Call For Media and Government Investigation

of Sathya Sai Baba And his worldwide cult, the Sathya Sai Organization

Archive for January, 2013

India, Land of Vast Tolerated Rape and Other Sex Abuses: a Letter From A Western Lover of India

Posted by Barry Pittard on January 30, 2013

Subscribe to Call for media and government investigation of Sathya Sai Baba

The writer of the email below is a woman in her fifties, a westerner and for some years a tour guide in India, who is highly regarded for her rare integrity and decency. She used to aid me in sourcing CD’s when I was a community broadcaster dealing with world music and social justice issues.

Her email is worth reading with the heart, more than with the eyes and mind. Increasingly India – having profoundly alienated herself from her good self – is fast alienating herself from the rest of the world.

I never knew of a country more prone to sermons than India. Daily, in endless venues, from small temples to vast arenas, and on radio and television and in the newspapers, pundits rattle on about ‘the dharma’. About being truthful and righteous and compassionate and peaceful and non-violent. But one example of duplicity on a giant scale has been the Sathya Sai cult core leaders’ decades of cover up of murders and sexual and other abuses. Again – vast amounts of preaching, and of a robed but tumid underbelly of vile and hypocritical evil.

A constant Hindu Indian theme is fearlessness. Excellent! – when practised. But – in the so-called ‘eternal Bharat’ – the only thing that is eternal about all this  is the hypocrisy. Those without brain or conscience denounce as “India bashers” writers about India who mention the endless institutional corruption and vast organs of State suppression and crass inaction, and so on .

In fact, many times, this blogsite pays great tribute to those few Indian people and groups who, most courageously and at great cost of danger and suffering to themselves, speak out and do their best to stop the incredible social inequalities in that land.

It is significant that the recent Delhi rape case prompted public protests – an increasing phenomena in an India where the people at large, like those in the Occupy movement in the West, become ever more informed and ever more angry at government and corporate corruption – angry enough to begin to do something about it.

Here is the email:

Dear Barry,

I am in India until tomorrow, and over the last 8 weeks of my trip I have felt sickened by all the hideous reports of the Delhi rape case. There is now – what has been so often suppressed in India – an incredible daily tally of reports of rape, murder, incest with girls as young as 3 years old.  A large majority of the reports cite victims’ ages between 7 – 11 in age – like what we hear reported in the West.- similar to reports in the West. I myself was molested from 7 to 12 years old by a family friend.
 
I am sure this has been going on forever here, but the Delhi case has somehow got out to the world and brought a damning spotlight on India. The Indian media is now reporting countless incidents.

You know how much I love my beloved India and have spent 2-5 months every year there for 10 years. But this year I have become quite frightened of this potential for rape and violence and have changed a lot of my habits of movement around India. I am inside by dark, never alone, dress VERY modestly, not trusting anyone new. I am so unlike my usual courageous, fearless self!

I had already decided to make this my last year for taking a tour and retiring as a tour guide. I am so sickened by these horrible events that it has tainted my feelings about India, and now I feel that I will not return for several years until I can travel in trusted company.

The corruption at all levels of Indian society is the other thing I hate, and I agree with your excellent blog that the buck stops with politicians and powerful institutions. You also mention India’s often incredibly inept and chauvinistic police force.

I am feeling so sad to be feeling like this, and I understand how sickened you would have been to find out the awful truth of Sathya Sai Baba’s perverse inclinations. But Barry, we are light bearers of the truth, and with God’s grace we can use our abilities to work against such evils and to make accountable the perpetrators and those who hide them or stand by and do nothing.

Keep up the good work, Barry.

Lots of love

……….

Further Reading

Sexual Abuse Rampant In Extreme Male Chauvinist India

Posted by Barry Pittard on January 7, 2013

Tehelka.com and the Delhi rapes – new India’s media conscience. 

Posted by robertpriddy on January 5, 2013

Advertisements

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Will Huffington Post Give Sathya Sai Baba Critics Equal Space To Plethora of Sai Hagiographers?

Posted by Barry Pittard on January 23, 2013

Subscribe to Call for media and government investigation of Sathya Sai Baba

Four days back, in the article:  Huffington Post Needs To Update Views On Sathya Sai Baba and His Authoritarian Cult.  Posted by Barry Pittard on January 20, 2013, I wrote of  Professor Vamsee Juluri’s article in the Huffington Post (US), Revisiting Puttaparthi and the Abode of Peace, noting: 

It will be interesting to see whether Vamsee Juluri thinks he can meet, with the slightest amount of evidence contrary to the contentions of two recent responders to his Huffington Post article (see below) – or the vast  Sathya Sai Baba exposure data on the web ….

No comment from Professor Juluri, at least as yet. HP has posted two of my comments. Below is a reply from ‘Saidas’, who writes as though familiar with what goes on at Puttaparthi.

I wrote:

Scriptures are of their own time. Taken literally they can assault reason, humanity and commonsense. Sai Baba believed literally in gods and demons. His statements e.g., about Jesus and Martin Luther, are historically inaccurate. He made bad scientific mistakes and unfulfilled prophecies. Many former leaders investigated with the utmost integrity. Pointing out anomalies should not invite abusive comment. Points pro Sai Baba commentators raise on HP are more than dealt with by the more capable former devotee writers on the internet. It is about responsibility, not about hate.
Before and since exposure via major world media e.g., the BBC’s documentary ‘The Secret Swami’, viewed by millions in many countries, many foremost leaders and followers quit the Sathya Sai Baba cult. Still more, after the Indian media and Andhra Pradesh state government (June, 2011) revealed Sai Baba’s vast secret hoard of money and valuables. Exposed too was the Sathya Sai Central Trust. He claimed he would live till circa 2022 and rule the world, yet died suspiciously, legalities side-stepped. World-wide data attest e.g., Sai Baba’s serial sexual molestation of boys and young men, the apartments scams, and, chillingly, the hushed-up killings in Sai Baba’s bedroom.

Barry Pittard, Australia, former lecturer in English at the Sathya Sai Baba College, Whitefield, South India. https://barrypittard.wordpress.com

‘Saidas’ responded:
Repeating untruths do not make them true Barry. It is obvious you are pulling your factoids here and there from the internet and presenting them as facts which is glaringly obvious to anyone who has first hand experience. You have no direct experience or knowledge on this subject yet feel free to make declarative statements as if you do or even know what you are talking about. “It is on the internet so it must be true” is a very weak hand to play.
I replied:
Sai-Das, Your comments do not square with the facts. Well before and after media or internet revelations, many foremost Sathya Sai Organization leaders have carefully investigated the heartbreaking allegations from many countries, and, with profound conscience, resigned. I was closely involved – first hand – in coordinating many submissions to media, UNESCO, government, Interpol, FBI and other agencies. Sadly, many from a wide array of socio-cultural backgrounds who spent years of great Sai Baba devotion and service, and who at great cost to themselves have fearlessly spoken out in good conscience, have been defamed, reviled and misrepresented. Yet, in their wider communities, professions and trades, they are regarded as being most decent human beings with high integrity. Various statements that you make in your other posts contain aspects of the facts that informed former devotees do not deny, but they miss crucial data, which you may rectify by reading the critical literature, especially of the prominent writers, who are deeply informed – often at first hand.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Huffington Post Needs To Update Views On Sathya Sai Baba and His Authoritarian Cult

