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}Chennai Freethinkers{

2012 Annual Report

A compilation of reports of the monthly meets November 3, 2012

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Chennai Freethinkers is the regional chapter of Nirmukta, along with 12 other regional groups in various cities across India. Our aim is to provide a platform for freethinkers who value Science, Reason and Secular Humanism, to voice their opinions and share their experience in a safe and cohesive environment free from religious judgements, meanwhile trying to promote these values in public. We have been meeting once a month for the past two years. At the end of every year we put out an annual report of all our meets. This is the second annual report of Chennai Freethinkers. We are proud to say that Nirmukta Chennai Freethinkers has been growing steadily for the past year and has brought together people from very diverse backgrounds. We have been conducting regular meets throughout the year and have organised guest lectures and film screenings. Every meet we see new members joining us and becoming regulars. Many have come forward to volunteer for future events and other on-ground activities. Meanwhile our online presence in Facebook has been growing too. With nearly 700 members, Chennai Freethinkers has the largest membership count among Nirmuktas regional freethought groups.

Ajita Kamal
Founder, Nirmukta. 1978 - 2011 None of this would have been possible without you.

Dedicated to

First Anniversary Meet!
29th January 2012 - by Bala Bhaskar!

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13th Meet!
11th March 2012 - by Bala Bhaskar!

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14th Meet!
15th April 2012 - by Bala Bhaskar!

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15th Meet!
29th May 2012 - by Geetha TG!

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16th Meet!
17th June 2012 - by Geetha TG!

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18th Meet!
12th August 2012 - by Geetha TG!

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19th Meet!
30th September 2012


The Rearview Mirror! 2013!

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Bala initiated the discussion about planning

First Anniversary Meet

29th January 2012
- by Bala Bhaskar

an event for the National Science Day on Feb 28th. He explained that the idea sprang from an audio conference with Ajita and others about initiating and celebrating secular festivals that everyone can participate in. The plan is to have a talk on a science topic in the morning and perhaps a panel discussion in the afternoon. Krishnan pointed out that the talk doesnt have to be anti-religious and should have a positive tone to promote science. Girish said that if the talk is going to be on astronomy then the speaker might touch on

The anniversary meet of Chennai Freethinkers

took place on 29th January 2012 at a conference astrology and point to its weakness. Nikhil remarked that if people interpret an attack on hall in Nungambakkam. Twelve people attended the meet including four new members. superstition as an attack on their religious sentiments, we cannot be responsible for that. We started with introduction of the new Bala explained that the tactic used by members. Prof.Narendra Nayak during his demonstrations has been well tested as it acts as a great tool to get people interested as well as make them think. Krishnan was of the opinion that we should create more content rich videos on topics like evolution for children in villages. Parthiban remarked that people in villages would be more willing to learn than the educated middle class. The discussion on the topic of registering Nirmukta was deferred till the next meet as the appropriate person (Balasubramanian) taking the initiative could not make it to the meet. Arun Wayne is a 3D modeler working for a visual effects studio in chennai. Parthiban is an inhalation expert doing his research in the US. Krishnan is a professional at an IT firm in chennai.

Parthiban also mentioned that the US is more religious than people realise. He said that the US is superstitiously religious the way India is religiously superstitious. Working in the state of Kansas, he had the funding cut for their research as their research used embryonic stem cells. Having studied in Oman, he said the safest he has felt as an irreligious person was in Oman rather than in the US. Wearing an irreligious T-Shirt even in a supposedly liberal state like Washington could attract unfriendly stares. Nikhil pointed out that he should have worn a T-shirt saying something about Allah and the reaction in Oman would have been different. Even in a scandinavian country like Finland where his brother is working, Parthiban said, one cant get elected as an MP unless he/she is a lutheran christian. In the US, he said a recent study found nearly 83% of people believed that a womens job is in the kitchen. The one good thing the one-child-policy of China has done, he said, is that it has improved the condition of women. Nearly 41% of all Chinese women are working, he stated, being the highest in the world. Giving the reason for why he is a feminist, he narrated an incident where he had to be in the labor room while a woman was giving birth. The woman got hold of his hand and didnt let go for nearly 30 minutes. Later a doctor told him that the pain threshold of women is 6.1 which is equivalent to breaking nearly 8 to 9 bones in the body. Whereas the pain threshold of men is only 4. This made him

wonder why he has his fathers name behind his name and not his mothers. Bala asked for suggestions for the event to be planned on the National Science day. The main tasks, he said, are to pin down speakers and topic. Krishnan asked Parthiban if he knows of any scientists in his profession who will be willing to participate. Parthiban said that most of them are very religious like the dean of IIT who believes in astrology. Bala intervened and said that the speaker doesnt necessarily have to be an atheist. Parthiban clarified that he is not talking about atheism. Since he cant prove either god exists or doesnt exist, he puts the probability at 50%. Bala disagreed but said he would come back to that later as there were other things to discuss. Parthiban said that his problem is not with god but with religion, particularly with scriptures. Bala pointed out that even though Prof.Dayanandhan was an agnostic his lecture on evolution was nevertheless beautiful. However, Bala said, that the speaker must be comfortable speaking under the banner of Nirmukta and shouldnt be in for a rude shock on the day. Nikhil concurred. Parthiban suggested getting Steven Weinberg through video link. He also suggested Jayanth Narlikar and C.N.R.Rao. Bala said that if the participants can think of other names they can send it across through facebook or other means.

Soorya wondered if we could give the audience he recently received a booklet from the Church of Scientology and that the booklet was in fact rather impressive. Anyone who reads it would feel the urge to at least visit the church once. He said we could have a DVD or a booklet on science topics or recordings of previous events after the event. The next topic taken up was to translate Ajitas articles to Tamil. Bala said that there are nearly 50 articles in Nirmukta by Ajita. He said either the members can volunteer to translate or we can find professional translators who would charge approx Rs.4 per word. Geetha Charusivam pointed out that the problem with article will be lost. Nikhil added that the translator must be able to relate to the article he/she is translating. Krishnan suggested that we take up the help of tamil blogger group

translators affiliation does not hamper our to gently prod them into thinking. When there is a sense of anger in the way you speak or write, that severely influences the way it comes across to people said Nikhil. He also added that the translations should be easily readable and not use flowery language. Bala original article, that would be more than enough. Krishnan and Madhavan volunteered to take up the translation work. Bala reiterated that this is a group effort. He gave the example of a passage from The Pale Blue Dot that was translated into Tamil after numerous revisions by many members. Bala wondered if we could He suggested about 8 months to complete translation of all of the articles if many members pitch in. Nikhil pointed out that we should look for quality over quantity. Even if

something to take home after the event. He said cause. The idea is not to slam somebody but

which we can give to the audience to carry home said that if the translation is faithful to the

professional translators is that the essence of the set a tentative deadline to finish the articles.

who openly blast religion in their posts, or we many members pitched in, if four or five of could contact writer Gnani who would be able to them translate with high quality then they are help. Nikhil intervened and said we should be careful in choosing the translator as someone who openly blasts religion may not be the right choice. If someone reads the translated article, finds out who the translator is, goes to their blog and finds content that is unacceptable, the reader might relate Nirmukta with such opinions. We have to make sure the the ones who should be entrusted with the job. Bhaskaran at this point wondered what is the purpose of translating these articles. Since most of us in the group are comfortable in English he wondered if there is an audience for such content in Tamil. Krishnan said yes. Nikhil noted that we should have a plan to distribute the articles once translated as

posting them on Nirmukta alone is not enough.

