Sad news from India today. Basava Premanand, founder of the Indian Sceptics, has died after a long battle with cancer. Premanand spent the past 35 years, fighting gurus and godmen in India, going into villages and duplicating their alleged miracles with his amateur magician skills to show them as the charlatans that they are.
Premanand also founded the Federation of Indian Rationalist Associations, which tours the villages of India to educate people by debunking gurus and fakirs who they consider either frauds or self deceived. He also founded Indian CSICOP and published the monthly magazine, The Indian Skeptic, which publishes articles on the scientific investigation of apparently paranormal occurrences with a special emphasis on cases from India. He also ran a JREF-style paranormal challenge where he offered Rs. 100,000 (about US $2,000) to anyone who could prove paranormal powers under scientific conditions.
Most famously, Premanand went after Satya Sai Baba (who I have written about before) for many years. Sai Baba is very influential in India and Premanand had a lot of fallout from his attacks but it never stopped him. One of my favorite stories of his efforts: Sai Baba would supposedly produce gold out of think air. Premanand sued him for violation of the Gold Control Act for Sathya Sai Baba’s materializations of gold objects.
The Act imposes restrictions on the”manufacture, possession, sale and transfer of gold” and since Sai Baba was “creating” the gold, Premanand said he should be subject to the appropriate tarrifs. Unfortunately, the case was dismissed, but Premanand appealed on the ground that spiritual power is not a legal defense.
He will be sorely missed.