It is with immense pain that I share the demise of my father, Goparaju Vijayam, second son of Gora and Saraswathi Gora, well known social reformers of India, a professor in political science, constitutional authority, peace and environmental activist, an atheist and a humanist leader, a humanitarian practitioner, has succumbed to Alzheimer’s and passed away on May 22, 2020, at 5 a.m., at Atheist Centre, Vijayawada, AP, India. He was 84.
He was born on December 1, 1936 in Machilipatnam, Krishna District, Andhra Pradesh. He travelled extensively around the world and was instrumental in strengthening the humanist and atheist movements, secular social work, critical thinking and free inquiry in India and globally.
Vijayam’s contribution to peace and conflict resolution, Gandhian studies, non-violence, social development and civil society movement have left a unique footprint. He has done a great deal of research in many fields and made original contributions to human rights, environmental protection, development strategies, Gandhian constructive programmes, disaster management, civil society movement, political science, science and scientific outlook, to name a few.
Goparaju Vijayam is the Executive Director of Atheist Centre, Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh, India, founded by his parents Gora and Saraswathi Gora in 1940. Vijayam has been actively associated with the activities of atheism, humanism, rationalism and promotion of scientific temper for over six decades.
Vijayam undertook his schooling at Mudunuru and Patamata Board School, Vijayawada. Vijayam, went on to join the SRR-CVR College of Vijayawada to undertake his Bachelors in History, Economics and Politics. Vijayam earned his Master of Arts in Political Science from Andhra University, Visakhapatnam in 1961-63. He was also a researcher and then a lecturer at Andhra University, Waltair before going to the United States.
Vijayam married Sumathi in a ‘harijan basti’, (so-called the then, untouchables hamlet) currently Varalaxminagar, Vijayawada on June 6, 1966. The marriage was a social function with no rituals and in the presence of Mr. Narla Venkateswararao, a popular journalist, with vegetable garlands, casteless dining, involving communities from the lowest rung of the social ladder. Sumathi (July 23, 1941-November 17, 2013) was a double Masters in Sociology and Political Science and a Botanist. She dedicated her life as a teacher at the Vasavya Vidyalayam, an experimental school started by Mythri and Hemalatha Lavanam.
Sumathi taught Sciences, Botany and General Knowledge to 6th-10th Class students from 1965-1978. As a strong believer in education to create a culture of rational thought and reform, she has contributed towards the rational discourse in Atheist and Nasthik Margam magazines of Atheist Centre, along with her husband, Vijayam. She was actively involved in building public awareness through taking science to the villages and youth. She was actively involved in Balwadi Teachers Training Programmes supported by Save the Children’s Fund, Environmental awareness for school teachers through Centre for Environment Education and magic training and miracle exposure campaigns, along with well-known magician and anti-miracle campaigner, P. Premanand. She was a Board Member of Vasavya Mahila Mandali of Atheist Centre.
Along with Vijayam, Sumathi was closely associated with the works of Gora Science Centre and its environmental awareness campaigns with teachers. Vijayam and Sumathi had discourses with world renowned personalities such as Prof. Paul Kurtz, H. Narasimhaiah, Sir. Hermann Bondi, Jim Herrick, Levi Fragell etc., and other humanists, atheists, scientists and social reformers from India and abroad. Sumathi wrote two books in Telugu language titled, Atteta Sektula Bandaram (Exposing the so-called miracles) and Punarjanma Kattukadhalu (Hoaxes of the stories of rebirth) and both them published hundreds of articles on various topics and co-authored Souvenirs of World Atheist Conferences.
Life in the United States
In 1968, Vijayam went to the Martin Luther King School of Social Change, Chester, Pennsylvania. He studied the problems of minorities, black communities and the relevance of nonviolent social change and Gandhian Movement. In 1969, he was a Research Assistant at the University of Delaware and taught political science, political theory and Constitutions. He earned his second Masters in Political Science from The University of Delaware in 1970.
