Arrest of Shankaracharya of Kanchi - Insights

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Now that the Supreme Court has granted bail to the Shankaracharya it might be worthwhile to look back and analyze the sequence of events.

I was surprised to read about the arrest of the Kanchi seer. It has been a series of sensational stories thereafter. Whether the Seer is guilty or not the media, both print & electronic have convicted him, used the arrest to increase their circulation / television ratings. The article is divided into five parts namely Recapping events, Legal contradictions in arrest, Why does the Hindu refuse to get aroused, Bigger issues behind arrest, What is the way forward.

A. Recapping Events - Let us briefly recap the events not necessarily as they happened.

•Seer was arrested on Diwali and taken into custody for the alleged murder of a former Mutt employee.
• A couple of days before the fifteen-day custody was to end a second case for the assault of a former Mutt associate in September 2002 was filed.
• The Seer had now to seek bail in two cases. The intent seemed to be that he should be kept in custody anyhow.
• Next, mystery women Usha appeared from nowhere. People who cannot think of a man women relationship beyond sex raised doubts on the nature of the relationship between her and the Seer. Usha went to the police station and submitted her medical records to the police. Oh! we got to know that Usha was actually a cancer patient who got solace & financial help from the Mutt. So this sensation died a natural death.
• As this news was about to die down another women Anuradha Ramanan appeared on the scene. She claimed that the Seer made sexual advances towards her in 1992. Hey Ishwar! Why did it take her twelve years to reveal this to the world? From the Kanchi Mutt advertisement we got to know that she had, in 2003, attended a Mutt function for the opening of a hospital and believe it or not praised the Acharya. Hey Ram! If I were a women would I not instinctively run away from a man who attempted to molest me but!
• Next a news channel told us that the Seer had confessed to the crime in camera. My friend’s wife who gave me the news was crying! She asked, how could a man whom she revered so much be involved in a murder? Used to sensational reporting I asked her not to get swayed by media reports. But for her it was all over! She had mentally convicted the Seer.
• The coming Monday there were a slew of interviews on TV between political commentators and the Learned Legal Council. It was then that the aam aadmi or common man got to know that an alleged confession in police custody did not tantamount to evidence in Court. That did not prevent the confession from being reported by most news channels & papers. Obviously the police leaked the confession to the media. And so a trial by media began. Media reports indicate that an edited & dubbed version of the alleged confession was shown to a group of select journalist in Delhi.
• Meanwhile a BJP leader filed a petition in public interest litigation in the Supreme Court asking the apex court to order the case be transferred to the CBI. Media reports indicate that the Court dismissed his plea questioning his locus standi in the matter. In the Ayodhya case a Delhi based fruit vendor Aslam Bhure took the matter to the SC. Wonder why the court never questioned his locus standi? Why this contradiction?
• Unable to stop the media from sensational reporting the Mutt decided to come out with an advertisement in all-major national dailies. The advertisement was in the form of an FAQ where the Mutt responded to accusations being made in sections of the media. The State Council appeared on TV and took offence at the Mutt’s action saying the matter was sub-judice. If that was indeed the case the Tamil Nadu police need to explain how the alleged confession was leaked to the media. In a situation where the Media had assumed the role of the judiciary the Mutt’s advertisement was one of self-defence.
• After the Tamil Nadu courts rejected the Seer’s bail application the Seer has approached the Supreme Court. The case was heard on December 17 and will come up for a detailed hearing on January 6 2005.

The Tamil Nadu government seems determined to have the Seer convicted irrespective of whether he is guilty or not. Sections of the media have already convicted him and moved on to their next big story, the fight between the Ambani brothers.

Another interesting development is how the average person is responding to trial by the media. Subsequent to the Mutt advertisement a leading NRI Gutka manufacturer was forced to issue an advertisement clarifying his position after the media referred to his alleged underworld links.