trying to come up with the best method

Krishnan mentioned that there are magazines in possible but simply giving an alternative tamil like Pudhiya Thalaimurai and Uyirmai who medium to school from which the kids can may be willing to publish them. Translating Khan Academy to Tamil was discussed next. Bala gave a short introduction to what Khan academy is and said that he wished to translate those lessons to Tamil. Parthiban argued that teaching in Tamil could spoil the children as we should encourage them to learn in English. Venkat noted how his classmates who were educated in the Tamil medium in school were struggling to cope up with the college syllabus. Parthiban reiterated that Tamil as a language will not help much in the learning process after school. He gave examples of concepts like entropy and thermodynamics for which one needs to use English to describe. The style of Khan Academy is a typical British way of teaching and not a good way to teach science and mathematics, he observed. Nikhil wondered that since most higher education is in English, will we not be denying the children the opportunity to learn in English if we persist of teaching in Tamil? Bhaskaran added that he read an engineering book in Tamil and couldnt get past the first page. Bala replied that he is not going to translate the videos word for word from English to Tamil. He said he could teach the Tamil equivalent of the English word and encourage the listener to learn the English word. As for the teaching style, he said he is not Bhaskaran wondered if a child who hasnt had much exposure to English would be able to understand scientific concepts. Geetha said they certainly can and do. Speaking from experience, she said that children in tribal schools are quite sharp and when you explain scientific concepts, they immediately relate it to their everyday lives. Bala said that the lessons should not just be uploaded to the

learn anytime. Geetha mentioned that a lot of youngsters are still learning in Tamil till 12th. Bala wondered if it is right to deprive the children of knowledge just because they dont know a language.

Bala noted that... we cannot force someone to read a book or an article or something that we think is the best use of their time. The best we can do is inspire and encourage and the person should take the decision on their own interest.

internet as that would defeat the purpose of the have computers. Bala suggested that we can package these lessons onto DVDs playable on DVD players, and since TV and DVD penetration seems much higher than internet penetration, it has a better chance of getting used. Krishnan said he had read the article on privilege blindness in Nirmukta and noted that people who are using the internet are very privileged. Yet, he lamented, that people use internet for wasteful purposes like discussing cinema and cricket. He said we have to try and change the behavior of such people who misuse the internet. Bala intervened and said that the word misuse in inappropriate in this context, and that it is not our job to lecture people on what is the right thing to do with the internet. or an article or something that we think is the best use of their time. The best we can do is inspire and encourage and the person should the example of the recent artwork he did about the Cosmic microwave background radiation in TV static and how it got few of his friends interested. He said that it is like a hook to get people interested in science. Nikhil gave the example of Arabian nights, where they tell a story every night but leave out crucial ending details in order to keep the

listeners interested for the next night. He said classics like Crime and Punishment. If the abridged version interests the reader then they might be inspired to improve their English in order to aspire to read the original. The essay on Liberty by J.S.Mill, on which he wrote his last article, is a complicated essay, said Nikhil, but he has tried to simplify it to get the readers interested enough to read the original. He mentioned a website called the Gutenberg press which provides many of the classic English literature for free. Bhaskaran suggested Sujatas Yen Yetharku Yeppadi as a good tool to kindle scientific curiosity. Nikhil recalled an incident where he was on a train to Jodhpur and during a casual chat with his co-passengers he revealed that he is an immunologist. The passengers then asked between HIV and AIDS? He said people use HIV positive and AIDS interchangeably but there is a vast difference between the two. He people are generally curious. It is not like they are living in their own boxes and not worried about anything, he said, but just that they dont know who to ask the questions. Parthiban noted that people in rural areas are much more receptive of new ideas than those in urban areas. Nikhil gave a hypothetical example of how a catholic priest who did his

exercise. Parthiban noted that not many schools we could point people to abridged versions of

He said we cannot force someone to read a book him questions, like what is the difference

take the decision on their own interest. He gave observed that incidents like these show that

degree in Bible studies and his dissertation of why the canaanites probably deserved to die, and has served in the church for say 30 years would find it very difficult to assimilate back into society if he suddenly realises there is no god. We watched Christopher Hitchens video on Free Speech and a video from the Jaipur Literature Festival before we wrapped up the meet.

Nikhil gave a hypothetical example of how a catholic priest who did his degree in Bible studies and his dissertation on why the canaanites probably deserved to die, and has served in the church for say 30 years would find it very difficult to assimilate back into society if he suddenly realises there is no god.


who are not particularly interested in science.

13th Meet
11th March 2012
- by Bala Bhaskar

Karthik remarked that topics like evolution and big bang can sound complicated to people not really interested in science, and that if these concepts can be explained in a simple manner, it would be better. - Balu suggested that along with science

This is a gist of our 13th meet. Sorry for the brief people need to know the ways to think using report. Lost my notes and had to recollect a lot reason and logic and to arrive at conclusions from memory. Please leave a comment if there is accordingly. a mistake or if I had misquoted anyone. Thanks. - The 13th Chennai Freethinkers Meet was held on 11th March 22, 2012 at a conference hall in Nungambakkam. - We had three newcomers this meet. Dhyanesh, and Periyaswamy, both friends of Venkat, who is a regular, are students of Sociology. Dhyanesh aims to be in civil service and is influenced by thoughts of Periyar. Periyaswamy had a religious upbringing. Raju, the third newcomer, is a friend of Balasubramaniam (Balu) and is doing his PHD in history. - The topic of registering Nirmukta was discussed. Balu suggested we register as an association. Imran, who did most of the paperwork for the registration process couldnt be present. - We discussed about conveying science - Karthik mentioned that people he knows believe the bible literally and some others waste their time and effort in superstitions like shaving the head in Tirupathi. The explanation given is that whatever they wish for, comes true when they go to Tirupathi. - Balu pointed out that this was wishful thinking and that if you take the statistics, the number of times their wishes came true would be no better than because of random chance, but they only remember the times the wishes came true. - Karthik said one of his neighbors would point out to some verses in the bible to show how morally uplifting it is. Ganesh retorted saying there are passages in Luke and Mathew that are morally repugnant. - Ganesh gave 4 reasons why people

topics in an easily understandable way to people believe in god, Explanation, Exaltation,


Consolation and Inspiration and said that these can be attained without presupposing the existence of god. - Karthik mentioned that even well educated people fall for superstition. Ganesh responded that education doesnt automatically provide one with critical thinking abilities. - Dhyanesh was worried if we were imposing our beliefs on others, and noted that everyone has a right to their beliefs, and wondered why we needed to convert people. - He argued that we should target prejudice prevalent in the society rather than attacking religious beliefs themselves. - Balu responded that Science is not a belief system but just a systematic way of finding the truth. - Dhyanesh reiterated that we shouldnt impose our beliefs on others. - Balu responded with a question. Imagine there is a sick man. And the people around him there and say stop the Pujas and take the man to Dhyanesh said No. - However, Dhyanesh argued that religion still has a social importance. For instance if we attach religious importance to a tree, a person

might be unwilling it cut it down.

Imagine there is a sick man. And the people around him are doing poojas to alleviate his illness. If I go in there and say stop the Poojas and take the man to a hospital, will I be imposing my belief on them?

