far more than Christian countries. In the countries listed above an insult is relatively minor. However in some Muslim countries you can be sentenced to prison or death for insulting Islam.

    “The area where laws of blasphemy and apostasy are practiced is vast, covering the regions of Saudi Arabia, Iran, Egypt, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Jordan, Morocco, Turkey and Yemen, as well as parts of Africa and South and Southeast Asia.

    Marshall emphasized that the laws, which are vulnerable to free interpretation by local authorities, in most cases, are increasingly used for political reasons, but often also by common people, to accuse one another, for example for the purpose of revenge. Muslims can sometimes accuse other Muslims, but Christians are victims to these accusations most often, Marshall told CP.

    The punishment for breaking these controversial legal codes can range from a death sentence (Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan) to years-long prison sentences (Egypt).”
    http://www.persecution.org/2012/02/19/middle-eastern-christians-increasingly-targeted-by-blasphemy-apostasy-laws/

    So the situation is not as simple and clear cut as Mr. packard would have us believe. Catholic bashing is apparently supported by leftist atheists on this website and elsewhere in the US and Europe.


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  8. 8
    DV82XL Says:

            Bob Wilson said:

    Interesting how Mr. Packard looks for an example of this that (a) involves a developing country and (b) involves the Catholic Church.

    OK then: Canada has always outlawed blasphemy. From the earliest days of the New France period, through the era of Upper and Lower Canada, (Ontario and Quebec) past Confederation and the eventual enactment of the original Criminal Code, under section 296(1) and still today, blasphemy is considered a criminal offence in the Canadian legal system. However, this prohibition, whether expressed through common law or statute, has rarely been enforced through actual prosecution. In the 117 years since the prohibition on blasphemous libel the law has been enforced only five times. The Crown last prosecuted a charge of blasphemous libel in R. v. Rahard in 1936

    Although this law is essentially dormant, it is still enforced de facto under the terms of Sections 318, 319, and 320 of the Code that forbid hate speech. Most of the charges in the last decade have been for discriminatory utterances against Jews or Muslims.


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  9. 9
    drbuzz0 Says:

            Bob Wilson said:

    Interesting how Mr. Packard looks for an example of this that (a) involves a developing country and (b) involves the Catholic Church.

    Actually, according to Wikipedia, these laws are common in first world countries:
    “A religious insult is forbidden in Andorra, Cyprus, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Spain, Finland, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Lithuania, Norway, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Russian Federation, Slovakia, Switzerland, Turkey and Ukraine.” en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blasphemy_law

    Yep. And it is always intolerable. They have them in Ireland and have even reaffirmed them recently. It disgusts me.

    However, in most European countries they are vestigial and not really enforced. That’s not to defend their existence, they clearly should not exist, but it’s not as bad a law where you actually have to worry about going to prison because you caught the church lying.

    I can’t imagine anyone in Finland would ever take their blasphemy law seriously. If they do, then shame on them.

            Bob Wilson said:

    Muslim countries abuse this concept far more than Christian countries. In the countries listed above an insult is relatively minor. However in some Muslim countries you can be sentenced to prison or death for insulting Islam.

    “The area where laws of blasphemy and apostasy are practiced is vast, covering the regions of Saudi Arabia, Iran, Egypt, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Jordan, Morocco, Turkey and Yemen, as well as parts of Africa and South and Southeast Asia.

    Of course, but many Muslim countries, unfortunately, don’t seem to have the slightest desire to move into being modern secular countries, as India does. And their behavior in all areas of human rights is atrocious.

    But I never justify bad behavior by pointing to worse. I won’t say “A few years in prison for blasphemy is okay because in some countries they will chop your head off.” No, that’s never ok.

            Bob Wilson said:

    Marshall emphasized that the laws, which are vulnerable to free interpretation by local authorities, in most cases, are increasingly used for political reasons, but often also by common people, to accuse one another, for example for the purpose of revenge. Muslims can sometimes accuse other Muslims, but Christians are victims to these accusations most often, Marshall told CP.

    They should not be used period. They are oppressive, unjustified and sickening laws.

            Bob Wilson said:

    So the situation is not as simple and clear cut as Mr. packard would have us believe.

    No, it really is simple and clear cut. If you want to be critical of religion that is okay. Any law that says otherwise, regardless of the nation of origin, is a backward and atrocious example of bad legislation that should not exist in any modern nation.

            Bob Wilson said:

    Catholic bashing is apparently supported by leftist atheists on this website and elsewhere in the US and Europe.

    I’m a leftist now? Geez. I love being called a hardline right winger and left winger since I get called both pretty much equally.


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  10. 10
    Gordon Says:

            DV82XL said:

    OK then: Canada has always outlawed blasphemy. From the earliest days of the New France period, through the era of Upper and Lower Canada, (Ontario and Quebec) past Confederation and the eventual enactment of the original Criminal Code, under section 296(1) and still today, blasphemy is considered a criminal offence in the Canadian legal system. However, this prohibition, whether expressed through common law or statute, has rarely been enforced through actual prosecution. In the 117 years since the prohibition on blasphemous libel the law has been enforced only five times. The Crown last prosecuted a charge of blasphemous libel in R. v. Rahard in 1936

    Although this law is essentially dormant, it is still enforced de facto under the terms of Sections 318, 319, and 320 of the Code that forbid hate speech. Most of the charges in the last decade have been for discriminatory utterances against Jews or Muslims.

    I think the blasphemy laws of Canada are simply vestiges from a less enlightened age and probably need to be removed in the interest of making it clear that we no longer are part of that kind of world view. Remember that the law of Canada traces its way all the way back to the old British laws and has all kinds of feudal traditions and other nonsense. Of course, nobody enforces this.

    Regarding the hate speech laws, I disagree that they are de facto blasphemy, at least not in the sense written here. Hate speech laws are supposed to be targeted at things like calls to violence or trying to single out a group for discrimination or marginalization. They’re about hate toward people not toward a belief system and they’re not meant to stop rational discourse. I think it has actually been made clear many times that the laws in this area are not intended to impact that kind of thing.

    In any event, I could not see how any hate speech or discrimination or defamy law could be used to say that you can’t tell people that the water coming out of a cross is raw sewage. There’s just no way you can spin that into discrimination or violence or anything else other than what it is, which is a statement of fact about the plumbing probem.


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  11. 11
    DV82XL Says:

            Gordon said:

    I think the blasphemy laws of Canada are simply vestiges from a less enlightened age and probably need to be removed in the interest of making it clear that we no longer are part of that kind of world view. Remember that the law of Canada traces its way all the way back to the old British laws and has all kinds of feudal traditions and other nonsense.

    The blasphemy laws of Canada are more an artifact of laws that were in force in New France than those in British Common Law. Nevertheless in December 2007, the Canadian Islamic Congress filed a complaint about hate speech against Maclean’s Magazine. The substance of the complaint was that Maclean’s was publishing articles that insulted Muslims, which could be broadly interpreted as blasphemy, at least in the eyes of those filing the charges. This came to nothing, but the attempt was still made.

    Like all laws of this sort the issue is one of interpretation and in this case is a direct result of the fact that Sections 318, 319, and 320 of the Canadian Criminal Code are rather open-ended. While it is unlikely that a charge could be laid in Canada like the one in India as stated, it would greatly depend on how the utterance was made.

    The point is that sections 303, 304 and 308, on libel and slander should be enough to deal with any case of defamation, regardless and both the hate speech and blasphemy laws in Canada are both redundant and an incubus for mischief and barratry IMHO.


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  12. 12
    nomuse Says:

    You can take your namby-pamby weeping gods. MY god drips raw sewage from his feet!


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