After some initial protests by the VHP / Sadhus across the country there are few signs of visible protests. The average Hindu seems hurt and angry but is unable to take to the streets. On the other hand the arrest of a Muslim cleric in Hyderabad, Maulana Naseeruddin for his alleged involvement in the murder of former Gujarat minister Hiren Pandya drew large protests from local Muslims. Yet the arrest of a revered Hindu Seer has failed to stir the Hindu. The silence amazes me!

B. Legal contradictions in arrest
The Seer was denied bail by the local Kanchipuram court and the Madras HC. Different courts treat bail applications differently.

In the case of Teesta Setalvad, the Bombay High Court directed that three days notice be served before her arrest. The Kanchi Seer is given no such facility. Is Ms Setalvad more equal before law compared to the Kanchi Seer?

Journalists are special too! Arvind Lavakare wrote on the arrest of five journalists. http://in.rediff.com/news/2003/nov/18arvind.htm

7th November 2003 the Tamil Nadu legislative assembly accepted the findings of its Privileges Committee that the newspaper's editorial of 25th April 2003 affected the entire functioning of the assembly besides amounting to contempt of the House, and therefore sentenced the newspaper's editor, executive editor, publisher, chief of bureau and the writer of that editorial to 15 days simple imprisonment.

The Hindu very quickly challenged the legality of the TN assembly's decision in the Supreme Court. On 10th November,anyone scanning The Hindu editorials were confronted with 52 tea and sympathy letters to the editor --- probably a new one-day record for any newspaper. The second article on the edit page was axed for creating that record. And, on 10th November, the Supreme Court stayed the arrest the fivesome of The Hindu.”

A special court in Mumbai granted bail to Dr Abdul Mateen, the key accused in Ghatkopar Bomb Blasts case (two killed) because the public prosecutor Rohini Salian refused to carry on with the trial. (Times of India, December 15, 2004). Is this not an absurd reason for granting bail? Fortunately the State government appealed to the Bombay High Court who stayed his release. The Hindu community is silent though.

C. Why does the Hindu refuse to get aroused?
The average Hindu just refuses to get aroused when his dharmic sentiments are trampled upon. The question to ask is, Was he always like this and why have things come to such a pass?

Sri Aurobindo wrote in April 1908, “A certain class of minds shrinks from aggressiveness as if it were a sin. Their temperament forbids them to feel the delight of battle and they look on what they cannot understand as something monstrous and sinful. “Heal hate by love, drive out injustice by justice, slay sin by righteousness” is their cry. Love is a sacred name, but it is easier to speak of love than to love… The Gita is the best answer to those who shrink from battle as a sin and aggression as a lowering of morality.” (India’s Rebirth)

Like the Hindu of today is being attacked from all sides, Swami Vivekananda too was in a similar predicament when he visited Chicago for the Parliament of Religions in 1893. He wrote a letter in the Chicago Daily Tribune of 20/9/1893. "We who come from the East have sat here on the platform day after day and have been told in a patronizing way that we ought to accept Christianity because Christian nations are the most prosperous. We look at history and see that the prosperity of Christian Europe began with Spain. Spain’s prosperity began with the invasion of Mexico. Christianity wins its prosperity by cutting the throats of its fellowmen. At such a price Hindus will not have prosperity. I have sat here today and I have heard the height of intolerance. I have heard the creeds of the Muslims applauded, when today the Muslim sword is carrying the destruction into India. Blood and sword are not for the Hindu, whose religion is based on the laws of love".

Another reason is constant criticism by the media has made the average Hindu defensive about his religion, customs & tradition. A Hindu has the sole responsibility of keeping the country Secular (a much abused word that the Indian Constitution does not define). When his feelings are trampled upon or fellow Hindus killed in riots / blasts he is not supposed to protest. He is not expected to talk about the burning of Hindus in Godhra but must feel apologetic about the riots that followed in which a large number of Hindus were killed too. If he protests he is called as a Hindututvavadi, maligned as a Fascist. Hindus were blamed for the rape of Nuns at Jhabua, Madhya Pradesh even though the rapists were Christians themselves. The media continues to put Hindu leaders on the defensive on Gujarat even though it is nearly three years since Godhra/riots took place. Yet one has rarely seen them do that to Muslim leaders for the Mumbai blasts of 1993, 2002 Godhra or the massacre of pandits in Jammu & Kashmir. In fact they tend to play down Muslim violence and over hype Hindu reaction.

