Impetus ‘18 – A Seminar on Rationalism, Atheism and Free Thinking by EsSENSE

essence impetus ThrissurEsSENSE, Freethinkers’ dairy is an Indian rationalist platform based in Kerala. It brings together rationalist speakers, writers, thinkers, activists, supporters, and well-wishers, with the goal of promoting rationalism and freethinking in Kerala and in the larger global environment.

Through EsSENSE’s publications, e-magazines, seminars, online media, and other collaborative platforms, they endeavor to develop rationalist thought, share ideas, expand human intellectual horizons, facilitate learning, and foster collaboration.

EsSENSE embarked on a journey to build a better tomorrow that embraces science and rationality, pursues freethinking and atheism, and elevates humanism and justice, while resisting superstition, quackery, ignorance, and hate.

Impetus ‘18 is a half-day seminar conducted by EsSENSE at Hotel Pearl Regency in Thrissur on 11th August 2018. The seminar consists of lectures of two prominent free thinkers in Kerala – Rajan Perumbully, an author and Augustus Morris, a surgeon.

Today, unusually, I reached early at the venue of seminar and I was told to wait inside the hall by the receptionist.

While I was sitting inside the hall filled with empty chairs, I observed an old lady sitting at the corner who has facial similarity with my grandma. I smiled at her and she smiled back.

I went to her and asked whether she came to attend the seminar. She said yes. I told her that it is a surprise to see an old lady like her at a seminar on free thinking and rationalism. She told me that she is not religious but she believes in god.

From the conversation with her, I came to know that she like lectures and love to learn more about free thinking and rationalism.

I had an assumption that atheism, freethinking and rationalism is for youth and old people stay away from it. My prejudice got teared apart by this old lady, who is a retired math teacher who served at a prominent school in my hometown.

Rajan Perumbully’s talk was based on his book published last year named ചോര വീഴുന്ന മണ്ണ് – Soil Soaked in Blood.

The book is written on Taslima Nasrin, a Bangladeshi author, her life and her plight after speaking out and writing about atrocities on Hindus by Muslims in Bangladesh. It was triggered by the demolition of Babri Masjid in India in 1992. It is the first Malayalam book on her. By his book, he declared unity with Taslima Nasrin, her bold views and stance.

After the demolition of the 16th century mosque in India, Muslims were under constant attack from Hindu extremists. Meanwhile, in Bangladesh, a Muslim majority country, Hindus were attacked by Muslims as retaliation.

In his book, Rajan supported the stance of Taslima Nasrin during those times. He is of the opinion that Taslima is a humanist and not pro-Hindu as considered by Muslims in Bangladesh. He also adds that she is not a feminist but a woman who believes in gender equality.

By placing Taslima’s plight as an example, Rajan lectured on the dreadful impact of religion and caste system in our society.

He explained how caste and religion triggered recently happening immigrant issues in Assam.

It is women who suffer most in a world controlled by religion. It is an invention of man to satisfy his lust for power and nothing else. He is of the opinion that women are following religion and religious rituals as they are forced to do it for generations.

After publishing her novel, Lajja, Taslima had to flea her country just like the characters in that novel following life threats from Islamic extremists in her country.

Rajan also pointed out that the author, VS Naipaul has identified and written about the emergence and thriving of Hindu extremism in India.

Illustrating the recent murder of Gouri Lankesh, a prominent journalist, Rajan adds that guns and bombs are used by extremist groups to silence the voice of writers and thinkers.

In reality, violence is used by ideologies and groups those don’t have truth on their side. They are lead by nothing other than arrogance as well as ignorance.

Denmark, Sweden and New Zealand are countries those have majority of free thinkers. He compared India to those countries. Today, India is in the hands of religious extremism and caste system which hinders the development and growth of a young nation like India.

He concludes his speech by reciting a poem written by him which gives the message that we have to view the world as a human being and not as a Christian, Muslim or Hindu.

Our land, Kerala is a fertile ground for home remedies, local medicines or quick-fixes called ഒറ്റമൂലി in Malayalam for common ailments ranging from cold, inflammation from any injuries to skin diseases and allergies.

Here, we can find a Homeopathy clinic, Ayurvedic center along with acupuncture parlor and Yunani medicine store at any corner.

While I was a kid, my mom and grandma used these kind of home remedies and quick-fixes on me. Some remedies gave relief while others not.

When I became matured and capable of understanding how modern medicine works, I came to know that all these home remedies and quick-fixes for ailments are nothing other than pseudo-scientific endeavors born out of our ignorance.