Posted by Barry Pittard on January 20, 2013

Subscribe to Call for media and government investigation of Sathya Sai Baba

I note a series of pro Sathya Sai Baba articles, over time, on Huffington Post, USA. Limited space allows for comment beneath these – not always a bad thing, it must be said. I shall later post my reply to the latest article, by Vamsee Juluri, a professor in communications, and author of earlier extolling articles on Sai Baba, which will perhaps be this:

Scriptures are of their own time. Taken literally they can s0metimes assault reason, humanity and commonsense. Sai Baba believed literally in gods and demons. His statements e.g., about Jesus and Martin Luther, are historically inaccurate. He made serious scientific mistakes and unfulfilled prophecies. Many former leaders investigated with the utmost integrity. Pointing out anomalies should not invite abusive comment. Points pro Sai Baba commentators raise on HP are more than dealt with by the more capable former devotee writers on the internet. It is about responsibility, not about hate.

Since exposure via major world media e.g., the BBC’s documentary ‘The Secret Swami’, viewed by millions in many countries, many foremost leaders and followers quit the Sathya Sai Baba cult. Still more, after the Indian media and Andhra Pradesh state government (June, 2011) revealed Sai Baba’s vast secret hoard of money and valuables. Exposed too was the Sathya Sai Central Trust.

He claimed he would live till circa 2022 and rule the world, yet died suspiciously, legalities side-stepped. World-wide data attest e.g., Sai Baba’s serial sexual molestation of boys and young men, the apartments scams, and, chillingly, the hushed-up killings in Sai Baba’s bedroom.

Barry Pittard, Australia, former lecturer in English at the Sathya Sai Baba College, Whitefield, South India. https://barrypittard.wordpress.com

I copy the Vamsee Juluri article 16 January below, because it exposes how blinded very educated Sathya Sai Baba devotees are. They in no wise fearlessly look at the compelling data from a great many sources. They are a standing affront to many with credentials, just as outstanding, in various professions and trades, who have raised voices of conscience and profoundly evidence-based dissent. These dissenters are not contested as to integrity – except by those who fail to use investigative and ethical criteria, which they would in their professions otherwise, presumably, use and applaud. Thus is the mind-spell that grips those under the sway of charismatic gurus and narrow belief systems.

It will be interesting to see whether Vamsee Juluri thinks he can meet, with the slightest amount of evidence contrary to the contentions of two recent responders to his Huffington Post article (see below) – or the vast  Sathya Sai Baba exposure data on the web: e.g.:

———————————————

open 2

9 hours ago (11:22 AM)

I can understand that dear myths you cherish can be very sweet. But let’s remember mere facts:
(1) In 1993 six people were killed in Sathya Sai Baba’s rooms and the investigation was stopped with no court verdict. That is a serious violation of law and Sathya Sai Baba was a part of it.
(2) In September 2000 UNESCO withdrew from an educational conference which was going to be held in Prashanthi Nilayam, one of the ashrams of Sathya Sai Baba. As it was explained by UNESCO in the press-release, it was because of a deep concern about the allegations of sexual abuse involving youths and children that had been leveled at Sathya Sai Baba by his critics.
(3) In 2002 the Parliament of the United Kingdom discussed the possible danger to male children of British families intending to visit the ashram of Sathya Sai Baba in case of individual audiences with the guru.
(4) After Sathya Sai Baba death in 2011 in his rooms they discovered 98 kg of gold ornaments, approximate value Rs 21 crore (US$4.7m), 307 kg of silver ornaments, approximate value Rs 1.6 crore (US$0.36m), and Rs 11.6 crore (US$2.6m) in cash.
You can find more information just checking Wikipedia article about SSB.
10 hours ago (11:01 AM)
I was once a leader in the Sathya Sai Baba movement for nearly two decades, but left in 2000 after I investigated deeply into the massive exposures of Sai Baba’s infamous ‘divine downfall’ . After the many revelations of Sai Baba’s private hoarding of valuables on a huge scale, the cynical manipulations and continued cover-ups of the Sai Central Trust, news of bogus miracles (exposed by devotees themselves!) People still write letters to Sai Baba in a box but he died under the most suspect and unpropitious circumstances and the cause of his illness and death was carefully concealed. What of the world-wide testimonies of sexual molestation, known to be true by many long-term residents in his ashram and even office-bearers, as well as scandalous cover-up to the highest level by compromised long-term devotees (who were Prime Ministers etc.) of his direct involvement in the cold-blooded execution by police of four devotees. That is the ugly dark side which devotees have struggled their utmost to bury and forget.
Sai Baba preached much unrealistic, vague and impracticable advice, a Hindu nationalistic throwback to the past, questioning the validity of human rights, supporting caste ideas, taking Indian scriptural myth as fact plus many superficial, ambiguous ‘teachings’. The laughable distortions of fact in his teaching on Christianity and other religions, and his promotion of many absurdly wrong medical, scientific, historical and educational ideas in conflict with all modern knowledge is all documented – search on Google.
Call for media and government investigation of Sathya Sai Baba
Posted: 01/16/2013 11:51 am

On a bright sunny January morning, as people in India celebrated the festival of Sankranthi, I returned to Prasanthi Nilayam, the home of my family’s revered Guru, Sri Sathya Sai Baba. It was my first visit there in nearly five years, and more importantly, it was my first visit there since his passing, in April 2011.

It was therefore the first time that I had to face up to the ideal so many spiritual paths teach us: that it is not the form that matters, but what it contains.

Sitting once again in the vast expansive halls of Prashanthi Nilayam where we once used to wait, seemingly endlessly, for a few minutes of darshan, I felt strangely empty of expectation. There was no anticipation, or the sometimes charged tension, one felt in the long and silent wait for Baba’s arrival into the hall. The protocols though — and of course, the people — were very much the same as before. There were lots of people, as always, and they sat in more rows than one could hope to count without getting up. Short programs featuring students from Baba’s schools and colleges were conducted. The ever-popular bhajans were sung, and the sacred arathi offered. At the end, though, everyone lined up for what is now called Samadhi-darshan, a few seconds of silent prayer at the edge of the marble monument which marks as close as we will ever get again to our beloved Swami, as we called him. As we left, we were given a rose-petal as a sign of blessing. I noted the presence of small baskets on the floor, where devotees could leave letters addressed to him, as they did when he was alive.

Nothing has changed in Prashanthi Nilayam. The ceremonies, the celebrations, the students’ earnest and sometimes enchanting plays and performances, the bhajans that made this movement so simple and easy to belong to, and most of all the people, the vast and reasonably well self-regulated throngs of devotees, seekers, and the curious who came, they were all there. It seemed to me that at any moment, the black and orange spot of flame that Baba looked like amidst the great crowds would appear from somewhere. I recall the effect his entrance used to have on the massive crowds, how bodies stiffened and turned as one to face him, even if he was so distant as to appear like a tiny speck of color. Despite that wistful feeling, the only difference now, it seemed to me, was that instead of craning for a sight of a flash of orange in the sea of heads that surrounded us, now we sought only for a line of sight toward the white marble surface of his Samadhi, not unlike the way we try to steal a sight of the deity in the great (and crowded) ancient temples of India like Tirupati. The feeling, and the belief, obviously has not changed, for me, and for the thousands of people who still come.