I think the average Hindu has ceased to question others who criticize him for e.g. the Pakis keep on criticizing India for not giving autonomy to the Jammu & Kashmir government and its human rights record in the state. Yet has the Indian government ever taken the battle into the enemy camp by questioning the Paki record in POK & Northern Areas? Raj Chengappa made an interesting point in the India Today issue of December 20, 2004. “Yet Azad Jammu & Kashmir’s azadi is a sham. While Hayat Khan purportedly heads the Government, his real bosses are in Islamabad”. He adds, “Unlike in AJK, Pakistan has not even bothered to maintain a sham of autonomy in the Northern Areas. With the constitutional status of the NA clothed in ambiguity, it is now ruled directly by Islamabad”.

Back home The National Human Rights Commission seems to be over concerned when members of the minority community are killed but rarely shows the same concern when Hindus are killed. The Judiciary is painfully slow in giving decisions and follows different rules.

The Special Court trying the accused in the 1993 Bombay Blasts case (257 killed, 713 injured) is yet to give its judgment even after hearing the case for over eleven years. Those responsible for the Mumbai blasts in 2002 & 2003 are yet to be convicted.

In the Radha Bhai Chawl case (1992-93) the people responsible for the massacre of innocent Hindus were let off by the Supreme Court. How is it that in the Best case the SC became overzealous and asked for the case to be transferred outside Gujarat not to mention the apex court’s silence on the anti-Sikh riots of 1984? Are Muslims more equal before law than the followers of Dharma?

The BJP managed to arouse the Hindu till it came to power. Yet it became a Congress B team while in power meaning pseudo secular. Disillusionment with the BJP could be another reason why the average Hindu has decided against protesting for fellow Hindus unless it affects him personally.

All this has demoralized the Hindu and made him either silent or turn to spirituality as a means to escape from the constant attack on his religious beliefs.

Modern day Gurus have contributed to weakening of the Hindu mind too. They speak to their devotees about spirituality and love but do not tell them about the threats to the followers of Dharma from the followers of the Book. They avoid giving discourses on what the Holy Geeta says on Ahimsa.

The Hindu probably finds himself in a situation similar to what existed in the 1920/30’s. Published in 1941 Dr B R Ambedkar ended his book ‘Thoughts on Pakistan’ with the following para. “These are the reasons why I have addressed so a large part of the argument to the Hindus. A thick and impervious wall of false sentiments and illusions has prevented the Hindu from receiving fresh light. It is because of this that I felt the grave necessity of applying my batteries. I do not know how far I have succeeded but I am satisfied that I have done my duty. If the Hindus don’t do theirs they will be plagued by the very consequences for which they are laughing at Europe and they perish in the same way as Europe is perishing”.

D. What are the bigger issues behind the arrest?
1.
The bigger issue is the question of Temple Control. Unlike the Kanchi Mutt, in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh most temples are controlled and managed by State Governments. This means that devotee contributions made to the temple go to the state treasury. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar (Art of Living Foundation) said - “There are as many as 2,07,000 temples in Karnataka and the total income of these temples (year 2002) amounts to Rs 72 crore only a sum of Rs. 6 crores is being spent by the Government for their upkeep. On the other hand, the Government spent a phenomenal amount of Rs.50 crores for the madrasas and Rs.10 crores for the churches, and for the Hindu temples only a partly sum of Rs.6 crores is being spent”. (Quoted from Arsha Vidya Newsletter of December 2003). Contributions made to Churches and mosques do not become part of the state treasury. Must not Hindu have the same rights as others?