He received a prestigious fellowship from the Institute of International Education, United National Plaza, New York in 1969, to study the urban community problems in New York City and how the community organizations are helping in addressing race driven conflicts and issues of unwed mothers. He undertook detailed research on the then second most poverty stricken district in the US, Bushwick in Brocklin.
He was a research scholar at the Centre for Nonviolent Conflict Resolution, Haverford College, Pennsylvania in 1970, and undertook research on nonviolent struggles in Asia, Africa and Latin America. He published research on ‘How nonviolent struggles in the emergence of Bangladesh are viewed by Pakistani Press and people?’ which received wide acclaim.
Return to India
Upon his return to India in 1971, Vijayam took up the role as the Director of Research at the Gandhi Peace Foundation, New Delhi for 5 years. He was instrumental in setting up a robust research wing focusing on nonviolent struggles in post independent India, politicization of Sathyagraha and worked on the electoral reforms with Jaya Prakash Narayana (JP) in New Delhi. He facilitated hundreds of seminars and published various articles on nonviolence, constructive programmes, rural development, civil society movement and conflict resolution.
In 1975, Vijayam was awarded a Ph.D. in Political Science from Andhra University. His thesis was on ‘Directive Principles of State Policy in the Indian Political System’ and was adjudged as the best in the social sciences and he was awarded Sir Raghupati Venkataratnam Research Medal.
After the demise of Gora in 1975, Vijayam returned to Vijayawada to continue the activities of the Atheist Centre. As the Director of Training, Arthik Samata Mandal, a Gandhian organization founded by Gora and JC Kumarappa, which involved in comprehensive rural development in over 150 villages. He led the Integrated Rural Development Training Programme (IRDP) which trained hundreds of young social workers and was instrumental in influencing the setting up of many civil society organizations in India.
Since 1977, Vijayam has been editor of Atheist, English monthly, published from 1969, from Atheist Centre, Vijayawada. He is author of six books and has written more than 1000 articles in English, Telugu and Hindi on atheism, non-violent social change and developmental issues. He also contributed two articles on Gora and on Unbelief in Developing Countries in the Encyclopedia of Unbelief, which was published in the United States of America in 2007.
He edited a number of Voluminous and Informative Souvenirs on atheism, rationalism, humanism and social change in English, including the Souvenirs of the ‘II World Atheist Conference’, 1972; ‘Fourth World Atheist Conference 1996’; ‘Fifth World Atheist Conference 2005’; ‘Sixth World Atheist Conference 2007’ and ‘Seventh World Atheist Conference in 2009’. He also edited Souvenirs of ‘Gora’s 10th Death Anniversary International Conference’, 1985; ‘The Golden Jubilee of Atheist Centre’, 1990; ‘Atheist Centre 50+’, Dec. 1990; ‘Gora’s 90th Birth Anniversary International Conference’ 1992; ‘Gora Birth Centenary International Conference’, 2002.
Vijayam also contributed a number of articles in International journals, including in the Special Issue of the International Humanist on the occasion of the 40th Anniversary of Humanists International, Amsterdam 1992; Commemorative Volume of the Humanists International International Congress in Mumbai in 1999. His articles have been translated into different languages of the World.
He also contributed articles and chapters in books. In Darwin’s Bi-Centenary he contributed an article on ‘Darwin and India’, which was translated and published in the German language. He also contributed a Chapter in Modern Andhra History on ‘Atheism in Andhra’ published by Andhra Pradesh History Congress, Government of Andhra Pradesh.
For three years he contributed articles in Visalandhra Daily, on the Nobel Laureates and scientists, who strove incessantly for promotion of science, scientific outlook and critical thinking. Prajasakthi Book House, Andhra Pradesh published them in the form of a book.
He presented a number of papers in national and International Conferences on atheism, humanism, rationalism, nonviolence, conflict resolution, Gandhism, ecology and environment, natural disaster preparedness and social and political reform.
Contribution to Environment and Disaster Preparedness:
For over 40 years, Vijayam was actively involved in the promotion of environment awareness. He was invited to the World Environment Conference hosted by the French Government held in Paris in December 1991. The Global Conference on Environment was a prelude to the Earth Summit at Rio De Janerio in 1992. He participated in the World Humanist Congress held in Amsterdam in 1992 and chaired a session on Environment.