And yet, everything has changed too. How could it not?

I belonged to a generation, and a moment in time, when the Sai movement, its members and its service activities, were beginning to expand momentously. In my early visits to Puttaparthi in the 1980s, I could still see a bit of the ease and familiarity earlier devotees used to say they had with Baba. The crowds were smaller, and the time one had with him, a little bit longer, and the space more intimate. By the 1990s, the place was a giant spectacle, with thousands, and sometimes tens of thousands, of people visiting the ashram almost every day. The once tiny, desolate and poor village of Puttaparthi now even had an airport. The giant hospital, university and various other philanthropic projects undertaken by Baba dominated the landscape, and the attention of the devotee-volunteers. Heads of state came to visit, frequently, and share in some of the spirit of service and accomplishment that the movement saw at this time, such as the massive projects that delivered drinking water to hundreds of poor villages in the region.

And yet, at the center of all this was the diminutive figure of Baba, a small, maternal, kind and often witty person who many of us simply could not perceive as anything other than an avatar, a human incarnation of divinity itself. At first, that feeling was a strange and unexpected change for me. Until I met Baba, I only thought of God in the abstract, or as mystically embodied in stone and metal in our temples. For nearly 25 years after that, I thought of God in very human terms, as a person, a very specific person, who I thought was so much like my own father and mother in many ways, in his ideals, practice and even his persona. Now, all that seems like it was a wonderful time, but it has passed. Baba is and will continue to be venerated, among the faithful, no different from the other forms and names by which the divine is venerated. In the future, some of us will think of him as we think of Krishna and Rama now. We will, inevitably, move into a realm where our gods will not talk back to us or encourage us or lovingly reprimand us, as the case may once have been. We will make our gods our gods, and forget, inevitably, that they were gurus too, that they so taught us, and not by words alone.

In my brief stay at the ashram this week, I could see that there were many new, younger devotees and visitors present as well. By the afternoon, the sprawling grounds of the ashram started to look the way it used to in the past, with hundreds of families camping out under trees and bits of shade here and there. I remember those days, when tens and sometimes even hundreds of thousands of people descended on Puttaparthi for a mere sight of the man they believed was God incarnate. Even in the anonymity of the mass, there was so much of a connection between the people and their guru, because he was there, and he connected as a human being, an elder and benefactor, with more people and families, and more profoundly and meaningfully, than we can even fathom. His teachings, and the simple bhakti practices he advocated such as service and singing, were perhaps secondary to the mad adoration and faith that marked their relationship with him. Now, only his teachings, and the world he built, remain.

As I left Prashanthi Nilayam at night, and a smiling moon rose over the horizon, I thought briefly about what that world will mean in the future, and mean something it surely will, because the people are there, and they are coming. The question though is what exactly people are coming for. One can be certain that for many, the journey will be about the expectation of a miracle; an illness cured, an examination passed, a promotion secured, the mundane things God gets called on for every moment and every day. Like Shirdi, Puttaparthi will remain a place where faith lives and resonates for the faithful. But there is also the other miracle that took place in this speck of a hamlet in a dry and desolate corner of south India no one would have heard of but for one simple peasant son. That miracle, I think, is still unfolding. We may see its visible manifestations in the form of gigantic hospitals that offer free treatment to all and water pipelines and tankers that quench the thirst of thousands of villagers in India’s most arid regions, but there is more to come too. All those who knew Baba, and who are coming to know him now, after his passing, will find that the real arena for the miraculous is not in some mystical plane, but really in our own lives. I think we will find, somehow, still, that kindness and love are the only way to live. There may be alternatives to our religions, our paths and chosen deities. But there is no alternative to love. Sometimes, I feel that because I believe Baba’s presence is always here and shows me that. At other times, I feel nothing more than this world and the people in it that make the world for me, and still, all this shows me that too.

Baba did not quite say it in those words, but George Harrison did. Prashanthi Nilayam, the Abode of Peace, seems to me is now Within You and Without You.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Memorably Defending Freedom of Speech: Rowan Atkinson (UK), Sanal Edamaruku (India)

Posted by Barry Pittard on January 18, 2013

Subscribe to Call for media and government investigation of Sathya Sai Baba

When we do not actively defend freedom our voice bleats.

In the preface to a series of articles, Robert Priddy and I wrote:

The foes of the ‘open society’ (Sir Karl Popper’s term) are those who use its very openness to achieve their closed and devious ends. Sai Baba and his highly authoritarian and cultist organisation have such ends, which critics have tried to make known. Its foremost leaders silence all those who question it – and never face substantive criticisms. For the first time – after six years of pained and guilty silence – since hundreds of long-term devotees left it in disgust – the Sathya Sai Organisation has found it necessary to try to defuse the debate about Sathya Sai Baba’s alleged crimes, deceits and fraudulence. Dr. Venkataraman’s tendentious cover-up article expresses untruths which have long circulated within the cult, giving an opportunity to confront him with facts and truth:  The Sathya Sai Organisation’s Deception and Propaganda Exposed

Foreigners who have lived in India (in my case, several years) begin to know what always appalls questioning Indians, too – the profound and ubiquitous irrationality, ignorance and superstition. And the frequent danger for those who speak out.

Those of us who have exposed the Sathya Sai Baba cult via such bodies as UNESCO, the BBC documentary ‘The Secret Swami’ and many leading media and institutions around the world came to know at first hand of the great courage of Indians like Sanal Edamaruku and Basava Premanand (see my article:  Basava Premanand. Vale. A fighter for truth who lived what others preach. Posted by Barry Pittard on October 6, 2009. 

Sanal Sanal Edamaruku faces years of gaol for simply exposing the material cause for the so-called ‘weeping statue’ of Mary in the Church of Our Lady of Velan Kanni, Mumbai.  My close colleague Robert Priddy and I have been glad to sign the Petition supporting Edamaruku. We urge our friends and well-wishers to sign this Petition.

See: Sanal Edamaruku – discriminatory scandal from India’s revanchist laws. Posted by robertpriddy on January 17, 2013. The Petition, inter alia, reads:

Please join the Rationalist Association (UK) in condemning the misuse of Indian law by several Catholic organisations to silence a campaigner against superstition. In March 2012, following his exposure of a supposed miracle at a Catholic Church in Mumbai as nothing more than the result of a leak, a complaint was lodged against Sanal Edamaruku by local Catholic organisations with the Mumbai police, who are now able to arrest him. He has been denied ‘anticipatory’ bail which means if arrested he faces a long term in prison merely for explaining the science behind an apparent mystery.

