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  • Writer's pictureRationalist International

"India may become a Hindu Iran," warns Sanal Edamaruku

Updated: Oct 29, 2020

An interview with Sanal Edamaruku by Lassi Lapintie for the Finnish National news agency STT was published recently in many Finnish publications including MTV, Ilta-Sanomat, and SSS. This is an English translation of the interview that appeared on Ilta-Sanomat. For reading the original interview in Finnish, click here.

Suomessa omaehtoisessa maanpaossa lähes vuosikymmenen elänyt Sanal Edamaruku on joutunut seuraamaan toiselta puolen maailmaa kotimaansa kehitystä yhä tiukempaan hindunationalistiseen suuntaan.­KUVA: LASSI LAPINTIE / LEHTIKUVA
Sanal Edamaruku in Ilta-Sanomat

Coronavirus strengthens the power of superstition and religion. With the support of the state, treatments based on Ayurveda and homeopathy are being pushed to protect people from coronavirus.

Sanal Edamaruku has lived in Finland for nearly a decade and closely follows the developments in his home country on the other side of the world. He warns that India is moving in the direction of tough Hindu nationalism.

THE CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC has manifested itself around the world with rumours, conspiracy theories, and pseudoscience. This flood of misinformation has been called the “infodemia” in the wake of the pandemic.

A particularly fertile breeding ground for coronavirus-related nonsense is in India, where superstitions such as the fear of magic and witchcraft still prevail. According to Sanal Edamaruku, rationalist and skeptic who has fought against Indian superstition all his life, the pandemic has encouraged every guru and soothsayer to offer their solution to the virus, and these unsubstantiated alternative treatments are also provided by the state.

- India is a haven of all superstitions, and there are political leaders in the country who advocate alternative treatments like the mixture of ginger and turmeric when drunk daily would protect against the coronavirus. A Member of Parliament has also spoken about this, Edamaruku tells BTI.

The ministry runs alternative therapies

In India, traditional faith based medicines and alternative therapies enjoy considerable political support, and proponents of treatments without scientific basis offer a variety of herbs against coronavirus.

The AYUSH Ministry in India promotes Ayurveda, Yoga, herbal medicines, Unani, Siddha traditional medicines, and Homeopathy. Some of these alternative therapies emphasize traditions from India or the rest of Asia, pseudoscience-based homeopathy from the West also enjoys popularity in the country. Its underlying idea is to give patients extremely low concentrations of drugs that, in large quantities, cause the symptoms of the disease being treated. In Homeopathy, these drugs are diluted so many times that often no molecule is left in the solution from the original drug. No effects on the patient other than placebo were observed with these solutions.

Pseudo-healers play with life and death questions, as more than 6.9 million coronary infections have already been diagnosed in India, the second-highest in the world after the United States. In terms of deaths, India is third after Brazil with more than 100,000 victims. There is potential for much worse, as India’s numbers of infections and deaths are still relatively low in comparison with its huge population. According to the Worldometers statistics page, more than 500 infections and about eight deaths have been reported in India per 100,000 inhabitants. In the United States, the corresponding figures are nearly 2,400 infections and about 66 deaths.

A rationalist who fled to Finland

The coronavirus does not appear to have weakened the ever-tightening tangle of religion, superstition, and politics in India. Sanal Edamaruku lives in Finland for a decade now on a self-imposed exile and follows closely the developments in his home country on the other side of the world. He warns that India is moving in the direction of tough Hindu nationalism. At the same time, the position of secularism, skepticism, and atheism has become increasingly narrow.

- On the political scene, there is no secular option in India. The big centre party is weakening and the left is not an acceptable option in the Indian mainstream. No one talked about secularism in the last general election. While there is no secular option, everyone competes for who is more Hindu than the other, Edamaruku says.

Radicalism can be found in India in religions other than Hinduism as well. Edamaruku himself fled his homeland after angering Catholic groups in 2012. He then showed that the water flowing from the Mumbai crucifix was indeed sewage and by no means a sign of a miracle.

The temporary European trip became permanent after several of Edamaruku’s comrades in rationalist and skeptic circles were shot in India.

- India is becoming an increasingly dangerous place, he says.

The atmosphere of violence dominates

A return to India does not look realistic for Edamaruku in the near future. The position of those who support the separation of religion and politics is becoming increasingly difficult in a country led by Hindu nationalists.

The whole world has noticed that India is moving farther and farther to the right and ever closer to India becoming a Hindu Iran.

Edamaruku would dare to return to India only when his life was safe and he had the right to speak freely. However, it is easy for a dissident to get killed in India.

- I have written articles in major Indian newspapers calling the Prime Minister to condemn the killing of rationalists, but that has not happened, Edamaruku says.

He does not believe that the mainstream BJP would be directly involved in violence or political killings, but there are many radical groups on the fringes of the ruling party that have gathered the courage to take increasingly drastic actions as mainstream politics become increasingly harsh.

- Officially, the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi is secular because it has sworn an oath to a secular constitution. The reality, however, is that there are a lot of extremists on the fringes, like the cow radicals, Edamaruku says.


Read the interview in Ilta Sanomat:

Read the interview on MTV:

Read the interview on SSS:


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