What started with a mysterious trickle, ended in death threats, charges of blasphemy and pleas for asylum from Sanal Edamaruku. The noted Indian rationalist argued that a "miraculous" dripping crucifix in Mumbai was caused by faulty plumbing and not divine intervention.
The controversy started in March when water began to drip from the feet of a statue of Jesus at the Church of Our Lady of Velankanni in western Mumbai. Thousands flocked to the site to collect the "holy" water, with some even drinking it in the hopes of curing various ailments, the Daily News reports.
Edamaruku, who is the founder and president of Rationalist International and president of the Indian Rationalist Association, arrived at the site to investigate.
In a July interview with Slate, Edamaruku explained what he found at Our Lady of Velankanni.
I had a close look at a nearby washroom and the connected drainage system that passed underneath the concrete base of the cross. I removed some stones from the drain and found it was blocked. I touched the walls, the base, and the cross and took some photographs for documentation. It was very simple: Water from the washroom, which had been blocked in the clogged drainage system, had been transmitted via capillary action into the adjacent walls and the base of the cross as well as into the wooden cross itself. The water came out through a nail hole and ran down over the statue's feet.
Edamauku also explained the supposed miracle on live television. The program, shown on Mumbai's TV-9, channel, was posted to YouTube in March and included a very heated debate between Edamauku, the priest of Our Lady of Velankanni church and representatives of the Association of Concerned Catholics.
The backlash against Edamaruku's conclusions was swift and strong.
According to Slate, the 56-year-old rationalist has been accused of insulting religion (a charge akin to blasphemy) under Section 295A of the Indian penal code, which charges a person with "deliberately hurting religious feelings and attempting malicious acts intended to outrage the religious sentiments of any class or community.”
Death threats followed, and Edamaruku was forced to seek exile in Finland, according to The Guardian. Now, Edamaruku is rallying support in Europe to convince the Delhi prosecutor to drop the case.
"There is a huge contradiction in the content of the Indian constitution which guarantees freedom of speech and the blasphemy law from 1860 under then colonial rule," Edamaruku told the Guardian in an interview in Dublin. "It is an absurd law but also extremely dangerous because it gives fanatics, whether they are Hindus, Catholics or Muslims, a [license] to be offended. It also allows people who are in dispute with you to make up false accusations of blasphemy."
Renowned British atheist Richard Dawkins was quick to come to Edamaruku's defense. The Richard Dawkins Foundation even has a link to a defense fund for Edamaruku on its website.
Edamaruku has said he's not frightened of a possible trial.
"If it comes to a trial, I have nothing to fear," he told Slate in July. "I would welcome the opportunity to throw some light on the role that the Catholic Church played and is still playing today here in India. The possibility of arrest is threatening, however."
In the past, the Edamaruku has gained attention for publicly criticizing Mother Teresa's legacy in Kolkata, particularly the quality of care in her Homes for the Dying. He has also targeted powerful spiritual leaders such as the late Sathya Sai Baba, as well as many top mystics and gurus, according to the Daily News.