The great British comedian Rowan Atkinson has memorably defended freedom of speech at a Westminster Parliamentary reception

The great British comedian Rowan Atkinson has memorably defended freedom of speech at a Westminster Parliamentary reception

It is not, however, as though almost unimaginably absurd but very real threats to democratic freedom break out in a shambling, quasi democracy like India. In the UK, the great comedian Rowan Atkinson (e.g., ‘Mr Bean’ and many other immortal classics of comedy) has been the public face of a major campaign in Britain to combat laws which violate genuine freedom of speech. Atkinson speaks of a “creeping culture of censoriousness”. You can hear his eloquent speech:  Rowan Atkinson’s speech at Reform Section 5 Parliamentary reception.  (See transcript below). The extremely badly-defined British legislation section, now, as the result of strong, popular campaigning, to be repealed, is Public Order Act 5,  Harassment, alarm or distress:

(1) A person is guilty of an offence if he —

(a) uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour, or

(b) displays any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting …

Call for media and government investigation of Sathya Sai Baba

The Guardian

Jesus wept … oh, it’s bad plumbing. Indian rationalist targets ‘miracles’

Sanal Edamaruku faces jail for revealing ‘tears’ trickling down a Mumbai church statue came from clogged drainage pipes

CHRISTIANS PREPARE FOR POPE'S VISIT

A statue of Christ in Mumbai. Local people declared a miracle when ‘tears’ trickled down the statue at the Church of Our Lady of Velan Kanni. Photograph: Sherwin Crasto/Associated Press

When water started trickling down a statue of Jesus Christ at a Catholic church in Mumbai earlier this year, locals were quick to declare a miracle. Some began collecting the holy water and the Church of Our Lady of Velankanni began to promote it as a site of pilgrimage.

So when Sanal Edamaruku arrived and established that this was not holy water so much as holey plumbing, the backlash was severe. The renowned rationalist was accused of blasphemy, charged with offences that carry a three-year prison sentence and eventually, after receiving death threats, had to seek exile in Finland.

Now he is calling for European governments to press Delhi into dropping the case. And on the first leg of a tour around EU capitals on Friday, he warned that India was sacrificing freedom of expression for outdated, colonial-era rules about blasphemy.

“There is a huge contradiction in the content of the Indian constitution which guarantees freedom of speech and the blasphemy law from 1860 under then colonial rule,” Edamaruku told the Guardian in an interview in Dublin.

“This blasphemy law can affect anyone in India – even a girl recently who wrote on Facebook against closing down a city because of the death of a famous local politician. She was prosecuted under the blasphemy law and another girl who ‘liked’ her comment on Facebook was also arrested and then charged with blasphemy.”

Edamaruku, who has the support of rationalists and atheists such as Richard Dawkins, is well known in India for debunking religious myths, and was already unpopular among Indian Catholics for publicly criticising Mother Teresa’s legacy in Kolkata.

When the state “miracle” was pronounced, he went to Mumbai and found that the dripping water was due to clogged drainage pipes behind the wall where it stood. His revelation provoked death threats from religious zealots and ultimately charges of blasphemy under the Indian penal code in the Mumbai high court.

“India cannot criticise Pakistan for arresting young girls for blaspheming against Islam while it arrests and locks up its own citizens for breaking our country’s blasphemy laws,” he said. “It is an absurd law but also extremely dangerous because it gives fanatics, whether they are Hindus, Catholics or Muslims, a licence to be offended. It also allows people who are in dispute with you to make up false accusations of blasphemy.”

Edamaruku said his exposure of the weeping statue was also a contribution to public health in Mumbai as some believers were drinking the water hoping it could cure ailments. “This was sewage water seeping through a wall due to faulty plumbing,” he said. “It posed a health risk to people who were fooled into believing it was a miracle.”

He has been living in Finland since the summer. He was in Europe on a lecture tour in July when his partner rang to say the police had arrived at his flat. “I felt really upset because under the blasphemy law you cannot get bail until the court case begins. I would be in jail now if I had been at my apartment in Delhi,” he said.

He has spurned an offer from a senior Indian Catholic bishop to apologise for the exposure of the “miracle”.

“The Catholic archbishop of Bombay, Oswald, Cardinal Gracias, has said that if I apologise for the ‘offence’ I have caused he will see to it that the charges are dropped. This shows that he has influence in the situation but he will not use it unless I apologise, which I will not do as I have done nothing wrong,” he said.

“In a way I am lucky because I have friends and supporters in Europe. I am well known in India and have the telephone numbers of at least five Indian cabinet ministers. And I have some means of fighting back. But what would happen to the common man or woman if they were accused of blasphemy? They would be sent straight to jail without any chance of bail,” he said.

Edamaruku asked for “mounting international pressure”, particularly from Ireland and other EU nations, on the Indian government. Delhi had the power to halt the prosecution before a court case, citing a lack of evidence to pursue it, he said.

Mick Nugent, from Atheist Ireland, the organisation hosting the Indian’s visit to the republic and Northern Ireland next week, said Edamaruku’s plight also underlined the need for Dublin’s Fine Gael-Labour government to repeal Ireland’s blasphemy law.

“Blasphemy laws are very strange because they can be both very silly and also very sinister. They are very silly because you are talking about crying statues and moving statues or Virgin Marys appearing in tree stumps in Co Limerick. But on the other hand these type of laws are used in Islamic countries to jail people or sentence them to death. Or in Sanal’s case facing a jail sentence for his work exposing bogus miracles.

“The Irish government should pay attention to Sanal’s case and realise they must get rid of this absurd and dangerous law. Because we shouldn’t be so smug in Ireland. After all, we have had the hysteria about moving statues and a man bringing people to a shrine in Co Mayo so they can look at the sun and see the Virgin Mary.”

Sanal Edamaruku, Indian Rationalist, Proves ‘Weeping Christ’ Miracle A Hoax, Now Faces Years In Jail (VIDEO)

The Huffington Post  |  By Posted: 11/28/2012 1:08 pm EST

What started with a mysterious trickle, ended in death threats, charges of blasphemy and pleas for asylum from Sanal Edamaruku. The noted Indian rationalist argued that a “miraculous” dripping crucifix in Mumbai was caused by faulty plumbing and not divine intervention.

The controversy started in March when water began to drip from the feet of a statue of Jesus at the Church of Our Lady of Velankanni in western Mumbai. Thousands flocked to the site to collect the “holy” water, with some even drinking it in the hopes of curing various ailments, the Daily News reports.

Edamaruku, who is the founder and president of Rationalist International and president of the Indian Rationalist Association, arrived at the site to investigate.

In a July interview with Slate, Edamaruku explained what he found at Our Lady of Velankanni.

I had a close look at a nearby washroom and the connected drainage system that passed underneath the concrete base of the cross. I removed some stones from the drain and found it was blocked. I touched the walls, the base, and the cross and took some photographs for documentation. It was very simple: Water from the washroom, which had been blocked in the clogged drainage system, had been transmitted via capillary action into the adjacent walls and the base of the cross as well as into the wooden cross itself. The water came out through a nail hole and ran down over the statue’s feet.

Edamauku also explained the supposed miracle on live television. The program, shown on Mumbai’s TV-9, channel, was posted to YouTube in March and included a very heated debate between Edamauku, the priest of Our Lady of Velankanni church and representatives of the Association of Concerned Catholics.

The backlash against Edamaruku’s conclusions was swift and strong.

