What is India
Appeal from an Urban
Middle Class Devotee
the middle class hesitates to come out on the streets and protest, the Acharya
will continue to languish in prison
What is India News Service
Bangalore, 6 December 2004
the last several weeks black clouds have darkened the skies of our country and
yet most people have gone about their daily lives without missing a beat.
The Shankaracharya of Kanchi, a powerful symbol of the sanatana dharma,
was arrested on the night of Diwali and charged with murder.
He was produced in court the next day, dubbed an ‘undeserving
criminal’ by the public prosecutor and remanded to judicial custody.
He was allowed no special privileges and lodged in an ordinary jail. When he returned to court three days later, he was mocked for
his aversion to rahukalam and for his unwillingness to sign documents.
As devotees recoiled in horror, police sources fed a hungry media with
‘evidence’ of his mendacity. He was
accused of facilitating cash payments to hired killers, of being in telephonic
contact with goons and even of plotting an escape by helicopter to Nepal.
The Junior Shankaracharya was said to have demanded a CBI probe and, with hints
of a monastic coup, it was said that his brother had turned approver.
With a few finishing touches, the picture was complete – a wealthy
Hindu organization crumbling from the inside in an orgy of greed, lust and
administrative power grabbing.
It now transpires that little
of these grave charges can be substantiated. In
fact, the police have not even submitted their preliminary evidence to court.
One would have imagined that the authorities would have proceeded against
a person as revered as the Shankaracharya on the strength of watertight
evidence. But no, they arrested him and
humiliated him on the basis of suspicion cast by thugs.
Also, all of the reports on the administrative struggles and goings on
inside the Kanchi Mutt appear to be disinformation, and the result of a media-feeding
frenzy not traceable to any specific source.
But the issue that needs to
be highlighted is not merely this choreography of events or the complete
travesty of truth or the mindless and insidious assault on an institution that
symbolizes and sustains our Vedic heritage (whether we acknowledge it or not).
The real issue is the bewildering lack of mass outrage to this insidious
assault. If this does not spur us into
revolt, if this does not cause us to interrupt the rhythm of our daily lives,
The issue that needs to be
highlighted is not merely the decadence in journalistic values or the political
and religious biases of the press. The
real issue is the bewildering lack of unswerving faith, of the devout followers
of the Shankaracharya, which causes them to even pause and consider as plausible
the outrageous claims made against the Acharya.
The real issue is the bewildering lack of strength of conviction, of the
ones that do have the faith, which causes them to hold back their views and not
take to the streets in fear of reprisal. If
this does not cause us to meditate, reflect upon and reinforce the core of our
faith, what will?
Two recent experiences
awakened me to the nature of this illness in us.
The first experience was listening to a political leader lamenting about
the apathy of the followers of the Acharya. He
laid out the clear choreography of events in the arrest of the Shankaracharya
and how it was obvious to him that this was all a trumped up case. He talked about how many newspapers, especially The Hindu,
have an obvious and distinct bias against the Acharya. And yet, he said, three weeks have gone by and a mahan like
the Shankaracharya continues to languish in a prison.
And then he talked about why. He
said the reason the Acharya is still in jail is that while politicians like him
have gone hoarse trying to mobilize support for protest marches and rallies and
Bandhs, the closest followers of the Shankaracharya who are urban middle-class
Hindus have continued to go about their lives or stayed inside their homes,
leaned back on their easy chairs and sipped filter coffee as they read their
favorite sections of The Hindu, some in a trice even willing to consider
the possibility of the Acharya’s complicity in the murder.
He concluded by saying that if these people do not wake up, their Acharya
will remain and perish in prison.
The second experience was
more personal. Much against the advice of
my ‘guarded’ fellow middle-class Hindus, I travelled to Kanchipuram and
spent the day meditating in the Kanchi Mutt on Sunday, both as a show of
solidarity and as a prayer for the safe return of the Shankaracharya. On the drive to Kanchipuram, chatting with the driver of the
tourist taxi that I had engaged to take me there, I learnt that he was a member
of a minority community, was a DMK member, and personally did not care much
about the Kanchi mutt or what was happening to the Shankaracharya.
He said however that he was certain that the Shankaracharya, a man of
that stature and one who engaged for hours each day in austerities, was innocent
and the charges of murder were being foisted. I
wept silently in the back seat, hiding the tears from the driver as I reflected
upon the profound irony – here was a man who did not care about the Acharya
and was yet certain of his innocence while we devotees were either doubters or
lacked the courage and strength of conviction to shake us from slumber.
My fellow devotees, if ever
there was a time, now is the time. This
is one battle that somebody else is not going the fight on our behalf.
We who have abandoned our political institutions to the thugs and the
morally depraved, we who have abandoned our civil, police and other
administrative services to corrupt power brokers and gone on to more
‘lucrative’ pastures in medicine or software and overseas employment, we who
have abdicated our social responsibilities to the under-privileged, we who have
watched with apathy while the political leaders manipulate social and religious
issues to their advantage, we who have in material