The acquittal of Sri Jayendra Saraswati and Sri Vijayendra Saraswati, the Acharyas of the Kanchi Sankara Mutt, in the Sankararaman murder trial now raises obvious questions about the identity of the real murderers. It cannot be considered that the police, after investigating for nine long years, are not in a position to identify the culprits. Apparently, the sole nefarious intent of the police investigation was not so much to find the actual culprits as it was to indict the Acharya in this case, and by extension, tarnish the very institution of Sankara Mutt. The Supreme Court highlighted this when it observed:

It leads to an inference that state machinery is not only interested in securing conviction of the petitioner (seer) and other co-accused but also bringing to a complete halt the entire religious and other activities of the various trusts and endowments and the performance of pooja and other rituals in the temples and religious places in accordance with the customs and traditions and thereby create a fear psychosis in the minds of the people

Rumors were wantonly leaked to the media. Most of them were naked lies; a few were a mix of half-truths and untruths. The “investigative” journals in Tamil Nadu had a field day competing with each other in spinning and publishing their own sinister yarns around these toxic concoctions. Sri Jayendra Saraswati was defamed to the extreme an individual – however depraved he might be – can be slandered.

This author neither believes in the Advaita school propounded by the Kanchi Mutt, nor in the historicity of the lineage they claim for themselves. However, the author respects Sri Jayendra Saraswati for his work on the social plane, overcoming the burdens placed on him by orthodoxy. He came out unambiguously against untouchability and agreed, at least in principle, to the appointment of archakas (temple priests) from across the caste spectrum. One may very well argue that these gestures were too little and too late. Nevertheless, his stance was progressive by several orders of magnitude, above those of his own predecessors or the stance of many other institutions.

Sri Jayendra Saraswati missed the opportunity to stand out in one facet. His predecessor Sri Chandrashekharendra Saraswati held several regressive opinions and perceptions with regard to pressing social issues. Sri Chandrashekharendra Saraswati’s activities in relation to the temple entry movement for Dalits will always remain a dark chapter in the religious history of the Hindus.

But for all his faults Sri Chandrashekharendra Saraswati had set a high standard for personal conduct–of humility, discipline and transparency. This standard of discipline will always remain worthy of emulation, not just by ascetics, but by anyone involved in the sociopolitical sphere. Mahatma Gandhi sought to live by these very standards–he never denied his experiments to test his brahmacharya, and the other aspects of his life have also remained open to public scrutiny. Sri Chandrashekharendra Saraswati, in his personal life as a monk, exceeded even Gandhi in leading a life of simplicity and transparency.

Sri Jayendra Saraswati should have striven to live by those ideals, for the path he chose to tread was more dangerous and radical than the one chosen by his master. He changed the outlook of the Mutt, by visiting the bastis of the Dalits, accepting prasadam from Dalit priests, providing financial support to Dalit entrepreneurs through the Mutt. These earnest attempts were not without their problems for the sheer patronizing tone. The statement, allegedly made by him, that Dalits should enter temples only after taking a bath are objectionable and should be condemned. Similarly, his views on women should also be ignored.

However, considering the environment and history of the Mutt, his actions are a significantly reformist and progressive and Sri Jayendra Saraswati had the courage to move forward with it. Even a strident Dravidianist like Chinna Kuthoosi accepted this at the end of his interview with the Acharya in the 1980s that later sparked many a controversy.

There is no doubt that justice needs to be done to the family of the murdered victim Sankararaman. Neither is there any question of letting go of the perpetrators of the crime, however high in the hierarchy, he or she may be. But was the media genuinely interested in ensuring justice to the victims? Those who sneeringly point out the volte-face of many witnesses in the trial are careful to forget this part of the judgment:

The Supreme Court’s references to needless interference and illegal activities by Police Officer Premkumar during his investigation have been borne out during the trial and testimonies by the witnesses. Police Officer Premkumar, not only interfered with the criminal investigation but also did not permit the investigating officer (Shaktivel) to independently and lawfully complete the investigations. The investigating officer failed to present evidences uncovered during the investigations. Some witnesses (Prosecution witness number 30 – Kannan) have been included needlessly/wantonly. Some witnesses were intimidated into testifying under Section 164 of the penal code. Of the accused Kathiravan and Chinna were unlawfully kept in custody. One Kannan who was Head Constable when the act of crime was committed (and is now a sub-inspector, prosecution witness number 154) in the case was suspended so he could testify under the penal code section 164 and was then reinstated. Testimonies received/recorded under this section were found to be taken by threatening/intimidation.

(The above is a loose translation from the judgment as reported by Tamil dailies)

How is it that the above part of the judgment is not being spoken about by ‘progressive’ elements?

It is said that the same Mr. Premkumar, who has been singled out by the court, has been behind scurrilous leaks to the media in the early days of the case. Sri Jayendra Saraswati’s acquittal can be said to be in part due to Premkumar’s unprofessional and illegal activities.

