What is India
the middle class hesitates to come out on the streets and protest, the Acharya
will continue to languish in prison
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 â€˜undeserving
criminalâ€™ 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
â€˜evidenceâ€™ 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.
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, what will?
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 Acharyaâ€™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 â€˜guardedâ€™ 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 â€“ 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 â€˜lucrativeâ€™ 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 comfort even begun to quietly enjoy the titillations of decadent media hype and frenzy â€“ this is the last and final wake-up call. Let us not abandon a leading spiritual institution like the Kanchi Mutt to political thugs to play football with â€“ remember that it embodies the essence of our Vedic heritage and we are the custodians on behalf of the rest of the populace. Let us not abandon our Acharya to the sniveling beasts that know not what they do â€“ recall what happened at another time and place in history.
To those among you who are devotees of the Acharya, I have said all that needs to be said. To those among you that are spiritually inclined but not devotees of the Acharya. I would add that the Acharya represents the foundational thought that sustains and supports our common sense of spirituality. To those among you who are not spiritually incluined and feel that this therefore does not touch your day to day lives, I would like to point out that all the things that you take for granted in your life, every little thought, emotion and feeling and their sum that constitutes your â€˜Indiannessâ€™ has its basis in our Vedic heritage â€“ treasure it and protect it for a day when you may awaken to your spiritual needs. To those among you that are from other faiths, I seek your grace, empathy and solidarity. To those among you that are rationalistic atheists with no belief in spirituality, I would appeal to your sense of justice and point out that if a humble and honest man like the Acharya can be thus persecuted, you are not far behind.
To one and all â€“ let us wake up and make ourselves counted. Let us set aside our sneering cynicism and participate in this democracy for a change. I urge us all to be alert and responsive over the coming days and weeks as this episode unfolds. Every gesture however small makes a difference. I urge you to consider the following â€“
Write letters to the Governor of Tamil Nadu and the Prime Minister of India demanding the Acharyaâ€™s immediate release.
Make the time, visit the Kanchi Mutt as a show of solidarity and confidence and faith â€“ it is an important statement to ourselves and the masses.
Stop subscribing to The Hindu, Junior Vikatan and related publications that have taken such a pathetic stand on the issue -- do it today, mid-month, to send them a signal. I know the alternatives are not great today â€“ but we have to start somewhere.
Boycott propaganda channels such as the Sun TV and Jaya TV -- even Joseph Goebbels would envy them their blatant misreporting. We unwittingly give these channels the financial muscle, through advertisement revenues, by patronizing their prime time shows.
Boldly come out of your homes and respond to calls for protest marches and rallies on this issue in the coming days. If you donâ€™t, nobody else will. It is an integral part of the democratic process, not something that only the riff-raff engages in, as we generally tend to believe.
Quietly meditate everyday for the release of the Acharya and a peaceful resolution of this issue.
PS: If you find this message
appealing, please pass along to others.
Please visit the website www.kanchi-sathya.org for authentic information about the case.
Write to the editor