He is actively involved in disaster preparedness for over 40 years, right from 1977 cyclone and tidal wave in Divi Taluk in Krishna District, in disaster relief and rehabilitation activities in the successive cyclones and floods. He facilitated training programmes, workshops and seminars and contributed articles on disaster management and the role of governments, civil society and community level preparedness.
Vijayam, Lavanam, Hemalatha, Samaram and Veeraiah have become the stalwarts of infusing a culture of disaster preparedness. He used Radio and Newspapers through talks and discussions on environmental and disaster preparedness aspects. Vijayam worked in close collaboration with international organizations such as Save the Children since 1977, Oxfam, Action Aid, Plan India, Caritas to name a few. He, along with brothers Niyanta and Samaram, together have been instrumental in strengthening Gora Science Centre as a pioneer organization, in popularization of science and scientific outlook through Environment and Science Exhibitions held at Atheist Centre for over 60 years and reached out to millions of youth and children to strengthen scientific temper and spirit of inquiry.
Vijayam’ international, inter-disciplinary and multicultural experience has made him to be associated with various organizations and movements across the country. From 1981-2000, he was the Member of the Governing Body of Gandhi Peace Foundation, New Delhi. He was the Executive Committee Member of All India Radio, Vijayawada. He was associated with the Lok Satta People’s Movement as the District President, Krishna District and District Election Officer for Lok Satta in 2013. He was the Academic Council Member, Maris Stella College, Vijayawada from 2005-2011. He was also a Member, Non Violent Research Centre, New Delhi. He was the Member Advisory Committee for National Service Scheme (NSS) for NTR University of Health Sciences and Nagarjuna University, Vijayawada. He has been the Member of the CFO Committee at Zonal Office of the Pollution Control Board, Government of Andhra Pradesh, Vijayawada from 2004, till date.
Vijayam toured extensively in USA, Canada, France, Sri Lanka, U.K., Germany, Holland, Nepal and Mexico, Germany, Hungary and participated in national and international seminars on environment, Gandhi, social change, rural development, human rights, atheism and humanism.
Atheist and Humanist Movement
Inspired by his parents, Vijayam was brought up in a rationalist and atheistic environment. He was encouraged to question and deep dive. He participated and led various atheist and humanist campaigns and meetings from a young age. He facilitated the performance of inter-caste, casteless and inter-religious and religionless marriages through the promotion of Special Marriage Act. He was the Patron of Federation of Indian Rationalists Association (FIRA), an all India Body of rationalists, atheists, humanists and freethinkers led by Prof. Narendra Nayak. He was instrumental in organizing many national and international World Atheist Conferences and atheist study camps along with the Gora family.
Vijayam has been closely associated with the organization of all the World Atheist Conferences at Atheist Centre as a Convener, since 1972. The first World Atheist Conference was held in 1972 in Vijayawada, Second in 1980 in Vijayawada, third in 1983 in Helsinki, Finland, fourth in 1996 in Vijayawada, fifth in 2005 in Vijayawada, sixth in 2007 in Vijayawada, seventh in 2009 in Vijayawada. Along with Dr. K. Veeramani of DK, Vijayam is the co-convener of the 8th World Atheist Conference at Tiruchirapally in Tamilnad, January 7-9, 2011. The ninth in 2016 in Vijayawada and the tenth at Tiruchirapally in Tamilnad. The 80 years of Atheist Conference January 2020 was held at Atheist Centre, Vijayawada.
He spoke at the World Humanist Congress in Washington DC in June 2008, World Humanist Congress held at Amsterdam in 1992, Mexico City in 1996 and Mumbai in 1999, Norway in 2011 and Oxford, UK in 2014. He toured extensively in the U.S., on speaking engagements organized by American Humanist Association, Centre for Inquiry and other Secular organizations and contributed to the discourses.