The Hindu politician sees respected, popular and powerful Gurus as a threat to their control over the masses. Gurus who run charitable hospitals and schools reduce the aam aadmi’s dependence on similar services provided the State. So politicians are out to cut popular Gurus to size. Moreover they seek to control the huge temple funds and possibly divert some of it for their use. (www.ndtv.com MUMBAI. INDIA, February 3, 2004: The Maharashtra government has admitted to the Bombay High Court that funds from Mumbai’s Siddhivinayak temple are being diverted to a charity run by a politician).

Elsewhere too state governments are taking over rich Hindu temples. The Maharashtra Government recently took over the management of the Sai Baba trust at Shirdi. Can you imagine the same State government taking over the management of the Dargah at Haji Ali?

2. Enemies of Dharma might have often wondered how Indians survived over five hundred years of foreign rule, a rule that might make Hitler’s fanaticism suffer in comparison. Our former rulers were inspired by the Book and a personal God in Allah / Christ but Hindus had no historical founder. Then what inspired the Indian civilization? They must have realized that it was the ordinary Brahmin and numerous Gurus who kept Dharma alive even in the most trying times.

An important way to kill Sanatan Dharma (commonly called as Hinduism) is to discredit the Brahmin in public eyes. He is made out to be the root cause of all problems, one who has monopolized education in the pre-British era. If he remains aloof he is called selfish for not sharing knowledge. If he works with the poorer sections of society, becomes popular the politician feels threatened. Either way the Brahmin is damned.

Seers like the Sankaracharya of Kanchi are doing good work amongst the poorer sections of society. Here is an English translation of the Seer’s speech delivered to a gathering of Harijans as reported in the Tamil weekly Kumudam. http://www.kumudam.com/kumudam/28-04-03/pg24.html

"Some politicians (here the reference is to the "Dravidianist" politicians) have been spreading a canard that I have suddenly started meeting the Harijans and started participating in their conferences. The truth is, ever since I came to this mutt 50 years ago; I have been meeting the Harijans daily. There is not even 1 Harijan colony in Tamilnadu, which I haven't visited. The doors of the (Kanchi) Sankara mutt are always open to everyone. Those who have no knowledge about Sankara mutt can't understand its greatness or openness. On the other hand, (late Harijan) leaders like Kakkan, Chellapandiyan have been frequent visitors here. V.Balasundaram and K.Visvanathan are also regular visitors. They have never perceived any differential treatment in the mutt. The mutt has always been assisting the Harijans in building temples in their residential areas and in funding them for starting their own businesses.

Rama, Lakshmana, Bharata and Shatrughana were biological siblings, but Guha, Vibheeshana and Anjeneya were not. Guha was a fisherman, Vibheeshana a rakshasa and Anjaneya a monkey. Yet all of them treated each other as siblings.

The Nadar community (A backward caste from Tamilnadu) was very backward earlier, but in the past 50 years, thanks to hard work and religious initiative, they have advanced very well. Today they are respected by all.

Harijans should emulate them. Run your own business. No buyer looks into the caste of the seller. Don't trust the politicians. Sankara mutt and I will always stand for you."

When a Seer starts getting popular with the masses/criticizes politicians he becomes a threat to those in power and needs to be cut down to size. He is also a threat to those who are busy converting the poorer sections of society. Perhaps that is one of the reasons why the Kanchi Seer finds himself where he is today.

E. What is the way forward?
One it is imperative for the followers of Dharma to start thinking / questioning once again. This is what Sri Aurobindo had to say. “How shall we recover our lost intellectual freedom? By reversing, for the time being, the process by which we lost it, by liberating our minds in all subjects from the thralldom to authority. The Anglicized ask us to abandon authority, revolt against superstition to have free minds. What they mean is that we should renounce authority of the Vedas for Max Muller, the Monism of Sankara for the Monism of Haeckel, the dogmatisms of Pandits for the dogmatisms of European thinkers, scientists and scholars. Let us break our chains in order to be free, in the name of truth, not in the name of Europe.