According to Slate, the 56-year-old rationalist has been accused of insulting religion (a charge akin to blasphemy) under Section 295A of the Indian penal code, which charges a person with “deliberately hurting religious feelings and attempting malicious acts intended to outrage the religious sentiments of any class or community.”

Death threats followed, and Edamaruku was forced to seek exile in Finland, according to The Guardian. Now, Edamaruku is rallying support in Europe to convince the Delhi prosecutor to drop the case.

“There is a huge contradiction in the content of the Indian constitution which guarantees freedom of speech and the blasphemy law from 1860 under then colonial rule,” Edamaruku told the Guardian in an interview in Dublin. “It is an absurd law but also extremely dangerous because it gives fanatics, whether they are Hindus, Catholics or Muslims, a [license] to be offended. It also allows people who are in dispute with you to make up false accusations of blasphemy.”

Renowned British atheist Richard Dawkins was quick to come to Edamaruku’s defense. The Richard Dawkins Foundation even has a link to a defense fund for Edamaruku on its website.

Edamaruku has said he’s not frightened of a possible trial.

“If it comes to a trial, I have nothing to fear,” he told Slate in July. “I would welcome the opportunity to throw some light on the role that the Catholic Church played and is still playing today here in India. The possibility of arrest is threatening, however.”

In the past, the Edamaruku has gained attention for publicly criticizing Mother Teresa’s legacy in Kolkata, particularly the quality of care in her Homes for the Dying. He has also targeted powerful spiritual leaders such as the late Sathya Sai Baba, as well as many top mystics and gurus, according to the Daily News.

———————————-

Rowan Atkinson’s speech at Reform Section 5 Parliamentary reception (Video)

Rowan Atkinson continues his freedom of speech campaign to repeal parts of Section 5 of the 1986 Public Order Act in the UK. 

Speech Transcript:

“My starting point when it comes to the consideration of any issue relating to free speech is my very passionate belief that the second most precious thing in life is the right to express yourself freely. The most precious thing in life I think is food in your mouth and the third most precious is a roof over your head but a fixture in the Number 2 slot for me is free expression, just below the need to sustain life itself. That is because I have enjoyed free expression all my professional life and expect to continue to do so, I personally highly unlikely to be arrested whatever laws exist to contain free expression, because of the undoubtedly privileged position that is afforded to those of a high public profile. So my concerns are less for myself and more for those more vulnerable because of their lower profile. Like the man arrested in Oxford for calling a police horse gay. Or the teenager arrested for calling the Church of Scientology a cult. Or the café owner arrested for displaying passages from the bible on a TV screen.

“When I heard of some of these more ludicrous offences, I remembered that I had been here before in a fictional context. I once did a show called Not the Nine O’Clock News, and we did a sketch where Griff Rhys-Jones played Constable Savage, a manifestly racist police officer to whom I, as his station commander, is giving a dressing down for arresting a black man on a whole string of ridiculous, trumped up and ludicrous charges. The charges for which Constable Savage arrested Mr. Winston Kodogo of 55 Mercer Road were these:
 
‘Walking on the cracks in the pavement’
 
‘Walking in a loud shirt in a built up area during the hours of darkness’ and one of my favourites ‘Walking around all over the place’
 
He was also arrested for ‘Urinating in a public convenience’ and ‘Looking at me in a funny way’.
 
“Who would have thought that we would end up with a law that would allow life to imitate art so exactly. I read somewhere, a defender of the status quo claiming that the fact that the gay horse case was dropped after the arrested man refused to pay the fine and that the Scientology case was also dropped at some point during the court process was indicative of a law working well, ignoring the fact that the only reason those cases were dropped was because of the publicity that they had attracted. The Police sensed that ridicule was just around the corner and withdrew the actions. But what about the thousands of other cases that did not enjoy the oxygen of publicity? That weren’t quite ludicrous enough to attract media attention?  Even for those actions that were withdrawn, people were arrested, questioned, taken to court and then released. That isn’t a law working properly: that is censoriousness of the most intimidating kind, guaranteed to have a ‘chilling effect’ on free expression and free protest.
 
“Parliament’s Joint committee on Human Rights summarized this whole issue well by saying ‘While arresting a protestor for using ‘threatening or abusive’ speech may, depending on the circumstances, be a proportionate response, we do not think that language or behaviour that is merely ‘insulting’ should ever be criminalized in this way’. The clear problem with the outlawing of insult is that too many things can be interpreted as such. Criticism is easily construed as insult. Ridicule is easily construed as insult. Sarcasm, unfavourable comparison, merely stating an alternative point of view can be interpreted as insult. And because so many things can be interpreted as insult, it is hardly surprising that so many things have been, as the examples I talked about earlier show.
 
“Although the law under discussion has been on the statute book for over 25 years, it is indicative of a culture that has taken hold of the legislative programmes of successive governments that, with the reasonable and well-intended ambition to contain obnoxious elements in society, has created a society of an extraordinarily authoritarian and controlling nature. It is what you might call The New Intolerance, a new but intense desire to gag uncomfortable voices of dissent. ‘I am not intolerant’, say many people; say many softly spoken, highly-educated, liberal-minded people: ‘I am only intolerant of intolerance’. And people tend to nod sagely and say ‘Oh, Wise words, wise words’ and yet if you think about this supposedly inarguable statement for longer than five seconds, you realize that all it is advocating is the replacement of one kind of intolerance with another. Which to me doesn’t represent any kind of progress at all. Underlying prejudices, injustices or resentments are not addressed by arresting people: they are addressed by the issues being aired, argued and dealt with preferably outside the legislative process. For me, the best way to increase society’s resistance to insulting or offensive speech is to allow a lot more of it. As with childhood diseases, you can better resist those germs to which you have been exposed.
 
“We need to build our immunity to taking offence, so that we can deal with the issues that perfectly justified criticism can raise. Our priority should be to deal with the message, not the messenger. As President Obama said in an address to the United Nations a month or so ago: ‘…laudable efforts to restrict speech can become a tool to silence critics, or oppress minorities. The strongest weapon against hateful speech is not repression, it is more speech’ and that is the essence of my thesis; more speech. If we want a robust society, we need more robust dialogue and that must include the right to insult or to offend. Because, as someone once said, the freedom to be inoffensive is no freedom at all.
 
“The repeal of this clause will be only a small step, but it will I hope be a critical one in what should be a longer term project to pause and slowly rewind a creeping culture of censoriousness. It is a small skirmish in the battle to deal with what Sir Salman Rushdie refers to as the Outrage Industry: self-appointed arbiters of the public good, encouraging media-stoked outrage, to which the police feel under terrible pressure to react. A newspaper rings up Scotland Yard: someone has said something slightly insulting on Twitter about someone who we think a national treasure: what are you going to do about it? And the police panic and they scrabble around and then grasp the inappropriate lifeline of Section 5 of the Public Order Act: that thing where they can arrest anybody for saying anything that might be construed by anybody else as insulting. They don’t need a complainant, or a real victim: they need only to make the judgment that somebody could have been offended if they had heard or read what has been said. The most ludicrous degree of latitude. The storms that surround Twitter and Facebook comment have raised some fascinating issues about free speech. So far, we have learnt two important lessons. Firstly, that we all have to take responsibility for what we say, which is not a bad lesson to learn. And secondly, we’ve learnt how appallingly prickly and intolerant society has become of even the mildest adverse comment.
 
