Humanism in India

By Cherry, Matt | Free Inquiry, Fall 1996 | Go to article overview

Humanism in India

Cherry, Matt, Free Inquiry

India is an overwhelming experience. The crowds, the color, the beauty, and the poverty enthrall and exhaust a visitor. The subcontinent of more than 900 million people is full of exotic sights and startling contrasts: sacred cows in the middle of eight-lane traffic jams; the gorgeous saris and jewelry worn even by street-dwellers; pilgrims ritually purifying themselves in a sacred river as it flows out of a hydroelectric dam; color televisions in rural mud-huts. One striking contrast is that India is a country saturated by religions - Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, Sikhism, Christianity, Zoroastrianism - but is also the home of the largest and most active humanist movement in the world.

I was in India to visit its humanist groups and to gain firsthand knowledge of their internationally renowned development projects and social welfare programs. The International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) was holding its annual board meeting in Bombay on January 1 and 2, 1996, and several Indian humanist groups organized international conferences to coincide with this event.

Practical Humanism

The first conference I attended was organized by the Indian Radical Humanists, who also hosted the IHEU Board meeting. (The religious right in the United States may be interested to hear that the leaders of the international humanist movement were transported to their board meeting in a mobile abortion clinic.) The theme was "Integrated Human Development in South Asia," and the venue was the remarkable new Radical Humanist headquarters in Bombay, the M. N. Roy Human Development Campus. When completed in 1997, the four-story campus building will have over 200,000 square feet of floor space. It will house a women's welfare center, health clinics, conference halls, libraries, educational facilities, a hostel, an arts center, and much else besides. Part of it will become the South Asian Humanist Centre, dedicated to advancing humanism throughout the region.

The inspiration behind this magnificent center is Dr. Indumati Parikh, president of the Indian Radical Humanists. In the early 1960s Dr. Parikh moved to live in one of the worst slums in Bombay. She set up a medical center there to bring health care and basic social services to the inhabitants of the shacks and tents. She still works in the slum, but she now has over 100 co-workers. These volunteers include some of the leading doctors in Bombay, along with many women from the slums. Dr. Parikh's operating area has over 100,000 people, but her influence reaches much further as many other aid and development agencies have learned from her methods.

Dr. Parikh's humanist approach to improving social conditions emphasizes education and empowerment. For example, she has promoted family planning by giving women the means and the confidence to control their fertility. Through health, hygiene, and education programs she has drastically reduced the rate of infant mortality. Now that parents can be confident that their children will live to adulthood, they are prepared to limit their family size to the number of children they are able to adequately support.

Practical development work is also carried out by the second humanist organization I visited - the Atheist Centre in Vijayawada in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh. The Atheist Center hosted a World Atheist Congress, entitled "Positive Atheism for a Positive Future." The title neatly captures the core idea of the Atheist Centre, which was founded in 1940 by the social activists Gora and Saraswathi - a husband-and-wife team who were colleagues of Mahatma Gandhi.

Conferences are usually held in specialized conference centers completely isolated from the day-to-day work and concerns of the organizers and participants. But the Atheist Congress was held in the midst of the Atheist Centre, near the modest living quarters of the workers and their school, hospital, and training center. These surroundings gave the conference a very practical focus and a warmer, more human atmosphere. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Humanism in India


Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

    New feature

    It is estimated that 1 in 10 people have dyslexia, and in an effort to make Questia easier to use for those people, we have added a new choice of font to the Reader. That font is called OpenDyslexic, and has been designed to help with some of the symptoms of dyslexia. For more information on this font, please visit

    To use OpenDyslexic, choose it from the Typeface list in Font settings.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search


    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.