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Sad But Expected News... PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by James Randi   

I have received notice from Narisetti Innaiah, chairman of CFI India, that our friend Basva Premanand has died. Mr. Innaiah's tribute reads:

B. Premanand, the doyen of Indian rationalist movement, is no more. He breathed his last on 04.10.2009 at 2.20 pm at Podannur, Tamil Nadu. He was 79. According to his wishes, his body has been donated to the local medical college.

Born on 17 February 1930 in Kozhikode (Kerala), Premanand was a keen observer of paranormal phenomena even in his childhood. In his teenage, he approached assorted swamis and gurus to gain spiritual insights but soon fell out with each one of them when he realized that they were all fakes. In 1969 he met the ace Sri Lankan skeptic Dr. Abraham Kovoor who was in India for his "Miracle Exposure" lecture tour. That was a watershed in the life of Premanand, who immediately plunged headlong into the business of debunking spiritual tricksters. After Dr. Abraham Kovoor's death in 1978, Premanand continued Kovoor's famous challenge of offering One Lakh Rupees [US$2,000] to anyone who could demonstrate psychic abilities under fraud-proof conditions. Admittedly, there have been few takers.

During his tumultuous campaign spanning over three exhilarating decades, Premanand visited almost every village and town in India exposing godmen and their miracles, conducting science workshops for the educated and laypersons, giving public lectures and demonstrations. He visited about 49 countries with his mission to spread skepticism and critical thinking. He was given a Fellowship by National Council for Science and Technology Communication of Government of India for his efforts to spread scientific awareness.

Premanand's most famous target has of course been Puttaparthi Sai Baba, the number one spiritual fraudster in India for decades. Once he famously filed a Civil Writ Petition in Andhra Pradesh High Court against Sai Baba under the Indian Gold Control Act! He wanted the government to proceed against Sai Baba for materializing gold from thin air because it was in violation of Section 11 of the Gold Control Act, which mandated the permission of the Gold Control Administrator for manufacturing gold! Given the clout godmen have among all strata of Indian society, it is not at all surprising that the case was dismissed by the court. Premanand has compiled a massive collection of records on the infamous murder of six individuals in Sai Baba's ashram on 6 June 1993 and has brought it out as a book (Murders in Sai Baba's Bedroom) running into more than 800 pages. This book is a "collector's item" for those who want to know the truth behind the shady dealings in the ashram.

For more than two decades, Premanand published Indian Skeptic, a monthly magazine, dedicated to spreading rationalism and scientific temper. The magazine was an invaluable link between various rationalist groups and individuals in our overwhelmingly religious country. Through his Skeptic Book Club, he has brought out a number of books exposing godmen and their antics. His most popular book, Science versus Miracles, gives natural explanation of about 150 "miracles" including those commonly performed by the godmen in India.

In November 2006, Premanand was diagnosed with cancer, and underwent a major surgery. But this did not prevent him from continuing with his mission. Barely a couple of weeks after he underwent the surgery, Premanand attended a meeting of rationalists in Bangalore in January 2007, when Bangalore Vicharavadi Sangha (Bangalore Rationalist Association) was founded. He attended the 6th national conference of the Federation of Indian Rationalist Associations (FIRA), of which he was the founder-convener, held in Pune in April 2007 and accepted an award (for his contribution to rationalist movement in India) presented to him by Maharashtra Andhrashraddha Nirmoolan Samithi. He attended the 25th state conference of Kerala Yukthivadi Sangam (Kerala Rationalist Association) held in December 2007 in Thiruvananthapuram. Premanand continued to bring out Indian Skeptic every month, without missing even a single issue until late 2008 and published a number of books on rationalism through his Skeptic Book Club. Despite his failing health, he completed and opened to public his long-cherished project on 5 March 2009, a permanent exhibition on the Method of Science at Podannur, Tamil Nadu.

So passes a noble and valued member of the skeptics' community. I will miss him greatly. I quote from the wise sayings of artist W. Aikman:

The dead speak by their lives, by their works, and by their words.