“The law should not be aiding and abetting this new intolerance. Free speech can only suffer if the law prevents us from dealing with its consequences. I offer you my wholehearted support to the Reform Section 5 campaign. Thank you.’

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Sexual Abuse Rampant In Extreme Male Chauvinist India

Posted by Barry Pittard on January 7, 2013

In addressing sexual abuse, no society, and no community, has a good record. In India, great evils such as patriarchy, the caste system, endemic corruption at all levels but especially among the ruling elites, gerontocracy, nepotism, dowry, infanticide, obscene contrasts between opulence and poverty and squalor, and so forth, make issues particularly acute.

The question arises:  How can India – which hotly competes with China for superpower status – expect, with any self-respect, to join other countries which make signal efforts in providing strong legislation and provision of effective and humane services to deal with sexual abuse? Of the Indian media, hardly any were of use to us in our exhaustive effort to expose Sathya Sai Baba and his worldwide cult. This failure – not of our own making – was in marked contradistinction to our dealings with world media. As the editor of one of India’s top newspapers admitted in private:  Sai Baba and his people are too powerful. The rare exceptions whom we could respect were India Today, whose proprietor knew, all too directly and painfully, from his own family of Sathya Sai Baba’s pedophilia, and Tehelka, which has put up a huge struggle over decades to prevent itself from being wiped out. In Indian Media and Governments Heedless of Decade of Foreign Media and Sai Baba Critics’ Revelations, I wrote: 

To the profound shame of the Indian media, leading newspaper and television organizations heeded our representations:

For example, BBC, CBC (Canada), DR (Denmark), Salon.com (USA), SBS (all television), ABC (Radio Australia). In newspaper media – Times of London, Daily Telegraph, Guardian (UK), Marie Claire Magazine, Salon.com, BT, Bild, Focus, Trouw, Speegelbield, Noordhollands Dagblad, Sokaren, Gatopardo, Ottawa Citizen, Toronto Star, Vancouver Sun, Age, Australian Financial Review, West Australian (a major front page article by an award-winning journalist (Torrance Mendez) was pulled at the 11th hour!), Adelaide Advertiser, etc., ….. It was not until a close friend of ours, at the top of a notable profession, was able to dine with an official of the Indo Asian News Service that our Duke of Edinburgh story concerning Sai Baba’s propaganda people that we were able, after many futile attempts, to make some inroads on a small section of the Indian media.

Extraordinarily, in the last days, wide sections of the Indian media are surfacing evidence that powerfully tells against Sathya Sai Baba and many of his core servitors. It is, of course, to the historic shame of the Indian media (with the honorable exception of India Today) and successive, typically corrupt Indian governments, national and state, that we long remained voices crying out in the wilderness. For my appreciation of India Today’s publisher Aroon Purie and his team, see:  Sai Baba Treasure Scandals: His Big Political Protectors Now Run For Cover.  Posted by Barry Pittard on June 27, 2011.

See also:  Sai Baba Treasure Scandals: His Big Political Protectors Now Run For Cover Posted by Barry Pittard on June 22, 2011

http://robertpriddy.files.wordpress.com/2013/01/rapes-police.jpg

In 2007, the Government of India released its landmark survey on sexual abuse in that country. (See:  Over 53% children face sexual abuse: Survey. TNN Apr 10, 2007, 12.00am IST:

NEW DELHI: In a shocking revelation, a government commissioned survey has found that more than 53% of children in India are subjected to sexual abuse, but most don’t report the assaults to anyone.

The survey, released on Monday and which covered different forms of child abuse — physical, sexual and emotional — as well as female child neglect, found that two out of every three children have been physically abused.

See also:

Sai Baba Promised to Transform India. But Child Abuse Rampant. Posted by Barry Pittard on April 11, 2007, and Child Abuse in India. Will Minister Renuka Chowdhury Act? Posted by Barry Pittard on April 11, 2007). I have written of our vast, uphill climb – including of our Indian colleagues – to make meaningful headway with India’s foremost political, government and religious authorities, and most of the media, even though, in some quarters, we had high-level backdoor access. See:  Indian Media and Governments Heedless of Decade of Foreign Media and Sai Baba Critics’ Revelations. Posted by Barry Pittard on June 27, 2011.

Whether in our contacts with Vajpayee’s or Sonja Gandhi’s or Manmohan Singh’s officials, we found the taboos against raising sexual abuse issue extreme. In our networking, we saw how extraordinarily courageous Indian activists daily fight for social justice in India. They face death, grave injury, gaol, persecution, defamation, and profound denial of their civil liberties ostensibly guaranteed under Indian law. See:  Open Letter to Prime Minister of India, Hon. A.B. Vajpayee, By Barry Pittard, Australia, former Lecturer, Sri Sathya Sai College of the Arts, Science and Commerce, Whitefield, Karnataka.

Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh at Sathya Sai Baba's Funeral

Sonia Gandhi and current PM Manmohan Singh at Sathya Sai Baba’s funeral. Both leaders assisted, as had Vajpayee earlier, in the cover up of Sai Baba’s serial sexual abuse of countless boys and young men from around the world.

Vajpayee and Sathya Sai BabaFormer PM Vajpayee, photo below left, like Manmohan Singh, a longtime Sai Baba devotee

If my reader is very busy, at least you may find time to view a concise and hard-hitting IBNLIVE.com (India) report (2 minutes, 10 seconds): India: world’s most sexually abused children!

Worldwide, statistics show that sexual abuse, far more than being a ‘stranger danger’ issue, secretes itself among our own families, friends and acquaintances. We need to squirm – without running away. We need to face our own consciences – without thinking there is nothing we can do. We need to speak – without retreating into a numb, corroding silence. We need to love and protect children – properly.

The furore at the moment over the Delhi rape case elicits some action.  See Robert Priddy’s article: Tehelka.com and the Delhi rapes – new India’s media conscience.  Posted by robertpriddy on January 5, 2013

Again, ordinary Indian people stir and protest – making life more difficult for the Indian power elites who have tried heavily and constantly to throttle such issues, as they did with decades of scandal after scandal about Sathya Sai Baba and his cult.

At least the Delhi case has penetrated the Indian and international media. And yet rape and other forms of abuse are endemic throughout India, almost sanctioned by large sections of her police forces whose officers frequently hold extremely chauvinist attitudes toward women.

But essentially, Indian authorities do not even heed and act on this 2 minutes and 10 seconds of information.

In marked contrast to the decade in which my colleagues and I have worked to expose Sathya Sai Baba and his international cult, more articles in leading Indian media begin to surface, such as yesterday’s  Hindustan Times, with its hard-nosed practical recommendations. The Guardian article, which has many useful links, is a strongly researched piece, again giving indications of a groundswell of public anger in India, which we have also seen in the recent and pan India demonstrations against political and corporate corruption.

