Secular assault on the Sacred
There was a small news item dated 4 August 2009 in some newspapers, stating that the prosecution witnesses in the case pertaining to the Kanchi seer are turning hostile and the case itself might be revealed to be a foisted one. The time period for which a sacred institution has been humiliated and the assault the state conducted on an age old tradition needs introspection by us all.
The day I read a news item that Kanchi Sankaracharya Jayendra Sarasvati entered a Harijan slum, I commented to a friend, ‘he has written his own arrest warrant.’ My friend did not understand. Many of us are totally ignorant about the functioning of the Secular State in a country like India, a point we shall return to later.
There was a debate on his arrest on the NDTV show “We the people,” anchored by Ms. Burka Dutt on 5 December 2004. It was pathetic to see the audience pleading that the Swamiji be treated like Pappu Yadav or Taslimuddin, that law is the same for every one. One “rationalist” suggested the seer be permanently parked inside Vellore Jail as a devotee said the seer’s presence would purify the jail.
This attack on this sacred institution must be understood in the broader context of the threat to Hindu civilization from the so-called neutral secular state.
Is this attack a stray case? Indications are that it is not. There is a demand that the Pejawar Mutt at Udupi be taken over and the Sri Krishna Temple be administered by the government.
The demand is due to the claim that the memory of Kanaka Dasa, a sixteenth century poet and devotee of Sri Krishna, belonging to the Kuruba community, has been insulted by the Matham. Again it is pertinent to note that the Pejawar Swami mingled with Harijans and is a major campaigner for social harmony and removal of untouchability. He is active in the fields of education and in the forefront of the movement to build the Ram temple at Ayodhya.
When the Mulavar becomes Reformer, fear grips the State
In our tradition, there are two types of Mathams. One is what we can loosely call the Mulavar or similar to the God in the garbha griha, and the other is Utsavar or similar to the God who is taken in procession around the temple. The Utsavar is well dressed and the presentable face of Hindu sampradayas. The second category of Seers will know English, will know how to handle the press, how to give television interviews; sometimes they are also globe-trotters.
They represent the “brand image” of the Santana Dharma, if one may use the term. In a sense, they are secular and would most often talk of the “oneness” of all religions, without knowing the implications. Some, due to their secular dealings, get into problems with the State either in India or abroad, as in the case of Rajneesh. One can categorise Ammachi, Sri Sri, Rajneesh and Mahesh Yogi in this category.
The former category is the Mathams like that of Sankara or Madhava, which till recently were completely unconcerned about this-worldly issues and focused only on the Dharma. Mathams like in Sringeri or Kanchi or Udupi derive their strength from a long lineage and the original founders like Adi Sankara or Madhavacharya
The secular state was tolerant of these sacred symbols as long as these were separate from the laukika issues. This is because these mathams derived their legitimacy from their position and not to any secular support. Once some Mathams began to get into social reform or education or health care, the secular state was upset because the actions of these seers carries phenomenal conviction among the poorer strata and de-legitimizes the hegemony of politicians and bureaucrats over poverty or caste-oriented issues. In the case of the secular-Utsava seers, the state is not unduly concerned as they are mostly individuals with charisma but do not have a hoary tradition and thousands of years of legitimacy.
Conversion or Casteless
This is the backdrop in which the Kanchi Seer tried to solve secular problems using his sacred institution. When he tried to reach out to Harijans, exploring the possibility of a dignified life for them, the political class was disturbed. The secular state was worried since the accepted model in the political discourse for “liberation” of Harjans is either conversion to other religions or a possible overthrow of the caste system.
Swami Jayendra Sarasvati’s model postulates the possibility of their being within the system, but treated with dignity and equality. The SC politicians and secular state satraps whose staple diet is conversion or the destruction of the caste system found it difficult to accept his actions.
Interestingly, some of the orthodox in the Matham system also opposed his approach, believing that being exclusively in the garbha griha or Mulavar position preserves legitimacy. Any deviation to work for this-worldly salvation of people was looked upon with disdain and considered apostate. In a curious coincidence, the orthodoxy attacked the Matham for the same reasons for which the secular political forces were upset! It was, in political parlance, an alliance of the left extreme with the extreme right, to neutralize the middle.
If the State is not secular or neutral, but protective state of Hindu Dharma, this issue would have been dealt with in a different way. The State would have reprimanded the orthodoxy or even punished it for being obstructionist. But the secular State is presumably neutral, but in practice against Dharmic institutions which derive their legitimacy from thousands of years of tradition.
Invite by China
The invitation to visit China was a major turning point in the affairs of our civilization and this Matham. The concerned NGO in China would not have invited him to visit that country without a clearance from the top political authority, knowing how China functions in these matters. It is fascinating that the Chinese authorities that prohibit taking the Bible into their country for preaching and who have refused the Papal visit, invited the head of a Hindu sampradhaya to their country.
Whatever the author could infer from interactions with scholars in India and China, one could surmise that China welcomes the presence of a non-incursive or inclusive religion, and that could be the Sanatana Dharma. There is an ancient Chinese belief that the best rebirth is in India, as it is a Dharma Bhumi. The experience of China with Falung Gong, perceived to be sponsored by the CIA, and the problems with the Dalai Lama, has made Beijing consider other options in terms of religion, which Chinese society needs.
Any other Government would have jumped at this prospect and tried to arrange the Seer’s trip as a geo-strategic move. But the Indian State did not encourage this historic opportunity to foster civilisational bonds through authentic and legitimate institution like the Kanchi Matham, but prevented the effort by not reining in the orthodoxy who protested in the High Court about the “pollution” involved in crossing shores.
The Indian State’s neutrality is a threat to the existence of legitimate Dharmic institutions. Incidentally, this neutrality is only with reference to Indic institutions since the Abrahamic faiths terrorize the State to achieve their ends. At the time of independence, the State should have taken over the land and property allocated to the Church at free or throwaway prices by the erstwhile colonizers, but it did not do so.
The desert traditions can intimidate the State as they have global backup and protesters. The second child of Abraham globalizes local conflict using global networks, while the third child localizes all global conflicts. Witness the death of five people in Mumbai because Jeremy Falwell, a televangelist in USA, called the Prophet a “terrorist.” Witness the outpouring of anger and protests – at the global church level – to the (false) attack on nuns at Jhabua by “Hindu fanatics,” when actually it was the work of rowdies from the same faith.
The US Commission on International Religious Freedom’s diatribes will be picked up by our English media to castigate the Hindu majority. Witness the violence against the arrest of suspects in a criminal /ISI related case (2004) at Hyderabad, where even the Chief Minister had to observe why the arrests were made in a holy month of Ramzan. But the Kanchi Acharya could be arrested on Diwali day! Remember the global hue and cry when the UP police searched the religious school at Nadwa, and how the Prime Minister intervened and expressed regrets?
Obviously, the State can be secular or neutral only with respect to Indian religions, which are non-intimidating, and not with respect to the desert faiths. That is why we encounter such absurd observations like, there has not been any large-scale violence against the arrest of the Kanchi seer so this does not hurt the public.
We have come to a tragic situation, that unless the State is terrorized it does not care. That is all the more reason why the Sanatana Dharma needs the protection of the State or what one may call a Kshatriya State. That State will protect all ancient Sampradayas and sustain the sacredness of the Indic civilization in letter and spirit.
The author is a Professor of Management; the views expressed are his own