Dr. Augustus Morris’ lecture named ധാരണകൾ തെറ്റുമ്പോൾ (when understandings fail) was exactly on the subject which I love to listen and learn.

The term, understandings in the lecture’s title refers to the traditional knowledge that we, especially Keralites, regard as an invaluable knowledge. For generations, we have a natural inclination towards our traditional knowledge and expertise.

There are limitations for the knowledge that have passed on us from past generations as it had been acquired within the constraints of that age’s knowledge and wisdom.

Augustus started with രാസ്നാദി പൊടി, a powder used to apply on head especially on children after bath to fend off common cold. During childhood days, my mom and grandma used to apply it to my head. He explained scientifically how common cold happens and how all those traditional home remedies don’t have any effect on curing those ailments.

He refers Kerala, also known as God’s Own Country as Fool’s Own Country. Kerala, the state that has one of the highest literacy rate in India, is a fertile ground for fake medical products and services as well as superstitions.

He touched upon our love affair with carbohydrates that causes our typical fat belly. He compared our cuisine with western cuisine which consist mainly of protein and how it helps them to maintain better health than us.

I can remember that during my school days, there were number of person to person businesses of medicinal products. I don’t know whether those businesses are still in play. Augustus remarked that the products claiming fake medicinal properties cant do business like other businesses. They can’t run advertisements on Television or Newspaper. Those businesses are generally called money chain businesses in Kerala.

Man is a warm blooded animal with a marvelous, natural defense mechanism. Our body has the capability to cure most common diseases without any medical treatment.

I asked a question in this seminar. My question was this: since oils are not used in modern science, why I have heard from childhood that bathing after smearing oil on body is good for health?

His answer was: oils play no role in modern science since it can never penetrate our skin and cure any disease inside our body. All it can do is to give a temporary comfort to skin. So smearing oil on body before bathing don’t have any health benefits.

I remember using ലവണതൈലം, മുറിവെണ്ണ – Ayurvedic oils during my childhood days on my injuries and inflammation caused by it. Today, I realized that I was treating my illness wrongly.

Another question related to my question came from the audience. The question was this: what about the role of ointments in modern science?

His answer was: Anti fungal ointments for skin diseases or allergies and also for healing wounds are used by modern medicine. Those ointments are used for external purposes.

Human body is actually an imperfect entity which is the product of billions of years of evolution and not a creation by an intelligent design. That is the reason we suffer from diseases like appendicitis, piles and cancer.

In Kerala, there is no proper sex education. He explains how this effects the minds of teenagers. During teenage, sexual hormones acquires growth while brain doesn’t keep up with the pace.

So, porn and inappropriate sex awareness enters the scene. The sex enhancing medicinal products like Musli power as well as myths of rhino horn and shark fins exploits the lack of sex education among youngsters. He also explains how all these can result in widespread alcoholism.

He points out the role of Facebook, Whatsapp and other social medias in spreading fake scientific news and knowledge.

He concludes his lecture by stating that the understandings we consider as truth are actually lies. He stresses the need of our society to embrace modern science over pseudo-scientific medicinal practices and superstitions. These bogus medicinal practitioners exploit Keralites’ ego, false dignity and lack of scientific knowledge by promoting unscientific piles and kidney-stone clinics, placebos and magic oils.

Augustus, a surgeon himself, says that doctors work on the level of knowledge they possess. So, they are prone to make mistakes as well.

He touches upon how women suffers from health issues like bladder control syndrome from the lack of public toilets in kerala. He also adds that the Ayurvedic post pregnancy care done on women in Kerala is actually damaging their health. He has stated it by comparing our women with western women. Western women concentrate on planned exercises and proper diet to recover their body from the impact of pregnancy rather than ingesting their body with useless, high calorie natural medicines.

He clarifies the listeners’ doubt on allergies and the use of ceramics in surgery and organ transplantation.

He informed audience about the treatment of local, bogus medicine practitioners on chicken pox lead to the death of patients. He also described how minor health issues get complicated in the hands of those fake doctors.

I usually don’t have milk products like curd or cheese along with non-vegetarian foods. It is because my mom considers them as contradictory foods and forbids me from eating it. In Malayalam, we call it വിരുദ്ധാഹാരം.

Today, from Augustus Morris’ lecture, I got the realization that the concept of contradictory foods don’t have scientific base. Thus, I’m free to eat any food I love!

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