CFI India Annual Conference Report

The annual conference of CFI India was held in Hyderabad, India on 1st Feb 2009. One hundred participants actively engaged in the event in the day-long conference. It was convened in Press club at Hyderabad from 10:30 am to 5 pm.

Dr. Jayaprakash Narayan, activist in political and social field inaugurated the conference. Mr. Ravi Prakash, CEO of TV 9 channel spoke as chief guest.

Mrs. Chandana Chakravarthy, social activist in her speech said:

The slogan, “Let children be free with science education”, focuses our attention on three issues: children, their freedom, and education. We need to ask ourselves, why focus on children?  Freedom from what, for what, and through what?

Children hold out a far greater hope for mid-course correction for all the mistakes committed by societies over the ages, because they are the future of any society or nation: to them we bequeath everything – all our assets and all our liabilities. Children have an open-mind, whereas adults are rarely amenable to change. Therefore, it is important that we do our bit to help prepare children  to shoulder not only onerous responsibilities but also the baggage we leave behind.

Dr. Jayaprakash Narayan inaugurates

The least that we can to do for our future generations is to allow them to grow and mature as free-thinking, independent, questioning, objective, fair, non-discriminating, ethical, rational, confident, and fearless human beings. This would mean freedom from religious dogma. The one single act of faith and belief in God and religions, that humans in all societies through the ages have indulged in, has done the largest amount of damage to the cause of raising individuals described above by curbing the freedom of children. All religious dogmas are irrational, unscientific, and without any evidence. They promote and encourage just the opposite of what has been described as the qualities we want our future generations to have. All religions demand from its followers, be it children or adults, an unquestioning acceptance of everything they propagate, from lies and myths to distortions and superstitions, thereby killing the spirit of enquiry that children are naturally endowed with. Religions dictate all of this by instilling a sense of fear and guilt,  through lies of rewards and punishments. Total conformity and unquestioning obedience to all kinds of irrationalities is what is expected from children by all religions. Religions have been known to afflict totally needless and avoidable physical pain on young children, and to deny them basic human rights. The belief in an omnipresent and omniscient protector who has grand plans and in whose hands all living beings are pawns, only promotes inaction and fatalism. Far from promoting integrity, religions begin by teaching how to bribe Gods for undue favours, or seek non-existent short-cuts in place of hardwork. Therefore, what good have religions done for children? One only has to look at history to see what bad they have done. Besides we know that not only is ethics not the exclusive domain of religions, but we also know that religions are neither necessary nor sufficient to promote ethical behaviour. The question, therefore, is why the need to subject children to religion.

No one is born with a religion. It is thrust upon a newborn based on the circumstances of birth. Why should one not be given the freedom of informed choice between belief and non-belief, or between religions?

A book by Mr. Bhimmana, Rationalist Magition was released

Such freedom will never be granted by society, for the stakes are too high for those with vested interests. Such freedom will need to be wrested by individuals who become capable of doing so through education and through learning the method that science uses. The scientific method teaches one to observe carefully, to question, to make hypotheses and to test each one of them with rigour and honesty, and then be prepared to accept the answer that emerges, whether one likes it or not. This rational and logical method can be applied to everything we do in life. It is a tool that not only helps one find answers to questions, but also to make informed choices, and to fight discrimination, exploitation, superstitions, and all social evils. Let us bring freedom to our children through training a rational and logical mind. Let us rescue them from the shackles of blind belief.

Earlier Mr. C L N Gandhi, president rationalist association of Hyderabad welcomed.

Dr N. Innaiah, chairman of CFI India presided over the conference.

During the session two rationalist magicians Mr. Vikram and Mr. Bhimanna performed various miracles and magic items while explaining how to think critically and rationally on issues. That was main highlight of the conference.

Bhimmanna, Rationalist Magician performing Magic and Miracle

Dr. Jayaprakash Narayan deplored that while we are progressing into 21st century, mentally we are still suffering with 18th century beliefs and superstitions. He appealed that people should admire the wonders of nature and appreciate with awe the beauties of cosmos. He asked people to study the failures of technology in developing rationality.

Mr. Ravi Prakash wanted onslaught on alternative medicines, psuedo scientific beliefs like astrology, geomancy and cults.

Presiding over the conference Dr N. Innaiah wanted to educate the parents not to impose their religion on their children as soon as they are born. He said that religion should not be made heriditary property.

In the second session Prof Krishna Kumar Alapati from USA gave special lecture on the role of media in recent elections of USA 2008. He said:

Special Talk on Media in USA - During elections:

Following the first session Dr. Innaiah, President of CFI introduced Dr. A. Krishna Kumaran, emeritus professor Marquette University, Milwauke, Wisconsin, USA to speak on Elections and Media in the USA with special reference to the 2008 Presidential election cycle.

Dr. Kumaran began his talk with a brief comparison of the elected positions, media and the voters in the USA and in India. In the US the number and range of elected positions is much greater than in India. For example people directly elect not only the president, the senate and House of representatives of the country and the legislators of the states comparable to the Parliament and state legislators here but also the governors of the states, justices of state high courts, executives of the counties (equivalent to Mandals or zilla parishads), Mayors of cities and towns as well as heads of police forces in the counties, towns and cities as well as members of the corresponding councils.

