But now, India has let itself down in a big way!
Secular India still has punitive blasphemy laws, admittedly based on the laws it inherited from colonial Britain at the time of independence. These laws effectively prevent some people from telling the truth - even when it is a matter of public health.
If you have been following the news about religious matters at all during the last couple of months, you can't have failed to notice this story.
In a Catholic church in Mumbai, water has started to drip from the feet of a statue. "Its a miracle", they claim, after an irrational and unscientific investigation by the church. People have been taking away the water as a sort of sacred relic and cure-all.
|Sanal Edamaruku - the crime of honesty!|
It just took one rational man, Sanal Edamaruku, Head of the Indian Rationalist Association, to investigate this question and provide an explanation. It seems that the statue is dripping fluids from a drain, aided by capillary action, and that it is more of a public health threat than a miracle.
And now that one man, far from being lauded for his good work, has been threatened with arrest. Fortunately, the latest news is that when the police went to his house to arrest him this week, they found that he was away 'travelling'. Good for him. However, it seems that he relishes the legal challenge even if not the arrest.
His lawyers are asking the High Court in Mumbai to intervene to stop the charges going further, but Mr. Edamaruku also plans to make a separate challenge to the blasphemy law in the Supreme Court in Delhi. Read on.We can all see that this is partly the result of a long campaign of rationalism, and that Sanal hardly could be said to shy away from controversy, but I think you have to admire the way he stands up for rationality and justice.
What does this say about rationality and freedom of speech in the world's biggest democracy? It is hard to think that anything good can come of this unless he wins his case.
Shame on India! Best wishes to Sanal.