Updated: Jan 20
Sakthy Edamaruku writes about the Gora - Saraswathi Gora Birth Anniversary International Atheist Conference held in Vijayawada, India.
It was an honour to be invited to speak at the Atheist Centre’s International Conference to mark Gora’s 120th and Saraswathi Gora’s 110th Birth Anniversary.
For those who do not know, Gora or Goparaju Ramachandra Rao was an Indian social reformer, atheist activist, and participant in the Indian independence movement. He, along with his wife Saraswathi Gora founded the world's first Atheist Centre in Vijayawada (India). The centre was the hub of activity for the promotion of atheism, humanism, and social change. He authored many books on atheism and proposed atheism as self-confidence. He authored many books on atheism, and propagated the idea of positive atheism through his articles, speeches, books, and his social work. He was a Gandhian and believed in Sarvodaya (progress for all).
I spoke at the inaugural plenary representing the Indian Rationalist Association and the Rationalist International which further strengthened the ties between the Gora Family and the Edamaruku family who share a long association across three generations now.
Mr. Kumaresan, joint editor of the journal Modern Rationalist from Chennai, who represented the Periyar rationalist movement of Tamil Nadu was the chief guest, and he inaugurated the conference.
The other speakers included Mr.Dan Barker, co-founder of Freedom from Religion Foundation in the USA, Mr.Amardeo Sarma (chair of the European Council Skeptic organisations), Mr.Mandali Buddha Prasad (former Deputy Speaker of Andhra Pradesh Legislative Assembly), Mr. Gadde Ram Mohan (Member of Legislative Assembly, A.P.), Dr. Narendra Nayak, (president of the Federation of Indian Rationalist Associations), Mr. Amit Pal (Director of Communication, FFRF, USA), Mr. Avinash Patil (Executive President, Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti), Mr. Uttam Nirula (International Ambassador, Humanists International, U.K.), Mr. Saranga
(Academician), Mr. Sumeet Singh (Tarksheel Society, Punjab), Mr. Dhaneswar Sahoo (President, Humanist and Rationalist Organization, Odisha), Dr. N. Bhaskara Rao (Chairman, CMS), Ms. Manorama (Gandhian, Atheist and Freedom Fighter), Dr. Maru (Vasavya Nursing Home), and Mr. Niyanta (Director, Gora Science Centre, Atheist Centre).
Mr. Vikas Gora, (grandson of Gora and the son of Dr. Vijayam) introduced the theme of the conference to the delegates. Dr. Samaram chaired the session and welcomed the guests.
I have grown up hearing the stories about Gora and his legendary work. Atheist Centre was a household name for me. Those stories came to life in front of me – as the delegates were welcomed with fresh fruits and vegetables and not flowers as they usually are, in conferences. It is a tradition that goes back to 1965, when the Gora couple conducted a vegetable celebration in Vijayawada to call upon people to grow more vegetables instead of flowers, to ensure food for all. To mark the tradition – delegates at the conference are still welcomed with fruits and vegetables.
The delegates were welcomed by Ms. Annapoorna Raghupati Rao – an Atheist Centre member well in her 90s, singing enthusiastically a song composed by Hemalatha Lavanam in Telugu and in English. It was followed by a secular cultural dance performance by Vasavya Nrutya Vihar, Vasavya Mahila Mandali. The performances set the tone for the Conference with the theme - "Atheism: Secular Thought and Social Action".
Master. Saahas Gora Gora's great-grandson, spoke about the urgent need for communities to come together to ensure we leave a better world for his generation. He also urged everyone to think of climate change and its repercussions. Ms. Manorama, Gora’s eldest daughter, was also up on the stage. She was truly an inspiration. She led a life as a Gandhian, a freedom fighter, and an Atheist.
I was chairing a discussion on 'Media and Secularism' and was also speaking on 'Extremism and Fanaticism – a bane for progress'. In total there were 10 discussions held across the two days including the ones I was participating in.
Other themes included 'Social Action and Reform in the New Age', 'Secular Social Work', 'the International Humanist Movement', 'Critical Thinking and Free Inquiry', 'Human Rights and Atheism', 'Atheism as a way of life', 'Education and Scientific Outlook', and 'Atheism and Politics'.
The speakers included my father Sanal Edamaruku’s many associates and friends. I met some of them as a young volunteer at similar conferences the Indian Rationalist Association used to organise. It was a pleasure to see how the Atheist Centre works closely with stakeholders from across all walks of life, including the Government.
It was an honour to meet other members of the Gora family with whom the Edamaruku family had very close ties. My father used to tell me his fond memories of walking along with Gora in the streets of Kottayam as a young boy, during the Gandhian’s visit to Kerala. My grandparents were impressed with the idea of positive atheism. My grandfather Joseph Edamaruku also translated and published many of Gora’s articles in their rationalist journal in Malayalam.
Gora was not only the founder of the Atheist Centre but also was a former president of the Indian Rationalist Association from 1970 till his death in 1975.
In 1977, my father Sanal Edamaruku, who was a university student then, visited the Atheist Centre, attended a conference, and stayed there for several days. He has told me about his close association with many of the members of the Atheist Centre. Also, he told me about a little boy Vikas Gora who used to enthusiastically run around trying to help his father Dr. Vijayam.
Over the years, now the third generation – Vikas and I continue the long and historic cooperation between the two families.
My participation at the Conference in Vijayawada was to express the full support and cooperation of Rationalist International to the Atheist Centre.
I look forward to the continuation of a long and fruitful association with the Atheist Centre at a time when India requires sane and firm voices to counter the trends of intolerance and irrationality. We shall go united, hand in hand.