Atheist Centre 1940-1990 Golden Jubilee
International Conference Souvenir
Vijayawada, February 3, 4, and 5, 1990
[OCR, Tim Sullivan; HTML, editing, Cliff Walker]
Why and Whither Atheism
G. S. Rao
Gora's philosophy and practical outlook on life were atheistic. They had nothing to do with god, soul heaven and hell and rebirth. His concern was with this world and life here. As every place, person or thing should have a name to indicate its identity and its distinction from others, Gora called his philosophy atheism and himself an atheist. It had nothing to do with any religion as such and it was neither religion in the accepted sense of the word.
Gora was highly respected by all sections of people, even theists. As he practised what he professed, even at the risk of resigning his job as a lecturer in Botany in Hindu College, Machilipatnam, he was held in high esteem. Some well-meaning theists went to the extent of calling him a real "theist" and other theists "atheists, as there was a vast divergence in what they professed and what they practised. Some friends, admirers, and even those who disagreed with him but had a soft corner for him in their hearts advised him not to call his philosophy atheism and himself an atheist. But all this criticism, favourable or adverse, was a matter which was much in discussion fifty or sixty years ago.
In spite of all this criticism, Gora was very definite and assertive and insisted on the word "atheism". So when he set up a rural centre of constructive activities at Mudunur in 1940, he called it Atheist Centre which was later transferred to Patamata, Vijayawada in 1947.
Gora held the view very strongly that without god, men would live in peace and achieve progress and happiness and that, especially in India, Hindu belief in rebirth and caste should be fought against to eradicate untouchability and poverty. He had a global vision and so invented the greeting "Jai Insaan" (Hail Human) and weighed the pros and cons of Several human problems, national and international. First he had to deliver lectures to people belonging to different sections, from slums to towns. His first book in Telugu "Nasthikatvam" (Atheism) was the first of its kind and brought publicity to his ideas on atheism.
With the aim of enlarging the sphere of his activities he came to Vijayawada and set up a printing press with the help of fellow atheists and of friends. He started a weekly in Telugu on atheism "Sangham" society. Below the title he added "Atheist Weekly". It created an uproar. Some progressive-minded people read it with avidity and enthusiasm, whereas some others refused to see it even, for the word "atheist" wounded their sensibilities. Gora was patient and perseverant and propagated atheism as a corrective of and alternative to the evils of theism. After a few years he changed "Sangham" to "Arthik Samata" (Economic Equality) as he wanted to propagate his views on economic equality with reference to democracy, socialism, communism, secularism, Gandhism and freedom. "The Atheist" an English monthly was started by him, in 1969 to propagate atheism and his views on men and matters in India and abroad.
Gora could work with different sections of people. He had only friends and no foes. His programmes were broad-based. Many inter-caste marriages and cosmopolitan dinners were conducted at Atheist Centre. It became the hub of multifarious activities. Many men and women came there to seek his advice on matters of marriage, divorce, employment and so on. He shunned no problem. Unwed mothers, widows, deserted women and women with social problems came to seek shelter at the Atheist Centre They revered Gora as a friend, philosopher, nurse and guide. He lived a full, rich (not in the sense of amassing riches but serving others) life.
Atheist Centre was a place wherefrom originated many movements. Fighting superstitions, performing marriages between several castes and religions, footmarches, movements for partyless democracy and against pomp, pressuring the ministers to travel in the common class by train and to reduce their high salaries and protest marches and other activities kept the Atheist Centre in the mainstream of national life.
Gora's and Lavanam's foreign tours established strong friendly and abiding contacts between the Atheist Centre and Humanist. Rationalist, Secular and Free thought organisations in different parts of the world. Gora did not want to start a party. His main aim was to start atheist movement and other movements also to awaken public opinion and to create consciousness among the people to fight for economic equality, social justice, freedom and democracy. His fight was mainly directed against religion, caste and party, His movements aroused moral support and sympathy. Considering the political and social environment in the country in which he lived and worked, his movements and campaigns were idealistic in character to tone up debased and degraded political morality.
His contacts with Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Vinoba Bhave, Jai Prakash Narain, J. B. Kripalani, Prakasam and other national leaders and stalwarts of the freedom movement, rationalist and atheist leaders like M.N. Roy and Periyar E. Ramaswami and many others in political and social fields brought respect and recognition to atheism and the activities of the Atheist Centre.
Since his demise in 1975, Atheist Centre has expanded its activities in rural reconstruction, welfare of women and children, eradication of caste, fighting superstitions, medical help and other programmes for social change. It has established other centres for the spread of its activities and programmes. It has won international recognition. Foreign visitors come to the Atheist Centre to establish friendly contacts, renew them and keep them abiding. The award by the International Humanist and Ethical Union to the Atheist Centre in 1986 is a symbol of this friendship and recognition.
Gora is no more but in the benign presence of Saraswati Gora and under the dynamic leadership of Lavanam, Atheist Centre has made rapid strides in enlarging the scope and sphere of its activities. Gora might not have visualised the Golden Jubilee celebrations of the Atheist Centre. But it has come. May the Atheist Centre march on.