Call for media and government investigation of Sathya Sai Baba

Patriarchy exposed

Hindustan TimesBy Hindustan Times | Hindustan Times – Sun 6 Jan, 2013

Mumbai, Jan. 6 — The sustained national outcry over an unspeakable sexual assault has put the spotlight not only on crimes against women, but also exposed the underlying patriarchy that is holding India back. The crisis of femininity and masculinity has never been more apparent. How do we heal?

Why is India so bad for women?

Of all the rich G20 nations, India has been labelled the worst place to be a woman. But how is this possible in a country that prides itself on being the world’s largest democracy?

The Guardian, Monday 23 July 2012 21.00 BST

Video of a woman being molested in Guwahati, India

Video of a woman being attacked in Guwahati, Assam, has sparked outrage in India.

In an ashram perched high on a hill above the noisy city of Guwahati in north-east India is a small exhibit commemorating the life of India’s most famous son. Alongside an uncomfortable-looking divan where Mahatma Gandhi once slept is a display reminding visitors of something the man himself said in 1921: “Of all the evils for which man has made himself responsible, none is so degrading, so shocking or so brutal as his abuse of the better half of humanity; the female sex (not the weaker sex).”

One evening two weeks ago, just a few miles downhill, a young student left a bar and was set upon by a gang of at least 18 men. They dragged her into the road by her hair, tried to rip off her clothes and smiled at the cameras that filmed it all. It was around 9.30pm on one of Guwahati’s busiest streets – a chaotic three-lane thoroughfare soundtracked by constantly beeping horns and chugging tuk-tuks. But for at least 20 minutes, no one called the police. They easily could have. Many of those present had phones: they were using them to film the scene as the men yanked up the girl’s vest and tugged at her bra and groped her breasts as she begged for help from passing cars. We know this because a cameraman from the local TV channel was there too, capturing the attack for his viewers’ enjoyment. The woman was abused for 45 minutes before the police arrived.

Within half an hour, clips were broadcast on Assam’s NewsLive channel. Watching across town, Sheetal Sharma and Bitopi Dutta were horrified. “I was fuming like anything. There was this horrible, brutal assault being shown on screen – and the most disturbing thing was, the blame was being put on the woman, who, the report emphasised, was drunk,” says Sharma, a 29-year-old feminist activist from the North-East Network, a women’s rights organisation in Guwahati. “The way it was filmed, the camera was panning up and down her body, focusing on her breasts, her thighs,” says Dutta, her 22-year-old colleague.

When the police eventually turned up, they took away the woman, who is 20 or 21 (oddly, Guwahati police claimed not to know exactly). While NewsLive re-played pixellated footage of her attack throughout the night, she was questioned and given a medical examination. No attempt was made to arrest the men whose faces could clearly be seen laughing and jeering on camera. Soon afterwards, the editor-in-chief of NewsLive (who has since resigned) remarked on Twitter that “prostitutes form a major chunk of girls who visit bars and night clubs”.

It was only a few days later, when the clip had gone viral and had been picked up by the national channels in Delhi, that the police were shamed into action. By then, Guwahati residents had taken matters into their own hands, producing an enormous banner that they strung up alongside one of the city’s arterial roads featuring screen grabs of the main suspects. Six days after the attack, the chief minister of Assam, the state where Guwahati is located, ordered the police to arrest a dozen key suspects. He met the victim and promised her 50,000 rupees (£580) compensation.

The damage was already irreversible. Most Indians know full well how tough life as a woman can be in the world’s biggest democracy, even 46 years after Indira Gandhi made history as the country’s first female prime minister in 1966. But here, caught on camera, was proof. And in Assam – a state long romanticised as the most female-friendly corner of the country, largely thanks to the matrilineal Khasi tribe in Meghalaya. The nation was outraged.

“We have a woman president, we’ve had a woman prime minister. Yet in 2012, one of the greatest tragedies in our country is that women are on their own when it comes to their own safety,” said a female newsreader on NDTV. She went on to outline another incident in India last week: a group of village elders in Baghpat, Uttar Pradesh, central India, who banned women from carrying mobile phones, choosing their own husbands or leaving the house unaccompanied or with their heads uncovered. “The story is the same,” said the news anchor. “No respect for women. No respect for our culture. And as far as the law is concerned: who cares?”

There is currently no special law in India against sexual assault or harassment, and only vaginal penetration by a penis counts as rape. Those who molested the woman in Guwahati would be booked for “insulting or outraging the modesty of a woman” or “intruding upon her privacy”. The maximum punishment is a year’s imprisonment, or a fine, or both.

As a columnist in the national Hindustan Times said of the attack: “This is a story of a dangerous decline in Indians and India itself, of not just failing morality but disintegrating public governance when it comes to women.” Samar Halarnkar added: “Men abuse women in every society, but few males do it with as much impunity, violence and regularity as the Indian male.”

Halarnkar then offered as proof a survey that caused indignation in India last month: a poll of 370 gender specialists around the world that voted India the worst place to be a woman out of all the G20 countries. It stung – especially as Saudi Arabia was at the second-worst. But the experts were resolute in their choice. “In India, women and girls continue to be sold as chattels, married off as young as 10, burned alive as a result of dowry-related disputes and young girls exploited and abused as domestic slave labour,” said Gulshun Rehman, health programme development adviser at Save the Children UK, who was one of those polled.

Women on a bus in Chennai, India Women travelling on a bus in Chennai, southern India. Photograph: Gustafsson/Rex FeaturesLook at some statistics and suddenly the survey isn’t so surprising. Sure, India might not be the worst place to be a woman on the planet – its rape record isn’t nearly as bad as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for instance, where more than 400,000 women are raped each year, and female genital mutilation is not widespread, as it is in Somalia. But 45% of Indian girls are married before the age of 18, according to the International Centre for Research on Women (2010); 56,000 maternal deaths were recorded in 2010 (UN Population Fund) and research from Unicef in 2012 found that 52% of adolescent girls (and 57% of adolescent boys) think it is justifiable for a man to beat his wife. Plus crimes against women are on the increase: according to the National Crime Records Bureau in India, there was a 7.1% hike in recorded crimes against women between 2010 and 2011 (when there were 228,650 in total). The biggest leap was in cases under the “dowry prohibition act” (up 27.7%), of kidnapping and abduction (up 19.4% year on year) and rape (up 9.2%).

A preference for sons and fear of having to pay a dowry has resulted in 12 million girls being aborted over the past three decades, according to a 2011 study by the Lancet.

A glance at the Indian media reveals the range of abuse suffered by the nation’s women on a daily basis. Today it was reported that a woman had been stripped and had her head shaved by villagers near Udaipur as punishment for an extramarital affair. Villagers stoned the police when they came to the rescue. In Uttar Pradesh, a woman alleged she was gang raped at a police station – she claimed she was set on by officers after being lured to the Kushinagar station with the promise of a job.

Last Wednesday, a man in Indore was arrested for keeping his wife’s genitals locked. Sohanlal Chouhan, 38, “drilled holes” on her body and, before he went to work each day, would insert a small lock, tucking the keys under his socks. Earlier this month, children were discovered near Bhopal playing with a female foetus they had mistaken for a doll in a bin. In the southern state of Karnataka, a dentist was arrested after his wife accused him of forcing her to drink his urine because she refused to meet dowry demands.