Our first necessity, if India is to survive and do her appointed work in the world, is that the youth of India should learn to think, - to think on all subjects, to think independently, fruitfully, going to the heart of things, not stopped by their surface, free of prejudgments, shearing sophism and prejudice asunder as with a sharp sword, smiting down obscurantism of all kinds as with the mace of Bhima…”.

When a Hindu is asked to continue being ‘Secular’ he needs to ask for its definition and thereafter point out contradictions in the same. When questioned he needs to learn the art of counter questioning and expose the lack of intellectual depth of the person questioning.

Two Hindus must regain control of their temples meaning temple funds should be used for the upkeep of temples, running of hospitals & schools (teaching modern & Vedic studies). A beginning could be made in the southern states of Tamil Nadu, Karnatka and Andhra Pradesh.

A state level Dharmik Council, a statutory body that would formulate and decide all policy matters, must manage Temples. It should be given quasi-judicial powers also. The council would consist of Dharmacharyas and Scholars of various Sampradayas (cults) and Shastras, prominent Hindus and workers of Hindu causes, representatives of socio-religious organizations, expert Hindus in the federal law, administration, etc. The council should be very broad based.

Three in order to work in a more professional manner Hindu charitable trusts need to reorganize themselves. Every temple / Mutt trust must form a Working Committee of five to ten members who would be responsible for day to day functioning. Each committee member would be responsible for a specific functional area.

They must regularly conduct a Legal Audit to ensure compliance with statutory regulations and an Internal Audit of income & expenditure. Like a company board the Working Committee should meet once every month / quarter to formally review activities meaning follow the highest standards of corporate governance.

Four Hindus need to cultivate within themselves the concept of Kshatriya consciousness meaning members of every Varna must imbibe kshtriya like qualities. They can draw upon the Holy Geeta. Swami Chinamayananda wrote in his commentary, “Happy indeed are the Kshatriyas, O Partha, who are called to fight in such a battle that comes of itself as an open door to heaven”. (Chapter two slokha 32).

As used here, Kshatriya is not the name of a caste. It merely indicates a certain quality of the mental vasanas in the individual. Those who have ever-bubbling enthusiasm to defend the weak and poor, besides their own national culture from all threats of aggression are called Kshatriyas. Such leaders of men are not allowed to be tyrants or aggressors according to the code of morality of the Hindus. But, at the same time, a cold, feminine and cowardly non-resistance is not the spirit of the Hindu tradition. In all cases where the Hindu nation is forced to wage a war on the principles of righteousness the leaders of India are ordered to fight in the defense of their culture. Such battle-fields are the wide-open gates to Heaven for the defending heroes who fight diligently on the side of Dharma".

Guru Gobind Singhji introduced the 5k’s to identify people who were with him. Each K symbolized a certain thought. For e.g. the Kada (steel bangle) was a reminder that the Sikh spirit was strong and unbending, one who would not tolerate oppression by another? Therefore all those who believe in Kshatriya consciousness should begin wearing kadas meaning they will fight for protection of Dharma.

Five the Seer’s case must be transferred outside Tamil Nadu, as we cannot expect a fair trial in that state. The Supreme Court has already set a precedent and should not have a problem in ordering so.
Six the Mutt and its supporters must fight the case in court with all their might and intellect. This is a political battle that needs to be fought as such with passion not emotion.

Seven it is the responsibility of every Hindu to share the basics of his faith with as many followers of Dharma. One of the reasons why Hindus are constantly under attack is their lack of knowledge about the basic tenets of Sanatan Dharam. Once we empower the community with the power of knowledge they will not only realize the greatness of their faith but also hit back at people who criticize them.
Eight I must warn that undoing the damage to Dharma is going to take time. We will face many setbacks and have to conquer obstacles. Fortitude is what the Holy Geeta teaches us so be prepared for a long haul.

Parmatma see hamari prarthana hai ki may many amongst us imbibe the spirit of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, Rana Pratap, Guru Gobind Singhji and Rani of Jhansi.