- Bala responded that we owe the person a better reason to not cut the tree. Ganesh pointed out that if we go by the Global peace index, most of the top countries with low crime rate and high social cohesion are atheistic countries. - Dhyanesh said that he is interested in the topic of alternative medicine. He who suggests simple behavioral changes for Dhyanesh said that he has witnessed a persons diabetic level plunge using such techniques and that the doctors were not able to give an explanation.

are doing poojas to alleviate his illness. If I go in mentioned a person called Healer Bhaskar a hospital, will I be imposing my belief on them? people with chronic diseases like diabetes.


- Ganesh responded that this is an anecdote and cannot be considered proper evidence. - Dhyanesh suggested that we should try and eradicate the bad things within each religion and try to assimilate what is good among all the religions. - Balu pointed out that this is what the theosophical society tried to do and it ended up becoming sort of a cult. - Bala explained that there is a connection between people going to Tirupathi and a baba exploiting gullible people through their superstitious beliefs, and it is the willingness of people to believe in something without evidence, and its prevalence within our culture. - Ganesh noted that we should create an alternative with our culture for people who do not wish to identify with any faith, and that we should celebrate science. - Dhyanesh argued that science itself is not fool proof. He pointed out how Pluto was considered a planet by science for so long and then suddenly they revoked its planetary status. - Bala responded that this is an example of the self-correcting mechanism within science.


middle east, and possibly have a middle east

14th Meet
15th April 2012
- by Bala Bhaskar

freethought group. Madhavan was worried about the low turnout and wondered how we could make the group popular. Salpetta suggested that we should target schools. Bala noted that it will be difficult to formally approach a school before being properly registered. He added that it also depends on the school principal.

The Chennai Freethinkers 14th meet took place on 15th April 2012 at a conference hall in Nungambakkam.Eleven of us were present for the meeting, including a first timer Salpetta Saamiyaar. Salpetta, who has been active on Facebook in the Chennai Freethinkers group, works in Dubai and is visiting Chennai on vacation. He found out about Nirmukta through Ajitas post on PZ Myers blog. Sadly, the first post that he read in Nirmukta was that of Ajitas demise. Salpetta grew up in a Christian background. His father was an elder in a local church. He was educated at the seventh day Adventist school.

(Salpetta Saamiyaar) explored the similarities between the Koran and the Bible and gradually renounced his religion.
Balaji and Geetha lamented how they were

As part of school routine, he had to preach every scared of breaking lab equipment during Saturday. Through this, he learnt a lot about the school days, and how this kept them from

Bible. He explored the similarities between the developing curiosity. Balaji said, during Chemistry lab exams, the examiner would Koran and the Bible and gradually renounced his religion. Letting go of Christianity was not much of a shock and he says his family too knows that he is not very religious.

even give away the answer. Ganesh, who did his schooling in Mumbai, said that his school was a bit better and they guided the students to carry out experiments. Geetha said that she

Bala suggested that Salpetta could network with is learning more now that she did during other members of Nirmukta who are in the school days.


Ganesh mentioned that his friend is appearing on TV9 for a discussion with an astrologer. Balaji noted that an astrologer predicted that he of 35. Ganesh pointed out that vague predictions are rarely wrong, and specific predictions are rarely right. Venkat said that people used to tell him that what astrologers predict might come true, and that the exact opposite might also come true. Between these two possibilities, noted Bala, every occurrence can be covered. He also noted how people who defend astrology bring up an analogy with doctors, saying that if a doctor prescribes wrong medicine, it is not the fault of the entire medical profession. Similarly if an astrologers predictions dont come true, it is not the fault of astrology. Ganesh pointed out that unlike astrology, medical science follows the scientific method, makes specific testable claims and is independently verifiable.

that Babu Gogineni is well experienced for TV appearences, like Neil deGrasse Tyson. Ganesh mentioned that although it looks before each show. Bala noted an episode where someone asked Neil why his upcoming Cosmos series is being aired on Fox network and not on any Science channels, for which Neil replied that, if you are already watching the Science channel, then you are not my target audience.

has a kandam (threat to his life) before the age casual and natural, Neil prepares extensively

... vague predictions are rarely wrong, and specific predictions are rarely right.
Bala also lamented that such charismatic personality who can popularize science is missing in the Indian media landscape. People like Prof.Dayanandhan who gave a lecture on Evolution during ThinkFest were not as popular as wed like them to be. Geetha mentioned that we should have another ThinkFest like program, maybe even a training session by Prof.Nayak. Bala recalled a plan to conduct a 3 day festival in

Geetha said that she is learning more now than she did during school days.

Geetha pointed to a video by Babu Gogineni where he debunks a ghost story step by step. She said the video has been subtitled to English by Satish on the Nirmukta Forums. Bala noted

Delhi on June 21st that Lalit mentioned in one of the groups. Even within our group, each month one of us can give a short talk on any one topic. Bala volunteered to give his much

overdue talk on Logical Fallacies next month. He had collected example videos of logical fallacies and showed one video where Cho Ramaswamy, Editor of Thuglak magazine, defends sexism by using scriptural references. The gist of the video is as follows After the Mahabharatha war, Bhisma advises Dharmaputran on various aspects of life. One of it is about nature of women. He says women are full of desire and can never be satisfied. There used to be a time when women used to be virtuous and adhrents of Dharma. They were becoming as pious as the Devas and this made the Devas jealous. The Devas appealed to Brahmadeva to do something about the situation. Brahmadeva gave women Desire and Anger. From then on humanity was ruined. If a man has 1000 tongues, Bhisma says, and he

Husband/Son at various stages and that they are ineligible for freedom. Cho later goes on to justify the sexism in the scripture by giving it different interpretation.

Bala gave another example of how parents usually say things like You should have been born as a boy to girls who are talkative, confident, good at sports etc.
These videos are a sure way to get your blood pressure through the roof, said Geetha. Bala noted that these comments are more dangerous than outright sexist comments like that made by Delhi cops recently. Here the sexism is loosely veiled with scripture and

lives for 100 years, by the time he dies, he would would be readily accepted by believers, not have finished reciting all the bad qualities of whereas the comments by Delhi cops were women. At the same time there are women who uphold Dharma and are patient. The world functions because of these women. revolting to most people irrespective of their religious leanings. Bala gave another example of how parents usually say things like You should have been born as a boy to girls who are talkative, confident, good at sports

Manu describes womens dual qualities and says etc. Though it sounds inane, the underlying that they should be protected by her Father/


message is that girls should not have such qualities. Ganesh suggested that we create rebuttals to such videos. Bala agreed to take up the video work and asked Ganesh to record his audio response to the video. Bala also noted that we wont be breaking any copyright as we are using the video for commentary. It may also be required to subtitle Chos tamil commentary in English. Salpetta narrated an incident in Dubai where his friend has applied for a divorce, as her husband was having an extramarital affair. Since her case came under Sharia law, she was required to produce four male witnesses or 8 female witnesses to her husbands affair. When Salpetta enquired why it requires 8 female witnesses and only 4 male witnesses, she told him that it is because women are missing a part of the frontal lobe, and that they dont say what they think and their thought process is different! Bala said that it is heart wrenching when the victim themselves argue for the

superior to them. Geetha mentioned how her in-laws used to serve beverages to workers in separate cups.

