The Times Of India, New Delhi
June 9, 1988

Why is Puri Shankaracharya not being arrested?
By Sagari Chhabra

New Delhi: Sporadically and at places as varied as Hyderabad and Pura Mahadev, the irrepressible Shankaracharya of Puri has said that sati is sanctioned in our scriptures.The scriptures that are doing the rounds and from which the Shankaracharya quotes, is a booklet of dubious origin entitled, "Bharatvarsh Ki Gauravmai Satipratha". The Shankaracharya refers to page 5 of the booklet, ved mein satipratha ka varnan which claims that "the uncontaminated, unpolluted widow whose fidelity is beyond doubt, will commit sati to retain her honour in the aftermath of her husband's death".

That the booklet in question is an obscure pamphlet with no authenticity whatsoever, does not bother the Jagatguru. The Shankaracharya's various outbursts and systematic attempts to glorify sati as well as give it religious sanction resulted in a petition in the Supreme Court, filed by the Janata Party leader and Arya Samaja activist, Swami Agnivesh.

The petition pointed out that on the 28th session of the Sarva Veda Shakhas Sammelan at Pura Mahadev, the Shankaracharya was performing a maharudra yagya (grand sacrifice) and one of the topics to be discussed was sati dharma is an ancient vedic tradition. Is it justified to call it inhuman and irreligious?" The petition also pointed out that Swami Agnivesh met the Shankaracharya on March 16 and pointed out that the Shankaracharya's words and actions were in violation of the commission of Sati (Prevention) Act, 1987. However, the Shankaracharya scoffed at the law and said, Swechchha se sati hone wali ka koi kanoon ya sarkar kaise rok sakti hai, (No government or law can stop a woman from willingly committing sati)

The Supreme Court responded by issuing a warning to the Shankaracharya about the impending conference and pointed out the Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act, as well as the consequences of violationg the Act. However, this did not deter His Holiness, who went on to challenge the Swami to a shastrath that was pre-empted by the arrest of Swami Agnivesh, Promila Dandavate and several others under Section 144.

More recently, at Hyderabad, the Shankaracharya went one step further and prescribed sati as a solution to the city's perennial water problem. "If any woman comes forward to commit the 'sacred sati' at Hyderabad, the water problem will be solved immediately", the Shankaracharya said at a function held at the Navjeevan girl's High School to honour some elected Telugu brahmins. The Shankaracharya unleashed a frontal attack on the Swami Jayendra Saraswathi of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham and told and audience not to treat him as a sanyasi, for having said that sati was not a part of Hinduism.

That the Shankaracharya has been glorifying sati has been proved beyond doubt at various public gatherings and interviews to the press, but what is the law with regard to glorification of sati? "Glorification" in relation to sati as defined by the Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act 1987, is "Supporting, justifying or propagating the practice of sati in any manner". It also includes the observance of any ceremony or the taking out of a procession in connection with sati, the arranging of any function to eulogise the person who has committed sati and the creation of a trust or the collection of funds or the construction of a temple or other structure with a view to perpetuate the honour of or to preserve the memory of a person who has committed sati.

Under Section 5 of the law, glorification of Sati is punishable with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than one year, but which may extend to seven years and with a fine not less than Rs. 5000 but which may extend upto Rs. 30,000.

Although an F.I.R. has been filed against the Shankaracharya at Pura Mahadev he has still not been arrested. Swami Agnivesh told this writer that the collector of Meerut, Vijay Sharma, when asked why the Shankaracharya had not been arrested said that he was "no longer residing at the place where the complaint was lodged". "This is absolutely ridiculous," says Agnivesh, "I gave him the Shankaracharya's address both at Puri and in Delhi, and yet no action has been taken."

"The Union minister of state for home, P.C. Chidambaram, caused much amusement to the audience with his remark in the film 'From the Burning Embers', that the "Shankaracharya was precariously close to inviting action". How many times is the Shankaracharya supposed to violate the law before the state intervenes? Meanwhile, further, to make matters worse, the Shankaracharya has filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court, stating that the Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act violates the right to freedom of religion. At this point, it would be worthwhile to remind His Holiness that Article 25 and 26, which guarantee freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion is subject to public order, morality, health and to the provisions of our fundamental rights. Our religious morals are subject to the morality, enshrined in our constitutional values.

As the Shankarcharya goes on from one definition to another there seems to be no one willing to bell the holy cat. It is this insidious nexus between politics and religion that keeps fundamentalism alive while our women die. The Home Ministry appears to have no answer to the question : "Why is the Shankaracharya of Puri not under arrest?"


You are invited to visit our site mail us for any queries mail us for any further informaiton