Even members of the school boards in counties and towns and cities are also elected  But more importantly these elected  officers have powers to tax, prepare budgets and supervise execution of the projects undertaken by these units. Thus the elected positions affect all aspects of civic life.

Professor Krishna Kumar, Emerites Professor USA, Special Talk on Role of Media in Recent Elections in USA

Then the speaker described the conditions of media that is, press, radio and television in the USA. In USA each town,  county and major cities have their own news papers.  Often these news papers are independently and locally owned, although some groups of these papers are owned by corporations. All the same these news papers give special coverage
to local problems in addition to the national news. Similarly there are several Radio and Television stations that are located in small towns owned locally or by National chains such as CBS, NBC, ABC and Fox which are all owned by mega corporations. All radio and television stations that broadcast using broad band width licensed from the Government are required to maintain local news reporters and must cover local news at least three to four times a day usually about half an hour each time. Thus local citizens are fully informed of local problems as well as national problems Dr. Kumaran emphasized that the citizens are very much engaged in the political system. The citizens take keen interest in failures and successes of the administration seriously and immediately complain about the failures.

A venue for these complaints is provided by the media. The speaker explained the popularity of talk shows on Radio and television stations. Almost every day several hours of Radio time is used for talk shows, and in these talk shows citizens talk of the successes and failures of the current policies and execution of the projects. The elected officials are accountable for the success and failure and their reelection is very much dependent on the quality of the service provided by the administration.

Turning to the 2008 election cycle Kumaran explained that media take very seriously their role as the Guardian of democracy.

The media consider informing the public and serving as a watch dog of administration as their dual responsibilities. In reality  the media take these responsibilities or duties very seriously. He then gave a few examples from the past presidential cycles.

A candidate plagiarizing  a speech by the British Labour leader, Neil Kinnock was exposed with the result his candidature ended.  

Similarly  exposure of sexual escapades by another candidate who was preaching honesty and truthfulness ended his efforts.

In 2008 as in all elections Media showed fairly evenly. They may appear to favour some candidates and ignore some others.

Early in this election cycle Press and broadcast media gave front runner status to Hillary Clinton, John Edwards and Barack Obama  in that order in the democratic party primaries ignoring the other five declared candidates. They justified their anointing these  candidates as front runners based on the amount of money they raised in the case of Clinton and Obama and the past  Vice-Presidential nomination of Edwards.

Once Obama won the Iowa caucuses and Hillary Clinton New Hampshire primary these two were regarded as the front runners and others dropped out of contest or were ignored. Now tough questions followed with a view to elicit their policy positions and inform the public of the strengths and weaknesses of the two candidates. Questions such as to who was elected as President of Russian federation, whether Clinton was saying the truth when she said she had to duck under gun fire on her visit to Bosnia damaged her candidacy. Similarly questions about the relationship between Obama and Reverend Wright an activist priest of large Chicago Church and his association with a 1960's weather underground radical group member had some negative effect on his candidature.

Kumaran then continued with the Republican primaries and the media role. Initially Maccain was ignored by the media probably because of his 2000 election cycle failure. Media considered Guiliani, Romney and Ron Paul, again based on  fund raising abilities. With a win in Iowa caucus Huckabee became a front runner along with Guiliani and Romney. With Maccain's  win in New Hampshire he was included in the front runner group. He was able to raise more money and his nomination was  almost guaranteed by his win in South Carolina primary. south Carolina foiled his attempts in 2000. After South Carolina primary the Media started extolled his Vietnam veteran status, non-dogmatic conservatism and his more rational approach.

But MaCain was criticized for lack of knowledge about economy, his antics when economic rescue bill was introduced.

Most critical was his selection of a conservative Sarah Palin as a running mate. In light of his criticism that Obama does not have enough administrative or legislative experience his selection of some one even less experienced was seriously questioned  by the media.

Finally Dr. Kumaran reported on two surveys by Harvard and George Mason Universities on Media bias for or against the Candidates in the 2008 election cycle. The interesting point was that the two surveys had different results. One survey found that Obama was favoured (68% Harvard survey) and the other found Obama had a negative media bias (72%  George Mason).

In conclusion it is difficult to assess whether the media were favourably or unfavourably reporting on candidates;

Presiding over the session Mr. Ashok Tankasala, editor of Vaartha Telugu daily opined that liberal philosophy in USA gave opportunity to media to  perform freely.

Dr. Vijayam from atheist center enthused the participants to assert themselves as free thinkers and advised to get rid of the minority feeling. He emphatically said that religions are losing their grip in Europe which must be taken as good sign of progress.

Mr. T V Rao from Jana Vignana Vedika , a NGO organisation condemned cult gurus for spoiling the gullible public in the name of Yoga.

Mrs. Swarajya Lakshmi from Manava Vikasam, another NGO organisation wanted women to play key role in educating the children on scientific lines.

Nandita, read out messages from CFI  leaders.

Mr. Chandrasekhar thanked the participants for making the conference a success.
Rationalist association colloborated with CFI in organising the conference.

During the conference  a book written by Mr, Bhimanna was released. It consists of rationalist stories with life experiences.