Interesting story out of the Times this week – Sanal Edamaruku makes a living out of exposing con men in India.
This week India’s most popular yoga master, Baba Ramdev, announced plans to launch a political party, promising to cleanse India of corruption and introduce the death penalty for slaughtering cows. Then, on Wednesday, police arrested a couple in Maharashtra state on suspicion of killing five boys on the advice of a tantric master who said their sacrifice would help the childless couple to conceive.
“The immediate goal I have is to stop these fraudulent babas and gurus,” says Mr Edamaruku, 55, a part-time journalist and publisher from the southern state of Kerala. “I want people to make their own decisions. They should not be guided by ignorance, but by knowledge.
“I’d like to see a post-religious society — that would be an ideal dream, but I don’t know how long it would take.”
Edamaruku runs the Indian Rationalist Association, currently sitting around 100,000 members, all of them willing to pull the magic apart and show off the science in the trick. Like the swami who
used to appear to create fire by pouring ghee, clarified butter, on to ash and then staring at the mixture until it burst into flames. The “ghee” was glycerine and the “ash” was potassium permanganate, two chemicals that spontaneously combust within about two minutes of being mixed together.
Or just notice the fact that somebody’s lying under the levitating rug, or that wax on a statue can trap water droplets so the thing will “cry” at just the right moment. What a job he’s got. He’ll even take the government to task when it resorts to trickery, too.
The chief rationalist was almost arrested by the government of Kerala for revealing that it was behind an annual apparition of flames in the night sky — in fact, several state officials lighting bonfires on a nearby hill — which attracted millions of pilgrims. Despite his efforts, he admits that people still go to the festival and continue to revere self-styled holy men.
You can lead a horse to water… So long as governments actively encourage it, or only half-heartedly discourage it, people will continue to look to these hucksters for answers they can’t really provide.