If for the sake of a debate we assume that Kanchi Mutt Acharya Sri Jayendra Saraswati is the man behind the murder of Sankararaman, should not those who profess to be interested in impartial jurisprudence have thrown light on Police officer Premkumar’s activities? But what did the media do?

The media found Sri Jayendra Saraswati to be a useful whipping boy reporting scandalous facts against whom helped them earn the badge of ‘progressiveness’ (not to forget the possibility of active encouragement from government).

They competed for the crumbs thrown out in the form of leaks. The media establishment in Tamil Nadu had for once transcended all categories – yellow journals, feminist outlets and tabloids. Everybody took a stab. Kalachuvadu (காலச்சுவடு)  a ‘progressive’ outlet carried the below
quote referring to the Kanchi Acharya

Sir, you must not think badly of it but Sri Jayendra Saraswati asks everybody to remove their upper garments. Men are told to do so openly. The women are told so when indoor. That’s the only difference.

No ‘progressive’ establishment took offence at this verbal assault aimed at all the female devotees of the Mutt. Merely for the sake of comparison would the same Kalachuvadu magazine report similarly about all female devotees of a Christain establishment? But it is possible to publish what pleases the publishers if the person involved is a Hindu religious figure. Since Hindus aren’t bullies one could take a few liberties and then take advertisement money from the devotees of the same Mutt whom they disparage without any basis. Literary license perhaps!

Consider the case of Premananda. The name has become synonymous with scandalous sleazy Hindu sanyasins. His comedian like image and personality was quite useful for the media in their caricatures. Colorful stories, comedy scripts in movies and other popular culture outlets have proliferated quite easily. However, the case and usage of DNA evidence in establish guilt is considered a ‘text book’ case for how not to use DNA related forensics! Many witnesses on whose testimonies the case was buttressed later retracted their statements claiming to have been tortured by the prosecution. Had Premananda been free today he might have strongly voiced concerns for the persecuted Sri Lankan Tamils. A related video is available here.

Meanwhile violence against women continues without much outrage. According to a CBCID report filed in August 2010 Omalur Sukanya was raped and murdered by five above-fifty year old males in a Christian institution. The media has not picked up the case with the same vigor and vengeance with which it pursued the Kanchi Mutt case. No scandalous rumors about men of religion indulging in sleazy activities or targeting vulnerable women in heavily controlled environments. Rather well behaved!

In another instance Anandavalli a school girl at a Christian institution was found hanging to death in school premises. The incident was reported for a day and the media moved on. Adding to the list of children dying due to religious mental tortures in Christian establishments’ school girl Ranjitha committed suicide. She had been forced to recite biblical verses. V.Ramya committed suicide at her home in 2011 when she was humiliated before her class for wearing flowers in hair and adorning her forehead with pottu (bindi). Her father who works in the Gulf was quoted in a Tamil daily:

The school does not permit girls to wear flowers and pottu. Ramya was being an irritant to the school management in this issue. We tried to console her many times but now we’ve lost our girl forever!

The list goes on. But the media has diligently avoided detailed reporting.

Nobody questions a basic flaw: the outrageous irony of an allegedly secular government granting minority status to institutions that are allegedly imparting secular education to our children. The perpetuation of an educational apartheid continues without any scrutiny.

Coming back to the case at hand: it is not this author’s case that dharma has won or that justice has not been done. In fact that such a man of power and position in the Hindu religion is subject to the jurisprudence procedures of the land like an ordinary individual can be considered a healthy trend.

But let us not forget that this case has only been used to further anti-Brahminism. The Dravidian tabloids and political cottage industries did not take up this issue in the interest of justice but saw it as an avenue to continue their venomous anti-Hindu propaganda.

The media trial of Sri Jayendra Saraswati saw unsubstantiated, sleazy and wantonly ugly accusations heaped on the man and the institution he belonged to. To ‘progressive’ elements, Hindu religious personalities being subject to such a trial (judicial or through media) is a god-sent opportunity to further their agendas.

For the current sad state of affairs to end, Hindus will have to seek a political majority. As Ambedkar pointed out – Hindus are only a communal majority and not a political majority in India. (“The majority in India is only a communal majority and not a political majority”)

For the present sad state of affairs to end we need to adopt Swami Vivekananda’s social vision. Sankara Vedanta needs to be transformed into practical Vedanta. Sri Jayendra Saraswati is in a position to take up this challenge today. But will he? Will his circumstances allow him to do so? Will the forces that are today benefitting out of caste and proselytization allow him to operate freely? Would the Hindu society even stand behind him?

(The above is a translation of a Tamil article originally published at Tamil Hindu. CRI is grateful to Shivsankar and Rangesh for their assistance in translating the piece)

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Aravindan Neelakandan

Co-author of acclaimed book "Breaking India", Aravindan Neelakandan has worked for the past decade with an NGO in Tamil Nadu serving marginalized rural communities in sustainable agriculture. He is also a popular science writer in Tamil and is part of the editorial team of highly popular Tamil web portal

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