How the turmoil in the rationalist movement in Kerala is shaping up

Rationalist organisations in Kerala have undergone a paradigm shift, with many of them joining the Right-wing bandwagon. Photo: iStock

Around 10,000 people were in attendance for Litmus, an event hosted by the free thinker’s collective esSENSE Global, billed as ‘the world's largest atheist meet in god's own country’, last October in Kochi. It was an annual gathering of atheists who describe themselves as ‘freethinkers with a scientific temperament’. Apart from the discussions, what was striking about the event was the rise in number of attendees.

Litmus was first held in Thiruvananthapuram in 2018 and the second meeting was held in Kozhikode, the next year. In the first edition, more than 3,000 people attended. The number rose to 7,000 the following year and to 10,000 the next year, according to the organisers of the Litmus events.

The brand of atheism propagated by this section of ‘free thinkers’ started getting traction in Kerala around the beginning of this century. But it was after 2010 that it took an organisational form under the banner of esSENSE.

The rationalist movement in Kerala has a long and rich history that goes back to the Sahodara Sangham (Fraternity Forum), formed by K Ayyappan (Sahodaran Ayyappan) on May 29, 1917 at Cherai, in Ernakulam. The 'Mishra Bhojanam' (community eating without caste discrimination) movement was promoted by this fraternity forum, which at the time was both unthinkable and extremely revolutionary.

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