He also spoke at the World Humanist Congress on ‘Secularism and the threat of intolerance’, held in Mexico City in 1996. He also participated in a ten-day International Consultation on ‘Tribals in Asia’, held at Coady International Institute, St. Francis Xavier University, Canada in 1989. Coady International Institute conducted many social development training in Vijayawada in collaboration with Arthik Samata Mandal.
Vijayam along with his brother, Lavanam, were instrumental in building global discourse on atheism and humanism and bringing stalwarts such as Sir Hermann Bondi, British Humanist Association, Levi Fragell, Norwegian Humanist Association and representatives from American, Finland, German, French, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand etc., Associations to Atheist Centre and contributed towards building a global movement. In India, Vijayam contributed towards bringing various associations together to collectively voice the need for critical thinking, free inquiry and secular education through meetings at multiple levels.
He significantly contributed towards the fight against superstitions and obscurantism through the Anti-Superstition Bill.
Vijayam was part of various paranormal claims investigations, witchcraft and sorcery and other godmen and godwomen investigations, along with his brothers, Lavanam, Samaram and Niyanta.
Along with Lavanam and Hemalatha, he participated in Unity Marches, Peace Marches, Communal Harmony Marches, inter-religious and inter-caste discourses, criminal reformation work in Stuartpuram, jogini (remnant of Devadasi system) reformation, rehabilitation of the extremist groups to put down their arms and take up nonviolent livelihood options, revival of Indian literature through Gurram Joshua Foundation by recognizing well known poets and writers in India.
Advocacy for secular reform
As a Constitutional Authority, Vijayam, along with his sister, Chennupati Vidya, former Member of Parliament of India, was instrumental in drafting the historical Resolution in Lok Sabha (House of People) on the Necessity to Strengthen Secularism which was passed on April 23, 1982. Vidya presented the resolution in the Parliament, which was chaired by Mr. G. Lakshmanan, Deputy Speaker and a rationalist leader.
He was also instrumental along with his sister, Vidya to introduce a Bill in the Indian Parliament for a ‘Casteless and Religionless society’ on July 29, 1983. It is to remind that the Indian Nationalism is essentially secular, and it is opposed to communal sectarianism. The bill for the promotion of a casteless and religionless society was introduced for the first time in the Indian Parliament. The Aims and Objects of the Bill was that divisive factors like caste and religion were standing in the way of national integration and there is a need to protect secularism which is the cornerstone of the Indian Constitution.
Secular Social Work
Vijayam’s philosophical roots and practical social action were extremely strong. He coined the word, ‘Secular Social Work’ to highlight how social work is beyond religions and is a social responsibility of the society to work with people, irrespective of their parochial considerations. He always maintained that we need to strengthen what binds us together, so that the borders of what divides us, can be blurred and eliminated.
He has contributed his entire life to further strengthen Atheist Centre’s secular social work organizations, Arthik Samata Mandal, Vasavya Mahila Mandali and Samskar. All these organizations have been instrumental in reaching to the poor and the most marginalized children, women and communities across the country for over four decades and committed towards social reform.
The entire Gora Family has been in the forefront of social reform in the country and immensely contributed towards nation building and global development for over 80 years.
Vijayam’s life was dedicated towards building social movements, strengthening civil society, creating a culture of disaster preparedness and environmental consciousness, strengthening secular ramparts we guard and was always a strong advocate for human rights and the constitutional responsibility to protect.
Vijayam is currently survived by me, his son Vikas Gora, a Rotary World Peace Fellow and working as Deputy Director South India in Save the Children, world’s oldest child rights organization. Vikas has been involved in the atheist and humanist movement from a young age. He also co-led the World Atheist Conferences and was the First Vice President of Young Humanists International. His daughter-in-law Audi Harini is an anthropologist by profession and works in prosocial development of children. His grandson Saujas Gora is 12 years old and grand-daughter Sahasra Gora is 8 years old. He is survived by his brother, Dr. G. Samaram, Niyanta and sisters, Manorama, Dr. Maru and Nau Gora and the entire Gora Family.