In June, a father beheaded his 20-year-old daughter with a sword in a village in Rajasthan, western India, parading her bleeding head around as a warning to other young women who might fall in love with a lower-caste boy.

This July, the state government in Delhi was summoned to the national high court after failing to amend an outdated law that exempts women (and turban-wearing Sikh men) from wearing helmets on motorcycles – an exemption campaigners argue is indicative of the lack of respect for female life.

But the story that outraged most women in India last week was an interview given to the Indian Express by Mamta Sharma, chairwoman of the National Commission of Women (NCW), a government body tasked with protecting and promoting the interests of Indian women. Asked by the reporter if there should be a dress code for women “to ensure their safety”, Sharma allegedly replied: “After 64 years of freedom, it is not right to give blanket directions … and say don’t wear this or don’t wear that. Be comfortable, but at the same time, be careful about how you dress … Aping the west blindly is eroding our culture and causing such crimes to happen.”

She added: “Westernisation has afflicted our cities the worst. There are no values left. In places like Delhi there is no culture of giving up seats for women. It is unfortunate that while the west is learning from our culture, we are giving ourselves up completely to western ways.”

Her remarks caused a storm. As Sagarika Ghose put it in the online magazine First Post: “It’s not just about blindly aping the west, Ms Sharma. It’s also about the vacuum in the law, lack of security at leisure spots, lack of gender justice, lack of fear of the law, police and judicial apathy and the complete lack of awareness that men and women have the right to enjoy exactly the same kind of leisure activities.”

The Guardian asked Sharma for an interview to clarify her remarks but our requests were ignored.

Maini Mahanta, the editor of the Assamese women’s magazine Nandini (“Daughter”), believes the NCW chair’s remarks are indicative of what she calls the “Taliban-plus” mentality that is creeping into Indian society. “In this part of the world, it’s worse than the Taliban,” she insists in her Guwahati office. “At least the Taliban are open about what they like and dislike. Here, society is so hypocritical. We worship female goddesses and yet fail to protect women from these crimes and then blame them too.”

Women in Bawana, Delhi Indian women, such as these three in Bawana, on the outskirts of Delhi, frequently come under pressure to abort female foetuses. Photograph: Gethin ChamberlainMahanta explains how traditions still cast women as helpless victims rather than free-thinking individuals in control of their own destiny. Girls still tie Raksha bandhan or “safety ties” around their brothers’ wrists as a symbol of their duty to protect them, she says. She complains, too, about the Manu Sanghita, an ancient Indian book that she claims preaches: “When a girl is young, she is guided by her father; when she is older, she is guided by her husband; when she is very old, she is guided by her son.” She despairs of the cult of the “good girl, who is taught to walk slowly ‘like an elephant’ and not laugh too loud”.

Even in Mumbai, India’s most cosmopolitan city, women have been arrested and accused of being prostitutes when drinking in the city’s bars.

Sheetal Sharma and Bitopi Dutta, the young feminists from the North East Network, complain that modern women are divided into “bad” and “good” according to what they wear, whether they go out after dark and whether they drink alcohol. “We are seeing a rise of moral policing, which blames those women who are not seen as being ‘good’,” says Sharma. “So if they are abused in a pub, for example, it’s OK – they have to learn their lesson,” adds Dutta, 22, who grumbles that young women such as herself cannot now hold hands with a boyfriend in a Guwahati park, let alone kiss, without getting into trouble with the moral police, if not the real police.

Many women agree the response from the Guwahati authorities shows they are blind to the root cause: a society that does not truly respect women. Instead, a knee-jerk reaction was taken to force all bars and off-licences to shut by 9.30pm. Club Mint, the bar outside which the young woman was molested, had its licence revoked. Parents were urged to keep a close eye on their daughters.

Zabeen Ahmed, the 50-year-old librarian at Cotton College in Guwahati, tells how she was out for an evening walk not long ago when she was stopped by the police. “They asked me what I was doing out at that at that time – it was 10.30pm or so – and they asked me where my husband was.”

The fact that India has a female president – Pratibha Patil – and Sonia Gandhi in control of the ruling Congress party means very little, insists Monisha Behal, “chairperson” of the North East Network. “In the UK, you have had Margaret Thatcher – if you are being harassed by a hoodlum in the street there, do ask: ‘How can this be when we have had a woman prime minister?'” she says.

Every Indian woman the Guardian spoke to for this article agreed that harassment was part of their everyday lives. Mahanta revealed that she always carries chilli powder in her handbag if she ever has to take public transport and needed to throw it in the face of anyone with wandering hands. Deepika Patar, 24, a journalist at the Seven Sisters newspaper in Assam, says city buses were notorious for gropers. “If women are standing up because there are no seats, men often press up against them, or touch their breasts or bottom,” she explains.

In June, an anonymous Delhi woman wrote a powerful blog post detailing what happened when she dared not to travel in the “ladies carriage” of Delhi’s modern metro. After asking a man not to stand too close to her, things turned nasty. Another man intervened and told the first to back off, but soon the two were having a bloody fight in the train carriage. Rather than break up the brawl, the other passengers turned on the woman, shouting: “This is all your fault. You started this fight. This is all because you came into this coach!” and “You women always do this. You started this fight!” and “Why are you even here? Go to the women’s coach.”

Speaking under condition of anonymity, the 35-year-old blogger says she had experienced sexual harassment “tonnes of times”. “I hate to use the word, but I’m afraid it has become ‘normal’,” she says. “Like if you’re in a lift, men will press up against you or grab you or make a comment about your appearance. It’s because of this that I stopped travelling by buses and started travelling by auto rickshaws, and eventually got a car myself – to avoid this ordeal. When the metro was launched I loved it – it’s an improvement in public transport, very well maintained, you feel safe. Then this happened and I was blamed.”

By Thursday last week, the Guwahati molestation case had become even murkier. Police had arrested and charged 12 men with “outraging the public decency of a woman”, and on Friday they charged journalist Gaurav Jyoti Neog of NewsLive with instigating the attack he filmed. Neog denies orchestrating the attack or taking any part in it, apart from filming it “so that the perpetrators can be nabbed”. But police have forced him to give a voice sample, which has been sent to a forensic laboratory for analysis, to compare with the footage. The verdict is out on that case, but one thing is clear: 91 years after Gandhi urged Indian men to treat their women with respect, the lesson has yet to be learned.

• This article was amended on 24 July 2012. The original said brothers tied Raksha Bandhan threads around their sisters’ wrists, when it is the sisters who put the threads on the wrists of their brothers.

Call for media and government investigation of Sathya Sai Baba

General

Excerpt From Public Petition (and introduction)

Public Petition For Official Investigations of Sathya Sai Baba and His Worldwide Organization

Subscribe in NewsGator OnlineSubscribe in BloglinesAdd to Excite MIXAdd Call for media and government investigation of Sathya Sai Baba to Newsburst from CNET News.comAdd to netvibesAdd to The Free DictionaryAdd to netomat HubAdd to Webwag Subscribe in a readerSubscribe to Call for media and government investigation of Sathya Sai Baba

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »