Thursday, February 03, 2005

BBC broadcast draws flak

This is a very interesting and logical presentation of the Shankaracharya case protesting against a BBC radio show on Jan 31. Though the authenticity of the letter and that of the writer is unsure, the letter is reportedly to have taken from BBC radio web site. Look how logical and clearly has he stated the case. Wish this brings in some sense into the minds of people and police.

B.B.C. ComplaintsP.O. Box 1922Glasgow, G2 3WTUnited Kingdom

B.B.C. Radio 4 program, “View from India, broadcast first on Friday, 28 January 2005 and rebroadcast on Sunday, 31 January 2005 at 8.50 a.m.

Dear Sir/Madam,
I was appalled by the 'View from India' report about the Shankaracharya of Kanchipuram, Sri Jayandra Saraswati, and the institution of which he is the pontiff, Kanchi Shankara Matam.
Your guest speaker, the editor-in-chief of Outlook Magazine, happens to be one of the very people who have been relaying the lies and calumnies about the Shankaracharya and the Matam. Surely we are entitled to more objectivity from B.B.C. Radio 4.
Innuendos are one thing, facts another. If your guest had any pretensions of objective journalism, he could have, instead of churning the cesspool of slander and slime, alluded at least in passing to some of the following verifiable facts:
1) While on 11 November 2004, the Shankaracharya was performing religious rites in Andhra Pradesh, the Government of Tamil Nadu flew an armed commando there to arrest him. The shocking manner of the arrest of one of the highest icons of the Hindus was justified by the fact that he was going to flee to Nepal, more than one thousand miles away, in a helicopter! The 70-year-old diabetic was directly thrown into prison on charges of murder and subsequently refused bail by all the courts in Tamil Nadu. But when after two months the bail appeal finally reached the Supreme Court in Delhi, the latter declared that there was not the least prima facie evidence justifying the refusal of bail, no material evidence, and no proof of an evident motive for the accused to commit such a crime. Nor had the prosecution any witnesses. Among the 25 accused, two were said to have confessed to the crime and stated that it was ordered b y Sri Jayandra Saraswati. But they denied this before the court, saying that they had been tortured by the police and forced to undersign empty pages of paper.
2) The very day Sri Jayandra was let out, the Tamil Nadu Government thrust into prison the junior pontiff of the Kanchi Matam, Sri Vijayandra Saraswati, and refused him bail under the very same charges which, according to the Supreme Court, did not constitute sufficient reason for the refusal of bail to the senior Pontiff.
3) Determined to get the two Shankaracharyas out of the way and seize the Matam's vast assets, the Tamil Nadu Government and police tried a different strategy. Under a dubiously overstretched interpretation of the Goondas Act, any person who has three distinct charges against him is no longer eligible for bail. So they dug up two older cases of assault and battery and tried to foist them upon the Shankaracharyas. The accused having filed for bail, the judge reacted as follows:
Regarding the first case (Radhakrishnan accuses Jayandra Saraswati and co-assailants of assault with intention to kill), this is what Justice M. Thanikachalam of the High Court in Madras had to say to the prosecuting attorneys: "why wasn't the investigation conducted for the past two years? What are the intentions of the Government?...What have you been doing the last two years?...Does your case diary show the investigation was not pursued because of want of materials?"
The prosecutor admitted "some slacking off" and said that thanks to the recent murder case (in which the Shankaracharyas are the accused), the police had at last found the weapon used against Mr. Radhakrishnan two years earlier. The judge snapped back: “You found the weapon after two years _ the Court should believe this? Where is your forensic report?"
Regarding the second case (Madhavan accuses Sri Jayandra Saraswati and co-assailants of assault), the same judge wrote: “Considering the facts of the case, as well as the inordinate delay in preferring the complaint, and considering the towering fact that at the earliest opportunity, the complainant reported that he sustained injuries only in a road accident, I am of the undoubted view that this case must be a foisted one."
4) In order to bolster the case for rejection of bail before the Tamil Nadu courts, the police illegally videotaped Sri Jayandra Saraswati without his knowledge or consent and announced to the public that he had confessed to the crime. After the bail was granted by the Supreme Court, the police illegally gave or sold portions of the videotapes to television stations. Viewers could sees a groggy-eyed Sri Jayandra stretched out on the floor as if he had been drugged. But ironically enough, instead of confessing he said he was innocent. Needless to say, these “leaks" were illegal and their content disavowed by the Shankaracharya.
5) Samples of supposed sexual misconduct: The police claimed that Sri Jayandra Saraswati spent long hours of the night speaking to a certain lady on his cell phone. She was moreover wanted as a key member of the gang that had leagued to slay the victim. For 48 hours two T.V. stations and the press out-did one another in spreading rumors about this affair. Finally the truth came out: She was a 53-year-old advanced cancer patient who had undergone some 130 chemotherapy sessions paid for by one of the Shankara Matam charity organizations.