...she told him that it is because women are missing a part of the frontal lobe, and that they dont say what they think and their thought process is different!
Bala narrated how he came out to his extended family as an atheist recently. During a conversation, few of his relatives mentioned how they prayed for him while he was admitted in the hospital after a near-fatal accident. They said that it was the prayers that brought him back alive. Bala wondered why they didnt take him to a temple instead of a

oppressive system. Geetha noted that it is a sign hospital after the accident! They responded that although doctors saved his life, god that patriarchy is winning. Venkat shared his experience with caste discrimination in his hometown of Rajapalayam. His father would be very particular about the caste of the people he deals with. People belonging to lower-castes would call him sami, and he used to wonder, in what way he is played a vital role in getting him to the hospital in time and making sure nothing went wrong with the surgery etc. Bala retorted that, since you believe in god, you attribute such things to god, whereas for me, it is purely human effort, as I dont believe in god. This took them all by surprise. Balas dad patched

up saying according to astrology, Bala was destined to be a staunch believer by the time he is in is his mid 30s, and this is just a phase he is going through. Bala noted the irony of using in god. When talks about his marriage came up, Bala insisted that his marriage be a civil marriage without any religious ceremony. This caused much more opposition than him coming out as a non-believer.

Madhavan wondered if it would be possible to introduce Stephen Hawkins famous pronouncement that god is not needed for the creation of the universe, in school syllabus. science class. Bala noted how every state government textbook begins with Praise to God. Ganesh said that its only a matter of numbers. A child of muslim parents will not be required to recite a Hindu prayer. Similarly they shouldnt ask a child of atheist parents to recite any prayer whatsoever. Nagalakshmi mentioned that prayer is even touted as a part of good habit in moral science textbooks. Salpetta wondered if it is more prevelant in Christian schools. Ganesh noted that the prime motive of such schools is to convert and increase their numbers.

astrology to predict when one will start believing Ganesh said, maybe as history, by not in the

... the irony of using astrology to predict when one will start believing in god.

Ganesh noted that, belief or non-belief is personal, but tradition is a public affair and therefore harder to resist. Balaji mentioned how the maid in his house usually sits on the floor by habit, even though he insists that she sits on the chair. Ganesh observed that they are indoctrinated from childhood, just like how some muslim women claim that the veil is a liberating attire. Rajendran wondered if such caste discrimination occurs only in India. Geetha noted that it happens in other countries too, if not based on caste, for some other reason, like skin colour.

Madhavan said that one of his friends pointed to a poem in the vedas which speculates about the existence of god. Bala noted that it is the song of creation in Rig Veda where the author speculates about the creation of the Universe, and that perhaps even the gods dont know how the universe began. Believers point to this stanza to establish how Hinduism is open to such speculation but they fail to mention other stanzas in the same Rig Veda which are full of rituals and dogma. Ganesh noted how Soma Juice is mentioned so frequently in the vedas and how many stanzas are about petty


differences and jealous incantations between rival clans. Salpetta requested that we make a simple video explaining and refuting the Kalam cosmological argument. He said most believers keep coming back to that after theyve exhausted all other arguments for the existence of god. Ganesh noted that we are very susceptible to selfdeception and wishful thinking. We might even be hard wired to believe in the supernatural, as a product of evolution. Bala intervened and said, just because there might be a god center in the brain does not mean there is a god. Ganesh said, if you take 20 children and isolated them and let them grow up without any influence from the outside world, by the time they grew up, they would have formed some concept of the supernatural. But they would all have completely different versions like the different religions of the world. However, if you introduce them to scientific method, all 20 of them, given enough time, will arrive at the same conclusion independently. Madhavan wondered why the children might come up with the supernatural concept in the first place. Bala speculated that its perhaps because it is the easiest explanation to things that are hard to explain. Madhavan enquired why we as humans find it difficult to say I dont know to the god question, but are more than willing to say I dont know in everyday trivial

situations when we dont know the answer. Ganesh opined that it is perhaps safer to assume. He gave the example of cavemen who would rather assume there is a lion in the rustling bush and stay safe than risk going into the bush. Bala pointed out that during a conversation when one person assumes the existence of god, and the other person simply says I dont know, there is a general perception that the person who assumes gods existence has won the argument. Madhavan noted that as an atheist he is much more curious to find out about things. Bala gave an analogy of coming out of an examination and finding out from someone else that most of your answers (god) are wrong. Similarly, for a theist who has assumed god to be the answer for so many questions, it might be hard to revisit those questions to find out a better answer.

Bala intervened and said, just because there might be a god center in the brain does not mean there is a god.

Madhavan quoted Jiddu Krisnamoorthy saying, a person who believes in Jesus will only dream of Jesus, and a person who

believes in Vishnu will only dream of Vishnu. Ganesh told us about the temporal lobe excitation experiment where a believer sees visions of god but a non believer doesnt. Geetha encouraged Rajendran, Venkat and Salpetta to share a bit more about themselves.

honesty and kindness, whereas atheists are considered immoral. Rajendran enquired why even though atheist arguments are so reasonable, they are still in the minority. He said he is not sure what atheists are missing out, and that if Logic is the right way to approach things. Ganesh answered that among various religious sects, non-believers are the fastest growing sub-sect in most part of the world. Geetha mentioned that no group is perfect, and that there may be shortcomings within Chennai Freethinkers too. Rajendran came back to the point that he is not sure what he might miss out being an atheist. Ganesh answered with an example of two persons who have met with a loss in business. One person goes to Sabarimala, after going through the taxing regiment of rituals, praying for god to solve the problem while the other person approaches the problem rationally. Who is it that is missing out, asked Ganesh. If it is a sense of community that one wants, that is what we are trying to build here. Ganesh reiterated that one can be a non-believer and still be a cultural Hindu, decorating the Kolu stand with evolution rather than Dasavathar. Geetha said that Rajendran should have interacted with us more so that we could have known his position better. Bala wanted to know what Rajendran meant when he said he doesnt know if Logic is the answer. Rajendran answered that when he

... why we as humans find it difficult to say I dont know to the god question, but are more than willing to say I dont know in everyday trivial situations when we dont know the answer?

Rajendran said that though he finds the arguments of atheists to be reasonable and convincing, he does not identify himself as an atheist. Ganesh enquired if it is because of the white coat and khaki shirt dilemma. A person who is new to a place, if given a choice to wear a neatly ironed white coat, or a ragged khaki shirt, both clean, will always chose the white coat. Similarly, Ganesh said that people associate god-fearing believers with qualities such as


sees the world through logic, it feels less colourful. He said when he looks at the stars, there are two ways of making sense. One is to as a furnace. When he sees them as a furnace, his inspiration waters down. Ganesh loosely quoted Richard Feynman and said that the beauty of the star is available to everyone, but the knowledge of how the star shines adds to that beauty and does not subtract. Venkat mentioned that his English literature professors treat Science as their nemesis, whereas Science teachers dont see literature that way.

sky that is swallowing the moon. Later on when he was told that it is only a story and not true, he still wanted to believe in it. But once eclipse he let go of the fantasy. It is a form of loss. But the true reason is much more beautiful than the fantasy said Ganesh. Bala replied that even if the true reason is not as charming and creative, one has to value truth over mystery. Rajendran said he wished to have both the truth and the mystery. Ganesh replied that there is mystery in nature too. Madhavan quoted Jiddu Krishnamoorthy saying that one can see nature without the screen of knowledge. Geetha suggested that Rajendran read the book Unweaving the Rainbow by Richard Dawkins in which he deals with the exact question of does science take the charm out of reality. Bala suggested Magic of Reality by Richard Dawkins which also deals with the

see them as magical, and the other is to see them he came to understand the real cause of the

... when he sees the world through logic, it feels less colourful.

