Tribute to Dr Vijayam, renowned humanist and Executive Director, Atheist Center, Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh.
Dr Goparaju Vijayam or popularly known as Dr Vijayam, passed away, in the morning today at his home at the Atheist Center in Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh. The loss is tremendous as far as the humanist movement in India is a concern as Vijayam Garu was one of the pioneers. He was also the Executive Director of Atheist Center founded eighty years back by his illustrious parents Gora and Saraswathi Gora in 1940. He was 84 years old and suffering from Alzheimer and passed away early in the morning at around 5 am on May 22nd, 2020.
Atheist Center in Vijayawada became internationally known for its humanitarian work through a humanist perspective.
The Goras had worked extensively in Andhra Pradesh against social evils which included not merely exposing miracles and inculcating scientific thinking and spirit of inquiry among the common people but also worked to eradicate caste system through inter-caste marriages and inter dining. It is not that they were encouraging others to do. The entire family has mixed marriages among various communities including the Dalits. And this happened not today but long back in the early fifties and sixties. Vijayam Garu was well-read and deeply committed to the cause of humanism and rationalism. After completing his Master of Arts in Political Science from Andhra University, Visakhapatnam in 1961-63 he taught at Andhra University, Waltair before going to the United States.
His wife Sumathi stood with him through thick and thin and complimented him ideologically. An educationist, she also helped in building a rational humanist discourse through two magazines started by the atheist Center namely Atheist and Nasthik Margam. She was actively involved in building public awareness through taking science to the villages and youth. Both were deeply involved in not merely humanism and science promotion but also the issues of Joginis, who were basically Devdasis and living miserable life.
Mr Vijayam went to the Martin Luther King School of Social Change, Chester, Pennsylvania and studied the problems of minorities, black communities and the relevance of nonviolent social change.
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 was also associated with the Gandhi Peace Foundation in Delhi as the Director of Research.
He took over the charge of Atheist Center after the death of his father Gora. and also worked 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.
Mr Vijayam was the editor of Atheist, English monthly, published from Atheist Centre, Vijayawada since 1977. He authored six books and wrote more than 1000 articles in English, Telugu and Hindi on atheism, non-violent social change and developmental issues.
His actively promoted and encouraged developmental work through the perspective of humanism and atheism. I participated in a panel discussion during the World Humanist Congress held in Amsterdam in 1992 on the issue of humanism in social action. Many of the participants felt that humanism was a philosophy and has nothing to do with developmental work but Mr Vijayam supported it wholeheartedly. In fact, the world of Atheist Center is an example for all the developmental organization to work in social life with a secular approach. For over 40 years, Dr Vijayam was actively involved in the promotion of environmental awareness. He was invited to the World Environment Conference hosted by the French Government held in Paris in December 1991.
The atheist centre in Vijayawada is known and acknowledged for hosting World Atheist Conferences since 1972. In fact, he has been the main force behind organizing these events and getting connected to international participation. While his brother Lavanam too had been very active in public life, it was Vijayam who ensured that the event is organized and planned meticulously. Of course, the entire Gora family and relations get involved in organizing the event and ensure it is done successfully. Their personal touch has made the place a centre for many humanist activists who visit atheist centre from faraway places right from Punjab, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Odisha, Maharashtra, as well as nearby states of Tamilnadu, Kerala and Telangana. Since then, Atheist Center has organized eleven world atheist conferences in which a large number of people from not only India but also different parts of the world participated.
The 80 years of Atheist Center along with 11th World Atheist Conference was organized on 4-5th January 2020 at Atheist Centre, Vijayawada. A large number of activists, intellectuals participated in it. The issue of Citizenship Act was raised powerfully by many of the speakers. Vijayam ji was not in good health yet he was very active and wanted to participate in various conferences. As usual, he would first ask about whether we have got a place to stay or had our breakfast or tea. He used to take care of each participant and a very warm host. My personal association with him started since September 2002 when I came to participate in a conference organized by the Andhra Pradesh Rationalist Association’s annual event at Kakinada and Vijayam ji had translated my speech. After that we started interacting regularly and I was astonished to see the groundwork of Nastik Kendram in Vijaywada. The interesting part is that the entire family or extended family is completely dedicated to the cause of atheism. By that time, I was still unable to comprehend why the developmental agenda is not truly secular or humanist in nature. Once, I saw the work being done by the Atheist Center and various organization started by the Gora family, I realized it can be done and is important. We don’t have to agree on everything but I realized one thing that despite differences, I got the opportunity to speak at these platforms.
Our condolences are with Atheist Center and Gora family. Humanist family has lost a stalwart and his presence will be deeply missed in the coming days particularly whenever we will visit the centre and participate in future World Atheists Conferences but we are sure that the show will go on for which he dedicated his life.
By Vidya Bhushan Rawat