The day after the police admitted this lady's innocence, a Tamil writer went on television and accused the Shankaracharya of having tried to abuse her “modesty" 12 years earlier. The media now used this “news" for weeks to sell their muck to the public. Meanwhile, the Shankara Matam produced proof that, at a ceremony at one of their hospitals, this same lady had made a speech in praise of Sri Jayandra Saraswati only last May. But this item got very little print footage.
Speaking on B.B.C. Radio 4, the Outlook Magazine editor stated that there were so many complaints of sexual aggression against the two Shankaracharyas that the Kanchipuram police have been obliged to create a special squadron of policewomen to investigate the cases. The truth of the matter is the reverse: It was the police and the muck media that accused some female visitors of the Matam of sexual relationship with the Shankaracharyas and subsequently pretended to “probe" the cases. (To transpose this to your own country, you would have to imagine the British police accusing women of having sex with the priest simply because they go to church to attend mass or whatnot.) It is here that the media have totally betrayed their profession. Instead of independent investigation, they have simply cashed in on the lies of the TN Government and police by amplifying them.
6) Samples of supposed financial malfeasance: The police first claimed that the money paid to the killers was drawn from the Matam's account at the ICICI Bank. The Matam authorities pointed out that they had no accounts there, and indeed no documents of any such accounts could be found by the police. The latter then pinpointed another account in another bank. But investigation showed that no unaccounted-for withdrawls had been made from that account prior or after the crime. The police finally told the Supreme Court that the money had come from the sale of a piece of land belonging to the Matam. This, too, turned out to be a lie: The Matam lawyers proved that the payment received in cash for the land had been deposited in their Indian Bank account four months prior to the crime and the total sum was still in the same account.
All the above facts have been reported by the press. The Matam has set up a website ( where, under the heading “Mediascan", press reports about events related to the case are presented everyday. The articles are from major nation newspapers such as The Times of India, The Indian Express, The Hindu (for which “Anti-Hindu" would be a more appropriate appellation!), and The New Pioneer. If you consult “Archives" and the click on “Media archive", you will find past articles reporting all the above facts.
Thus far, the TN Government and police have not been able to substantiate their accusations of misuse of funds. But once again the media have served as a handmaiden. They have magnified the assets of the Kanchi Shankara Matam, referring to them as if they were Sri Jayandra Saraswati's personal possessions.This has created suspicions in the minds of a portion of the public. The philosophy of the TN Government and police and of the hostile media is simple:Repeat the same lies over and over again until they take root in the public's mind.
It is true that the Matam has vast assets coming from donations made by the devotees in India and throughout the world. But the money is spent in charity works and various social services. The Matam's accounts are regularly examined by several independent auditing houses. Shankara Matam has always helped the poor. Now under the present senior Shankaracharya, Sri Jayandra Saraswati, these activities have vastly increased. He has erected over 50 schools and a large number of hospitals, child-care centers, charitable trusts for aiding poor families, old-age homes, food donation projects, rural development trusts, research projects, professional colleges and universities throughout India. The services in these institutions are free of charge or available at nominal fees.
Sri Jayandra Saraswati is also singularly known for three other initiatives: 1) He has combated untouchability and endeavored to integrate the Dalits (“untouchables") religiously, socially and professionally; 2) He has vigorously opposed mass conversion of poor Dalits, agreed to by a handful of their leaders at the instigation of Western evangelists. (Gandhi used to call such destitute converts “rice Christians"); 3) In the explosive Ayodhya dispute between Hindus and Muslims over a temple/mosque site, Sri Jayandra Saraswati has tried to find a solution acceptable to both parties. The issue remains unsettled. The Shankaracharya is understandably sympathetic to Hindu causes. But his efforts as a peacemaker have also been lauded by a few Muslim observers such as the distinguished columnist Saeed Naqvi.
His social and political initiatives created enemies as well as friends. As he and the Shankara Matam grew in national stature, they became the targets of financial, political and religious jealousies. More conservative Brahmins, too, were unhappy: Whereas his predecessors walked the length and breadth of the subcontinent barefoot, the present Shankaracharya uses the Matam's modest mini-bus or at times boards a plane. He even appears on television to discuss religion and social matters.
Trustworthy observers now feel that the prosecution has no case whatsoever against the Shankaracharyas. They say Sri Jayandra Saraswati was framed. Why would a well-known figure, who was described as the seventh most powerful man in India, take the risk of killing a former employee, and that in broad daylight in a temple before witnesses! They feel it just doesn't make sense.