Rajendran gave another example. He imagined

same subject. Rajendran expressed interest travelling at night and coming across a building. in reading both of them. It is dark, lit only by the shining moon and has a general beautiful mystery surrounding it. But once he visits the building several times and comes to know about it, that mystery is gone. It has lost the imaginative charm. Bala gave a similar example. He was told as a child that the lunar eclipse is caused by a giant snake swallowing the moon. This story was fascinating Venkat grew up in a Hindu family. His to his childhood imagination and he would go up to the terrace and try to see the snake in the parents insisted that he believe in some god, any god, but not no god. He wasnt very

... one has to value truth over mystery.

enthusiastic about reading science, though he used to read fiction. After he attended ThinkFest last year, he felt like he had wasted nearly 5 years of his life. From then on he became an avid reader and has visible passion for new knowledge. Madhavan mentioned that he enjoys Carnatic music, but most of the music is in praise of god. He said that if this system of music has to go for the truth, then it should go. Bala intervened and said that, when it comes to art, he would leave science behind. He said he wouldnt want to see Carnatic music destroyed just because he doesnt believe in god. He still enjoys the music for what it is. Balaji said that music is more than words, and that he enjoys other language music too that he doesnt understand. After nearly three and half hours of lively discussion, we had to wind up, eagerly looking forward to the next meet.


share what made them atheists. This is usually

15th Meet
29th May 2012
- by Geetha TG

a fun time when new comers open up. One deconversion story which has been consistently heard and which is cause for much mirth is I read the Bible/Quran/Gita/whatever. I became an atheist. Simple. What can beat this! Once a member, Soorya Sriram, had an even more special story he was sent for a veda training in the kanchi mutt and he came back an atheist! This time too we had people sharing their stories. Keen observation, Skepticism and an utter sense of fairness seemed to have contributed in arriving at their conclusions for most of the members. Twenty nine people attended the meet. Jagannathan Veeraraghavan from the Bangalore Freethinkers group had joined us. The stars of the evening were the trio from Tirunelveli, now settled in Chennai Radhakrishnan Selvaraj, Rooban and Rahul. They rendered an admirable freshness and their genuine outpourings straight from the heart captivated the audience. It was a sheer delight to hear them talk. It appears that Radhakrishnan is conducting a mini CF meet in his room every

We Chennai Freethinkers are a restless lot. Once a month, a few of us get together to discuss topics related to atheism, skepticism and humanism. But then soon we get discontented and plan for something bigger. We organized a meeting last July when a few of us spoke on some topics. Then we organized a 2-day event Thinkfest wherein we brought professors like Dayanandan, Narendra Nayak and the IHEU Director Babu Gogineni to speak on various topics. Last Sundays meet was the result of a similar urge to do something bigger. We planned a presentation and a short talk followed by a discussion. The meeting started with a short introduction. Barathi started with sharing her concern about some of her family members being enamored by the latest Touch therapy. This was akin to Reiki,

someone said. Arvind demonstrated this therapy night. Ishwarya, Arun, Arvind,Vaishnavi, on Bala S and caused much laughter by Haripriya and Manikanadan were the other explaining that the key feature of the touch therapy is that the patient is not touched. This was followed by the ice-breaking session (also called the ragging session!) when the new comers are asked to introduce themselves and newcomers.

Bala Bhaskar made a neat presentation on the topic of Logical Fallacies. His presentation was interspersed with quotes and videos and

the exercise was to identify the fallacies committed by the speakers. Hasty generalization, Slippery Slope, False Dichotomy, Argument from ignorance, Argument form irrelevant authority are all now a hit and evoked much laughter. A sample of the video clips shown were 1) Cho Ramaswamys talks in Engey brahmanan 2) Mamata Bs walking away from the CNN-IBN show 3) Richard Dawkins' (oh,yeah!) what if you are wrong video clip and so on. All of us were engrossed in the presentation before we realized more than an hour had passed and i twas time to move to the next point in the Agenda. Fortunately Bala S suggested that Bala B need not rush to complete the presentation but instead continue in the next months meet as the topic was a very important one and none of us wanted to miss the video clips. The tea break gave an opportunity for some light-hearted conversation and ragging of the late-comers (no one is spared - Equality, you see!) To the question, why at all should we learn the concepts of logic and why should we be familiar with the logical fallacies, it was explained that it would come in handy when the important point that it would ensure that we remain aware ourselves and not commit the logical fallacies while talking.

The next programme was a short talk by Arvind Iyer. The topic was Adjusting the rear view mirror What freethinkers are leaving behind. Arvind a doctoral student who is on a visit to India is known to many of us as the footnotes!) in the Nirmukta groups and an author of several interesting articles in Nirmukta and Indian Atheists. He addressed the following points:

part of our vocabulary! The video clippings were meticulous commenter (complete with

Bala S added the important point that it would ensure that we remain aware ourselves and not commit the logical fallacies while talking.

- How coming out as an atheist is never complete and there is always a "blur" -Confronting superstitions from nonreligious sources in order to establish

debating or discussing with theists. Bala S added ourselves. - How we need to excel in our respective fields and merely having a title as "atheist" is never enough.


- Reason based alternatives to religious celebrations, by not necessarily discarding religious festivals, but eliminating superstitious aspects from them. Arvinds talk was followed by a wide ranging discussion on all sorts of topics. Bala S took the role of co-ordinator of this discussion (and was promptly given the title of Arattai Arangam Visu by Vaishnavi). An elaborate discussion on prejudices based on complexion, caste, knowledge of English language followed. Jagan explained in detail how the Brahmins enjoyed a lot of unseen privileges and support from the society. When Haripriya and Vaishnavi explained that they too faced a lot of unfair expectations because they were considered by others as Brahmins, they were told that it was not the same and not as bad as real prejudice. Radhakrishnan explained how he overcame his complex and developed self confidence. His spontaneous delivery endeared him to all and particularly his youthful lingo Gethu and Ganduwere much appreciated by the youth in the group Balaji, Girish, Vaishnavi and Soorya. He also told how he talks about the universe, big bang and evolution to the youngsters in his village and how they seem to get it immediately. He shared about how he became gender sensitized and how the discussions in the CF group helped him to realize the importance of reservations and a lot more. He talked about the importance of having

the posters and videos in Tamil to reach to a wider audience. Bala B explained his attempts at translating the Khan videos and Arvind talked about how the TED videos are available for translation and that it does not require much effort. Roobans story was touching. He explained how he realized the importance of studies and how his fathers simple question Have you tried it? Why dont you give it a sincere try? motivated him to study hard. A reminder to all of us as to how words can impact a life. Ganesh and Manikandan, the doctor brothers shared their stories about how they dealt with the superstitions of their patients. It was 7.30 by the time we reluctantly wound up the meeting - a good four and a half hours had already passed. What struck me was that the CF meets are not just about atheism it was a shared love for science; a feeling of empathy for the less fortunate; a stark awareness about privileges; an honest recognition of the prejudices and finally an over riding feeling of humanism informed by gender sensitivity and a quiet shunning of class / caste inequalities. We propose to follow this meets format in our future meets too. Intro/Presentation/ Shorttalk/Discussion. I request members to come forward to make presentations and give talks. None of us are experts and we need not be the best of speakers. We particularly look

forward to talks and presentations in Tamil. We realize that we can treat our monthly meets as a platform to hone our skills andasa sounding board for our ideas. Suggestions for topics for presentations/talks/discussions are most welcome. One cant help but feel hopeful about the future, seeing such a group of people - all strangers, yet connected by a bond of secular humanism. People who felt comfortable enough to share what they felt when they were discriminated and who were confident that their thoughts and feelings would be understood without them having to justify it or explain it. Isnt this what community building is all about. To think that all this was made possible because one person dreamt of building such a community of Freethinkers! Thank you Ajita Kamal - we strive to carry it forward.

