International Rationalists’ Day Celebrated in Kolkata on 1st March, 2009

The Science & Rationalists’ Association of India, better known as ‘Juktibadi Samity’ or the Rationalists’ Association celebrated its 25th birthday on Sunday, March 1 at Ram Mohan Library Hall, Maniktala, Kolkata.

The hall was packed during this four hour cultural program that consisted of songs, felicitations, general commentary on the organization with video-show and a play. The tightly packed evening from 6 to 10 was well planned and excellently coordinated by the founder general secretary of the association – the well-known rationalist Prabir Ghosh.

The program started sharp at 6 with four songs by Ms Banani Das. The fresh voice and effortless rendering of original lyrics set to mainly folk-based tunes were refreshing. Banani set the stage for a very modern, down to earth, and a rather off-beat evening awaiting the audience.

Sumitra Padmanabhan, the president of the Rationalists Association, columnist and editor of ‘Juktibadi’ magazine is attached to the organization for the last 18 years. She gave a brief account of the beginning, growth and spread of the organization during the last 25 years and the rationalist movement in general. In the initial stage, the rationalists were mainly known for debunking myths and god-men, exposing charlatans like astrologers and tantriks, and exploring mysterious incidents of people being haunted by ghosts or demons. People used to call for Prabir and his team for a sure and authentic explanation of any seemingly supernatural happening. Gradually in the second phase, the rationalists in their open programs targeted divinity – theism and spiritualism in general. People were scandalized in the beginning but slowly accepted atheism and humanism as a new school of thought. ‘Humanism’ came to be accepted as a substitute to other theistic religions. In the third phase the purview of the activities of the organization encompassed all social, political, economic issues that haunted common people. The seemingly harmless agenda of ‘fighting against superstition and blind faith’ took a turn now. ‘Are you joining politics?’ – Voices started bombarding from the back of public gatherings. ‘Why not, what’s wrong with politics?’ was the answer. ‘Even a child does a bit of politics when he manipulates his parents to get his job done, doesn’t he? We are not a wing of any political party. But does that mean we have no opinions on any political issues? Why should the youth of our country be so detached from politics? Why not express our honest opinion? Why not gather, motivate and mobilize people for an honest cause, a legitimate demand?

People understood. Now, with the turn of the century, the opinion of the Rationalists of India is a force to reckon with.

Prabir Ghosh, the man behind the entire movement came on stage. He explained how in spite of the basic socialistic tenets of the organization and the clear call for a classless, casteless society, the opinions of SRAI had hit upon certain people with vested interests and the organization in its peak was blacked out by the local Indian media. For example, the organized movement by Rationalists’ Association against Mother Teresa’s proposed sainthood based on a miracle cure got huge coverage by all the media of the world, including BBC. But the most popular local papers and channels carefully avoided any news about the activities or opinions of the rationalists. BBC made a documentary on Prabir and his activities called ‘Guru Busters’. ‘German TV’, ‘National Geographic’ ‘Korean TV’ and many others made films on the Rationalist movement in India. BBC mentioned that the leftist politics of India is now clearly divided in two groups — pro- Prabir and anti- Prabir. BBC in an interview published abroad mentioned that Prabir is indeed the perpetrator of the concept of Neo-socialism thriving throughout the world. It is indeed Prabir’s guideline clearly categorized in his more than 30 volumes published during the past two decades, on socio-political subjects like cultural movement, terrorism and guerrilla warfare that has led the people’s upheaval among the poorest ethnic groups in an organized, peaceful and united way. The concept of self-ruled, independent villages where people can lead a far better life by forming classless communes where there would be no individual property and minimal state interference is also being popularized by Prabir since 2002. However, all conspiracies to sabotage this organization in the mid-nineties have failed. And common people now understand the basic tenet of the Rationalist movement led by Prabir Ghosh in India.

As per the practice on each Rationalist Day celebration, this year too, two eminent persons were chosen by SRAI for Rationalist award. Pallab Kirtaniya, the energetic angry young man of the Bengali music world got the award as the ‘Singer of the year’. Dr. Saroj Mohan Mitra, the octogenarian professor, author, social activist, critic and an atheist-humanist in the true sense got ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’ as a rationalist. The dramatist Bibhas Chakraborty handed over the memento to Pallab. Sumitra Padmanabhan handed over the award to Dr. Mitra.

Dr. Mitra spoke about his humble efforts to do the right thing at any cost. An apt predecessor of Raja Rammohan Roy, Dr. Mitra was in charge of the Ram Mohan Library, and during this time he was instrumental in removing the office of an astrological organization from its premises. He lost his position of power due to this. Pallab humbly expressed his pleasure and later touched the hearts of the audience by his strong and heartfelt rendering of four songs—a Rabindrasangeet and three numbers created by him. His bold music spoke about incidents and his feelings in real life. As a doctor negligence and corruption in health service was one of his themes. He also sang of hope – of regeneration of lost values by the present day youth.

A book ‘Global Warming’ by 29 year old engineer Biplab Das was inaugurated by Subhas Dey of Dey’s Publishing. Biplab is an active rationalist worker based on Bankura. This book is the first on this largely misunderstood subject written in simple Bengali for laymen and scholars alike. Then a new website www.prabirghosh.com was inaugurated by Bibhas Chakraborty. It added a new feather to the existing array of websites to the credit of the Rationalists. Namely- www.srai.org, www.juktibadi.tk and the web magazine www.thefreethinker.tk.

After this a pleasant surprise was waiting. A collage of various videos on the activities and TV programs of SRAI was projected on a large screen for the next half hour. In a well-made joint production by the laptop and projector operator Anindyasundar from Medinipur and the photographer Manasi Mallik, the audience saw excerpts from a film ‘X Men’ recorded by National Geographic, showing the rationalists’ encounter with Swami Satyanand, “Mukabla’ on NDTV showing Baba Ramdeb and Prabir Ghosh face to face ( considered best ‘Mukabla’ of 2006). Next was shown Sumitra Padmanabhan’s interview on the notorious tantrik arrested in Kerala in Headlines Today, titled ‘Sex, swindle & a Swami’ Then came the video jointly made by Humanists’ Association and SRAI—called  ‘Uttal Manipur’, or ‘The turbulent Manipur’. It is a document on the state terrorism going on for the last 2-3 decades in our north-eastern state Manipur, which culminated in 2006 with the brutal killing of 34 year old Manorama. It led to a historical nude protest by Manipuri mothers there and rallies, mass signature campaigns in Kolkata under the leadership of SRAI and HA. Finally in 2007, the key to the notorious Kangla Fort, the headquarters of the atrocious Assam Rifles was handed over to the public by Manmohan Singh. But the atrocious AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act) still continues to hound our own countrymen in the North-East, and the protest goes on.
After the projector show Soumya Deb, a magician from Asansol, also a rationalist gave some relief with his palming shows.

The program ended with the staging of a play ‘Attopokkho’ by Souvik Sanskritik Chakra.

The poignant lead role was played by the director- producer-playwright Gautam Mukhopadhyay. One of the greatest revolutionary playwrights of today, a one-man-army Gautam has done great plays like—‘Committed’, ‘Ma’ ( Maxim Gorky’s ‘Mother’), ‘Ami Shei Lok’, ‘Kanona Manush’ etc. Today’s play depicts the difficulties of an off-beat, revolutionary dramatist who cannot ignore reality, who cannot make plays on imaginary, make belief stories or on religious, mythological themes, who cannot but depict the pains and the clashes of today’s victims of social injustice. And hence gets severe opposition from the state. He is opposed by family, friends and the law-keepers. But ‘truth’ he has to tell. He does it without fear. He implores the audience to tell the truth, to stand up against injustice. And the struggle goes on.

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