Then who has foisted the case upon him and for what reasons? The political motive would be that he was becoming too powerful, not only in Tamil Nadu but in the whole of India. His anti-evangelical stand made him enemies as far away as Mr. George W. Bush's America. And the financial motive is too obvious for knowledgeable observers of the Tamil scene: By beheading the Shankara Matam, the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister is hoping to seize the Institution's vast assets and use them for her own personal and political purposes. She is known for her dictatorial ways and her penchant for riches, as well as for her ruthlessness against any opposition and her paranoia. Commenting on her handling of the Shankaracharya case, Sri R.V. Venkataraman, former President of India, recently went so far as to publicly declare: “Jayalalitha has gone mad."
It should be added that both the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, Ms. Jayalalitha, and the Tamil Nadu police superintendent in charge of the murder case, Mr. Premkumar, have a long history of unlawful activities. A former movie actress, Ms. Jayalalitha did a stint in prison herself some years ago, between two terms as chief minister, on corruption charges. On her arrest she incited her followers to riot, which caused the death of three school girls, burnt in a bus set on fire by the rioters. The charges against her in this case as well as other charges of corruption, assault and abuse of power are still pending in Tamil Nadu courts. There are also complaints rotting away in the same courts against the police superintendent, Mr. Premkumar (torture, abuse of power, manhandling of nuns, etc.) In recent years Human Rights Watch and several other bodies have pointed fingers at the Tamil Nadu police for torture and other atrocities.
The fact is that, in the last two decades, Tamil Nadu has become a rogue region. Assault and acid throwing on public officials (judges, political opponents, etc.) and private individuals have been rampant. In the present case against the Shankaracharyas, among the co-accused one is a notorious mafiosi criminal with ties with the DMK party; at least two others are petty criminals, whom the police can easily manipulate.
The Muslim and Christian clergy were among the first to protest the arrest of Sri Jayandra Saraswati. So were the Dalits. The average Hindus have once again shown themselves to be a peaceful and dignified people. One of the dearest icons of their faith has been dragged in the gutter, humiliated, drugged in jail to confess, mediatically crucified. And yet his people have not taken to the streets, have not rioted, have not burnt buses. Sri Jayandra Saraswati has told his followers: “I want everyone to hold their peace and be patient. Have faith that truth and dharma will prevail."
Though they know from past experience that in Tamil Nadu the law courts have not always been impartial, to say the least, the Hindus are patiently waiting for “the law to follow its course" in this highly electrified case.
But at the same time there is great fear that if the Shankaracharyas are tried in Tamil Nadu, justice will not prevail. There are increasing demands that the case be shifted to another state. In India such trials can take ten years or more. Whatever the judicial outcome, the damage has already been done.To add injury to insult, the Tamil Nadu government has blocked all the Matam's accounts and assets. The Matam and its various services are fast running out of funds even for day-to-day expenses. The Matam is a religious institution whose accounts are regularly verified by three independent auditing houses. Under the constitution of India, the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu has committed an illegal act in depriving the Matam of its operational means. The separation between the secular and the religious domain has been violated. But who will, in all this confusion, stand up for the constitution?
In this tsunami-devastated region, the government of Tamil Nadu is further aggravating the lot of the poor by paralyzing the Shankara Matam _ one of India's most prestigious NGOs - and preventing the normal operations of its social and charitable services.
It is in view of these facts that the remarks of the editor of Outlook Magazine struck me as particularly ugly and obscene.
B.B.C. 4 owes the Shankaracharyas of Kanchi and the people of India an apology. Wittingly or unwittingly, you have allowed yourself to be used as a vehicle of slanderous falsehood. You now have a moral obligation to undertake an impartial first-hand investigation of the entire affair and broadcast it at the earliest date.
I am not a Hindu; I happen to be a person from a Muslim background and another country. But there are well over one billion Hindus in India and across the globe. If you don’t fulfill your more moral obligation, you can be sure the word will get around, and the majority of them will never trust or tune into B.B.C. 4 again.
Sincerely yours,
Farokh Merat
Retired professor
University of Paris VIII


Blogger Dinakaran said...

When Shri Jayendra Saraswati was arrested, Cho. Ramaswamy said if a person of Sankaracharya is arrested, there must be proper evidences. But obviously, there doesnt seem to be any. Even people like me who initially felt he would have had a hand in the murder are having second thoughts. The way the case is being handled, it is obvious Jayalalithaa is settling personal scores.

5:09 PM  
Blogger kovaiputhalvan said...

Interesting, yes. Logical, no. It is obviously slanted towards the

I'm pretty sure the writer is a Hindu.

While the Shankaracharyas don't deserve what has happened to them, it is neither evident nor obvious that they are entirely innocent of misconduct.

11:43 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home