... all strangers, yet connected by a bond of secular humanism.


some stalwarts. But then we realized our

16th Meet
17th June 2012
- by Geetha TG

monthly meets should also be more than chatting sessions (not to undermine the importance of such chats as it gives a lot of space for people to open up). We also realized that we have amidst us members who may not be professional speakers but had good knowledge on certain subjects and that their presentations would benefit everyone in the group. We tried a new format last month Introduction by new members, A presentation, a short talk followed by interaction and found that it worked well. This month we planned the second part of Bala Bhaskars presentation on Logical Fallacies and instead of a short talk we asked Nirmal Rajah to make a full length presentation on Paleontology and Climate change. We had several new members joining us this month. The ice-breaking session was fun as usual with members sharing their enlightenment stories. Hs story was our all time favorite: I read the holy book of my parents religion thoroughly and turned an atheist! Nirmal regaled us by recollecting the exact date he turned an atheist. He was taught by professors who started their lectures saying that they did not believe in Evolution but taught because it was in the syllabus. Though

As I sit to write a report on the Chennai Freethinkers 16th meet that happened yesterday (17th June), I am struck by the thought that the CFT members would be right now ( a routine Monday morning), engaged in diverse activities in all sorts of offices and colleges for we have members who are doctors, software professionals, entrepreneurs, government employees, film makers, students of arts / science and so on. It is in this context that I find the overwhelming response to Nirmals talk astonishing. But then I am getting ahead of myself and so I start from the beginning. The format for the CFT meets has evolved through the months. For the first few meets we did not have any major agenda it was a heady feeling to meet fellow freethinkers with whom we could discuss topics related to Science and Rationality. And so we were content to get to know people, share anecdotes about how we confronted superstition and irrationality in our lives, exchange details about good books and blogs and occasionally watch a video or two.

Last October we organized Thinkfest which was he was plagued with doubts about the existence of god seeing that most of his very satisfying as we got to hear lectures by

prayers went unanswered, the moment of realization dawned on the day he visited an area in South India which was rich in fossils. Ds story was touching when he explained how he learnt to come to terms with his disability and how he had to face the prejudice of people around him. We had quite a few members who said they were not atheists but joined the meet because they had a lot of questions. One

Fathers day and it was refreshing to see a father and son duo who obviously did not agree on everything but were magnanimous to give each other a lot of space. Haripriya who had attended the meet last month for the first time had brought two of her friends and they too said that they had come with an open mind to learn. We were happy that this group is not seen as a rigid group which welcomed only

member who attended our meet a year back said members who are atheists but is considered to that he did not attend the later meets because he be a place where ideas can be discussed with did not agree with the purpose of our meets. But an open mind and where you go hoping to later he started studying and browsing science a film maker said he was against all kinds of inequalities. gain some knowledge. We would have liked but as we had lined up two presentations for the day, we were hard pressed for time. Bala Bhaskar gave a short recap of his last related stuff and was happy to join us again. Rao, our new members to share their ideas more

Though he was plagued with doubts about the existence of god seeing that most of his prayers went unanswered, the moment of realization dawned on the day he visited an area in South India which was rich in fossils.

presentation and continued talking about further fallacies. What made it easier to understand the concepts were that the examples were taken from what we confront in our day to day life. Dr.B.M.Hegde in his article in The Hindu that morning had given us a lot of fodder for thought. The video clips shown to identify the logical fallacies were what we see in our televisions regularly a clip from the Tamil programme Neeya Naana, quite a few clips from Engey Brahmanan (it was dripping with fallacies!) and debates in the English news channels. There were a few clips of Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris trouncing their opponents by

Arjun, a student who had come on a visit from USA attended the meet with his father who said he was not an atheist but against rituals and traditions. Sunday happened to be celebrated as


pointing out coolly the fallacies in their arguments. We had a tea break and then it was time for the next presentation. Before his talk Nirmal Rajah was a bit apprehensive about his talk being not too academic our response that we did not want an academic talk as most of us were novices in the field, was a relief to him. Once he started talking, we found his passion infectious and we were thoroughly smitten by the topic. A couple of members had studied Zoology in College the rest of us were students of the world wide web some of us had lapped up what Richard Dawkins, Stephen Jay Gould or PZ Myers had written and some did not know much about Evolution or Paleontology. Not to forget the fact, that in all probability none of us are ever going to sit in any class and hear a Professor lecture about the Cretaceous era or see fossils of any kind except maybe in a museum. But when Nirmal gave his talk on Paleontology and showed us his collection of fossils, the Chennai Freethinkers were captivated and listened in rapt attention. Of course we committed the error of interrupting him with folly of enthusiasm! We saw many fossils including a Trilobite fossil. He explained to us the time periods and talked about the 5 major extinctions. Most of us had goosebumps when we tried to contemplate the age of the fossils. Nirmal told us that Ariyalur near Trichy has a

rich collection of fossils but sadly not much care is provided to protect the area. He had prepared meticulous slides and it was mind boggling to understand the work of a paleontologist. We had several questions about the manner of collection of fossils, dating them and studying them. It was a very vast topic and Nirmal patiently explained to us how the past climates were and what continental drift was. The presentation was for nearly two hours but we hardly noticed the passage of time. It is to the credit of the members that they showed great interest in understanding what the fossils meant and what the scope of the subject was. Of course we took an occasional jab or two at the young earth creationists. It never ceases to amaze us how fascinating the world actually is and how petty the religious stories finally are. Carl Sagan has put it beautifully in his Pale Blue Dot, How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, This is better than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than elegant? Instead they say, No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way. For some time now Chennai Freethinkers have been planning to move out of the

our eager queries but that can be forgiven as the our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more


conference halls and make a trip as a group. We have had plans of visiting the Planetarium, the Crocodile Bank and going on a Tree walk with Added to this now is a Fossil hunt at Ariyalur, Trichy with Nirmal! It took some effort for us to move from our comfortable afternoon chat sessions to organize presentations and talks. It might take similar effort to organize an outing but we realize that the benefits would be immense. We seek topics for our future talks and we also wish members would volunteer to make presentations. One suggested topic is a Book review. In time we should be able to organize debates amongst ourselves. We realize the importance of having freethought related hope to have a member present a talk in Tamil next month. We request members from other city groups to join us in our meets and also give short talks. We also intend to set atleast an hour for interaction since we generally spend quite some time sharing experiences, talking, cribbing and ridiculing about issues which we dont get to talk openly otherwise. That was missing in this meetbut we will compensate in our next meet! To conclude I would like to quote Richard Dawkins from Unweaving the Rainbow After sleeping through a hundred million centuries we have finally opened our eyes on a sumptuous

planet, sparkling with colour, bountiful with life. Within decades we must close our eyes again. Isnt it a noble, an enlightened way of understanding the universe and how we have come to wake up in it? This is how I answer when I am asked as I am surprisingly often why I bother to get up in the mornings. To put it the other way round, isnt it sad to go to your grave without ever wondering why you were born? Who, with such a thought, would not spring from bed, eager to resume discovering the world and rejoicing to be a part of it? And so I extend a warm welcome to join us in our monthly meets and experience an enlightened way of spending our brief time in universe.

Nizhal to identify the common trees in Chennai. spending our brief time in the sun, to work at

material in Tamil and so we seek translators. We the sun and to work at understanding the


for affirmative action. We have quite a few

18th Meet
12th August 2012
- by Geetha TG

feminists in our group who speak up whenever we come across gender discrimination. Recognizing that ignorance is not an option, we are open to receiving ideas and willing to introspect. We strive to learn from the experiences of other groups all over the world. Every meet we talked, listened, questioned and came up with a lot of ideas.

The Chennai Freethinkers meets keep morphing over time. What started as a group of mostly lonely atheists who found each other through the world wide web soon moved on to explore areas of common interest. We quickly found that we shared a passion for Science. The Nirmukta Facebook groups and the Nirmukta blogs gave us a lot of food for thought. We organized seminars on topics relating to Evolution, Alternative Medicine and Humanism. Then we held presentations on Paleontology, Logical Fallacies and a perspective on what freethinkers were leaving behind. Of course, once in a while we dedicated our monthly meets to exclusive interactive sessions. These were important, for it gave us space to open up and vent out in ways we could not do even with family members. Time and again we realized that we had to educate ourselves on a number of issues like patriarchy, misogyny, casteism, class issues etc., We have members like Geeta Charusivam and Udhav Naig who serve as resource persons whenever we need clarifications on discriminations based on caste and on the need

Keen on sharing our love for Science with the general public and more importantly with children, whenever we got a chance, we grabbed it. Dr.Ganesh Veluswami participated in Radio programmes and talked about our rationalistic and humanistic point of view. Venkat Narayana and Soorya Sriram participated in a Television talk show (Neeya Naana) and strived to dispel myths that dreams convey a message about the future. It was a brave attempt given the amount of misinformation and pseudoscience that was thrown around by many other participants. Nirmal Rajah made a presentation on 15th August on the topic A journey to the past a talk on fossils, to a group of childrenat Mythri Art Academy, Chennai. The children were completely bowled over and promptly named him Fossil Anna. (Anna elder brother in Tamil). After the talk some of the children stayed for more than an hour to talk


to him and take photographs with him. This was

The documentary gave us a jolt. It talked

the first attempt by Chennai Freethinkers to talk about the layers of casteism and the nuances exclusively on Science topics to children and not involved; it recorded the lives of a group of mention religion or atheism even once. Dr.Ganesh has offered to make a simple organizations conducting summer/holiday camps and offer to talk to children on scientific topics. people belonging to the Arunthathiyar community who are engaged in making showed the sad lives of the children who are denied basic education. It brought the topic of Dalit Christians into our conversation dalits who had hoped to escape the shackles of caste discrimination found the same sorry state in

presentation on Evolution. We plan to approach footwear. In a painfully casual manner it

...caste is the most sophisticated oppressive system in the whole world

Christianity too. It shocked us, angered us and depressed us. Not that we were all in a cocoon and were totally unaware of people struggling with issues of poverty and caste discrimination. But to see it all up close was shocking. Immediately after the screening we were quick to react. Isnt religion the real

And then there has been a steady trickle of new members to our meets. We were happy that our community is growing we realize that we have something special and that we should not fritter it away. Recently when a member shared a clip from the documentary Seruppu (Footwear) in our Facebook group, we saw an opportunity.

culprit we asked. Shouldnt they be told about rationalism. Has anything been done to these people. Did you go back there after the taking the documentary? The questions flew thick and fast. In our enthusiasm we did not initially realize that the filmmaker had ably recorded the stark lives of a dalit community and it was

The issue of casteism is perceived in varied ways not his responsibility to reform their lives nor and the topic of affirmative action evokes mixed to offer solutions. He had done a wonderful reactions. Not all of us realize what privilege means and what reality is for most of our compatriots. So we arranged for the screening job of documentation and brought to light the plight of people living in unfortunate circumstances. It was to the credit of Director

of the film and an interaction with the filmmaker Amudhan that he handled all our questions Amudhan on 12th August 2012. with grace and composure.


In India everyone is born with a caste and is identified by it whether he or she likes it or not. You can change your religion but you cannot get away from your caste. It is better in urban areas but in rural areas the viciousness is real. He explained in detail how the caste system it by sharing her experiences in working with an NGO. Every village has a place called Ooru which is the main area of the village and a cheri or colony where the dalits live. There is an invisible line between these two areas and all the facilities like schools, public health centres and government institutions are located in the Ooru. Dalits find it difficult to access these facilities and have to take massive effort to access the basic facilities braving not only the discomfort of distance but the cruel words and looks of those who consider themselves as upper castes.

Not much has changed for those people, Amudhan said. But then he was happy that there is a move to recognize the term Dalit Christians and the recognition that reservation needs to be given to them too is slowly dawning. Discrimination inside efforts are being taken by a few church personnel to counter them. Maybe we were too quick to point out that religion was the offender and offered rationalism as a solution. And we were probably nave to believe that the lives of those documented would be somewhat better now. It took some time for us to realize that dramatic changes do not happen and that there are layers and layers of issues involved. For a woman who complains of discrimination inside a church (such as not being given the opportunity to read the bible during a prayer as one women said in the documentary), atheism might be a liberation. But offering that as a solution might alienate them. We first need to ensure equality for her or at the very least we should support those who fight to end such discrimination. This is one precompetitive issue we need to address standing shoulder to shoulder with theists. The interaction with Filmmaker Amudhan continued and the conversation covered a lot of ground. A couple of members said that they avoided speaking in Tamil Brahmin lingo.

operates in villages. Geeta Charusivam added to churches is also being recognized and some

For a woman who complains of discrimination inside a church ... atheism might be a liberation. But offering that as a solution might alienate them. We first need to ensure equality for her or at the very least we should support those who fight to end such discrimination.

