Sanal Edamaruku is the founder-president of Rationalist International and the president of the Indian Rationalist Association. This is a speech delivered by him at the Centenary Conference of Rationalist Press Association (London) at the West Hill College, Birmingham, UK on 26th June 1999) .
I shall tell you a true story that happened in Kerala and that I used to hear from childhood. A Christian priesthood student came out from the church, attracted by the ideals of the rationalist movement. Reading broadened his horizon. He collected and read books from the Thinkers’ Library series of RPA. He married a lady from a Hindu family whom he knew for many years. Though inter-religious marriages were legal, such marriages happened rarely only. Especially since the young man’s family had priests and bishops and he himself was a priesthood student earlier, the marriage was not taken kindly. Both of them were thrown out of their homes. They settled in a nearby town and started their life. They were young and financially unsettled, with many radical ideas about society and beliefs. The lady eventually became pregnant. The family of the husband then announced that they forgive them and invited them to the ancestral home. Everything seemed to be repaired. There had been occasional suggestions that the lady should convert to Christianity, but she politely refused. Some weeks passed and it was time for delivery. One afternoon the labour pain started. Her husband had gone to attend a rationalist conference and she was along with his family. Instead of taking her to a hospital, the family members, including a priest and a bishop, urged the young woman to convert now. She should become a Christian before delivering and promise that the child would be baptised. If she was not willing to do so, they threatened, she would have to leave the house. During the day the pressure continued, and the labour pain increased. By evening, her husband came back. He tried to argue and convince the family, he pleaded they should let her deliver peacefully. But the family insisted on their demand without any human consideration. The pressure mounted and the young couple decided to leave. By 9 o’clock in the night, the husband took the hand of his wife and they stepped out into the rainy night. It was a monsoon month. The last bus from the hill village had already gone. They walked into darkness. Rain broke down. No street lights. The next house where they could go was twelve miles away. She could not walk properly and had to sit down from time to time. He consoled her. They walked and walked through the rainy night. Suddenly she realised that the placenta was broken. Liquids flew down her legs. She lied down on the muddy, rainwater filled ground. Still they had some miles to go. Mustering courage, she got up and walked with him despite her pain. By early morning, they had reached near her father’s house. They thought they would be accepted there in such a situation. They opened the gates of the compound and she fell down with a scream. In the open courtyard in heavy rain, she gave birth to a child.
The victims of Christian love, the mother and the child survived. Five years later, the little boy became the first student in the history of Kerala, who joined school without any religion in his records.
Today, nearly forty years later, the situation in Kerala has drastically changed. No such thing can happen any more. Kerala’s rationalist movement has grown very strong and influential. One of its major tasks is to encourage and protect inter caste and inter religious marriages. A special wing was set up -Intermarriage Bureaus, which look after the legal and practical requirements of couples who decide to marry against the traditional rules. And today there are thousands of school children who refuse to have any religious entry in their records. Kerala has become a successful model of a society, which transformed from its rigid traditions.
I should tell you now that the little boy, who was to meet so early in his life with the dangerous world of religious fanaticism, was me.