Times Of India, New Delhi
June 9, 1988
is Puri Shankaracharya not being arrested?
By Sagari Chhabra
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".
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.
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?"
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)
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.
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.
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
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.
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."
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.
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?"