One member said this was because he feared ridicule and another said it was because he did not want to be identified as a brahmin though

without respect. They felt sad about it and said they have changed those habits now. I hope for a day when members from the oppressed

people invariably asked him if he was one and he communities come out openly and talk about felt violated. Amudhan responded by saying that their experiences. For it is these shared the Brahmin lingo was associated with power/ prestige and ridiculing it was an attempt at subversion by those outside the circle. Later on reflecting, I realized that, even in casual conversations it is effortless for Brahmins or other so called upper caste people to identify the caste label of their parents even if they rejected the caste identity. Even class inequalities are comparatively easily addressed. There have been atleast two instances of members talking about that part of Chennai they hailed from which was not considered so upper class. But identifying as from the oppressed caste? Never! I dont remember a single instance in a meeting when a member identified himself / herself as a dalit and it is definitely not for lack of dalit members in the group, speaking from my knowledge. What is it that makes them demur, we need to introspect. Of course, it is absolutely not necessary that a member needed to reveal if he was a dalit. What got me thinking was that frequently we have had members who confessed that they belonged to the communities that oppressed others and that they felt ashamed of it. They shared experiences about how when they were young they would address the elderly people from the so called low caste who worked in their farms/houses by name and experiences and shared learning that would goad us to grow and provide a safe space for all the minorities, be it caste, class or gender. When the topic turned towards who were the most oppressed of all, Dilip shared his experiences during a Documentary shoot with Transgendered people and said that they are one of the most oppressed and discriminated lot. A lot of issues were thrashed in the open that day. Sometimes the arguments looked like it would turn heated. There was a rush of questions and not everyone got the chance to air their views because of lack of time. We plan to watch the other two documentaries Shit and Notes from the Crematorium by Amudhan and he has promised to attend our future meets and interact with us after screening his films. He said that he enjoyed the open minded interaction with our group and was happy to consider himself a part of our group. The film, the interaction and the conversation that followed left us cold. There was no sense of completion that day. In a way we had challenged ourselves to question our privileges, explore reality and inform ourselves about the sad state of affairs all

around us which we had learnt to ignore for the sake of our convenience. And we emerged a little more informed and empathetic about the lives of people who are no different from us and deserved our consideration. Each one of us carried home a message that day: equality and opportunity should never be denied to any human being and that it is criminal to be selfish and oblivious to the privileges enjoyed by each one of us. We hope that this message would manifest in our thoughts and actions and we would have the courage to speak up when a friend or colleague or family member makes illinformed comments about the oppression and discrimination in society. It is hopes and experiences such as these that make us cherish our community and bring us back to the CFT meets month after month.


thirty participants eagerly waited to hear from

19th Meet
30th September 2012
The 19th chennai freethinkers meet was held at the Malles Manotta conference hall in T Nagar on 30th September 2012 at 2.30 PM. Three talks by Prof. Narendra Nayak, President of FIRA, Sonja Eggerickx, President of International and Humanist Ethical Union (IHEU), and Babu Gogineni, Director of IHEUwere planned for the event. All of them

the speakers. Prof.Nayak spoke about the need to reach common people with ideas of rationalism. He narrated various incidents from his decades long career of traveling the length and breadth of the country to urge people to think critically and rationally through his miracle debunking programs. He insisted that though science education is important, the easiest way to dispel so-called miracles by alleged godmen is to perform them oneself. In his usual style, Prof.Nayak narrated how he could

explain in detail to a superstitious person the were on their way to Tanjavur for another event principles of Leidenfrost effect and how it and had an one day stop-by in Chennai. We decided to utilise this and organised the event in helps people walking on burning embers so that they dont burn their feet. But after all the accordance with their travel plans. explaining, the person would still demand There were quite a few new members for the Prof.Nayak to walk on the embers himself and meet. Usually we would have a ragging show. He noted that the reason why the new session where the new members introduce generation of godmen in the country were themselves and share their thoughts on largely refraining from performing such Freethought, Humanism, Atheism etc. It really miracles is probably because they realised helps break the ice as members share heartfelt that their tricks will be exposed by rationalists. stories of religious indoctrination and abuse, things they would not be able to share anywhere Sonja Eggerickx spoke about her experiences with Humanist and Ethical education for else. Not to mention the hilarious anecdotes children in Belgium. She narrated how the laughter. However, for this meet, since we were humanists fought to bring in a secular syllabus and non-religious schools in every town in running short on time, we decided to skip the Belgium. She shared her thoughts on teaching introduction session and go straight to the talks. children secular non-confessional ethics, So with the hall nearly filled to capacity, about which is the equivalent of Moral Education in they would narrate which fills the hall with


Indian syllabus but without any religious undertones. She admitted that she is not happy with the term non-confessional to denote secular ethical education as it has a negative connotation. She said, during public meetings, she does not refer to people as Religious and Non-Religious, but as Freethinkers and NonFreethinkers. During Q and A she touched on the topic of Euthanasia which invited a lot of questions from the audience. Taking Humanism to the common man and woman was the topic Babu Gogineni spoke about. He said that though it is necessary to have academic discussions and debates about Humanism, Atheism etc, they are not of much use unless they somehow help the citizens. He narrated various incidents where superstitious

In spite of studying well, if I dont get good marks in my Exam, what can I do? Is there a short-cut to get good marks? Arun confidently answered No, you have to work hard. There is no shortcut
He said Humanists dont believe in god; they are nice people and work very hard. He signed off by saying that when he grew up, he wanted to be like his Dad. There was a Q&A session too when a member asked him, Inspite of

beliefs have been used to oppress and intimidate studying well, if I dont get good marks in my people and how the ideals of Humanism have Exam, what can I do? Is there a short-cut to actually saved lives. He urged people to not hesitate in calling themselves Humanists and Atheists. A lively Q and A session followed the talk. Apart from the three seasoned speakers, we had get good marks? Arun confidently answered No, you have to work hard. There is no short cut. Watch out for this budding Humanist speaker. On behalf of Nirmukta, we would like to thank

an impromptu speech by Arun Gogineni, Son of all the four guests who, despite their hectic schedule and in spite of being sleep deprived, Babu Gogineni. The 8 year old regaled the audience by volunteering to talk on the topic of Humanism! took their time to talk with us. It was heartening to hear from the audience how much they enjoyed all the talks and how they wanted more. With the satisfaction of having conducted another successful meet, we dispersed, with the promise of meeting again.


The Rearview Mirror

At the end of last years report, we proposed a few activities/projects to focus on during 2012. Here is a look at where we are with those.

Proposed Activity Organising In-group Seminars

Status As seen in the report, we have conducted a number of seminars during the year, with both in-group members as well as experts in the field. Also we took the opportunities to meet-up with experts like Prof.Narendra Nayak and Babu Gogineni whenever they are in the city.

ThinkFest 2012

ThinkFest was a huge success last year. The work for organising a ThinkFest this year is going on. Once the date and the speakers are finalised, we will be announcing the event.

Improving Audiovisual Capabilities

We have streamlined our video capturing process during seminars to enable quick turnaround between the event and uploading the video onto the internet for others to watch. We bought a few equipments to improve the quality of the audio, as can be heard in our latest videos.

Translating Khan Academy Videos

This project has morphed into producing original Tamil Science Educational Video content.


Here are a list of ongoing projects as well as proposed ideas for 2013 Ongoing projects/ Proposed Activities Producing Tamil Science Video Content Description/Status A few of us have taken up producing video versions of the individual chapters in Richard Dawkins latest book, The Magic of Reality. We found out that we had good voice talent within the Nirmukta community. We have finalised the script for two chapters and are currently recording audio. Audio Podcasts During our monthly meets, a few of us can assemble a bit early and have an off-the-cuff discussion about a specific topic. This can be recorded and uploaded as a regular podcasts. This idea is proposed because, It will give members who are yet to attend one of our meets, an idea of what goes on in our meets. Podcasts have shorter production period and can be published regularly. Face-to-Face discussions would be much better and spontaneous than online discussions. This was actually requested by many members in Facebook who are not in Chennai but would love to attend the meet. This will capture the spontaneity and humor during the discussion which would be lost in a scripted production.