The Shankaracharya Deserves Dignity sign now

The President, Republic of India; The Chief Justice, Supreme Court of India; Chairman, National Human Rights Commission; Chairman, National Minorities Commission, The Chief Justice, Madras High Court

Respected Sirs:

We write as concerned citizens of India distressed by what appears to be blatant discrimination in the procedures thus far followed in the arrest and subsequent imprisonment of the Shankaracharya of the Kanch Mutt, Shri Jayendra Saraswathi Swamigal.

We are not well-versed with the jurisprudence of India or the applicable procedures. However, what we have heard and seen from media reports suggests that there has been a significant departure from well-established due processes of law. This leads us to question the very motive for the arrest and the events that followed.

This is what we have observed.

i) The Shankaracharya was arrested late in the evening of November 11. We understand that the timing of the arrest itself is against procedures previously laid down by the Supreme Court. The arresting officers claim that this was done to prevent the Shankaracharya from escaping to Nepal. This claim is very unconvincing as it presupposes that the Shankaracharya knew that the police were coming out to arrest him. Even assuming the claim were to be true, the arresting party could have surrounded the Shankaracharyas quarters to prevent escape and arrested the Shankaracharya at a more civilised hour. Moreover, technical experts have established that the supposed helicopter journey to Nepal would require at least 12 hours and a number of refuelling stops, all in Indian territory surely enough time and opportunity to capture a fugitive from justice. Finally, on this subject, in view of the fact that the Shankaracharya is supposedly given a Category Z protection and a team of commandos is always on close call, wouldnt it have been practically impossible for the Shankaracharya to ever make the supposed getaway.

ii) Following the arrest, appeals were made by the well-wishers of the Shankaracharya to house him in a less insalubrious atmosphere than the Vellore Jail in view of his advancing age, medical condition and the special requirements of his daily religious practices. This was rejected by the courts and the police on the specious plea that every one is the same in the eyes of the law. This, despite the fact that there have been enough recent precedents the creation of a special retreat for the incarceration of Uma Bharati in Hubli and the recent readmission of Shibu Soren as a minister in the cabinet of India. to mention just two.

iii) In one of the appeals moved at the Madras High Court, the presiding judge ruled that no public meetings or demonstrations should be held in support or against the arrest. This judgement was subsequently overruled by a bench of the same court. We do not know what prompted the original order. However, this order effectively gagged any voice of public dissent which may have had a bearing on the conduct of the investigation and the case itself.

iv) The Government Pleader appointed by the Government of Tamilnadu has apparently misled the trial courts by claiming clinching evidence to continue the conditions of the incarceration of the Shankaracharya. Moreover, he has given an interview to a leading web site (http://in.rediff.com/news/2004/dec/01inter.htm) and subsequently appeared on a television show (We the People, NDTV, December 5, 2004), wherein he has made various allegations and innuendos, which are dangerously defamatory. We understand that when cases are in progress both litigants and their lawyers are required to keep silent on matters of the case since these are sub-judice. Quite apart from this, the defence counsel in the case have said that this interview was in total disregard to the agreement the two sides had in not talking to the media about the case.

v) As each day passes, increasingly it is beginning to appear that the prosecutors do not have sufficient evidence to have accused the Shankaracharya, leave alone arrest him. In the meantime, the police has embarked on investigating salacious slander and charges of malfeaseance against the Kanchi Math and the Shankaracharya going back several decades. These investigations have been generously, if gratuitously, publicised by the investigating authorities. These investigations have no bearing whatsoever on the reason Shri Jayendra Saraswathi Swamigal was arrested. Consequently, these actions appear to be a witch-hunt against the institution and the Acharya rather than the unbiased actions of a civilised state discharging its temporal duties.

The foregoing clearly demonstrates that the justice administration system in Tamilnadu, at least, has decided that the accused is guilty until proven innocent, as far as this case is concerned. Clearly, neither those who died winning this country its independence, nor the framers of the constitution of this country could have wished this situation. Or else we could have continued to be enslaved sanguinely under the yokes of the British Raj.

The consequnce of this has already begun. Sections of the media which initially presented a balanced view of the event, have now taken to reporting salacious details and unproven charges of mendacity in the Math, which results in the denigration of the Shankaracharya. What they fail to realise is that the Shankaracharya is not an individual but an institution that reperesents the spiritual faith of millions of his followers, of who some of us are.

Were this institution to break down in a sea of canards and innunedos the division in our society will be much larger than it exists today.

The deficiencies in the process of the justice administration are but a small step in this direction. Unchecked, they have the potential to cause vast damage to the fabric of our society. Shri Jayendra Saraswati may be guilty or innocent, we have no quarrel with that. But, as our constitution promises, let us give Jayendra Saraswati the same right to being innocent until proven guilty and ensure that actions taken do not tamper with this fundamental right.

Sirs, we beseech you, as independent custodians of the Constitution of India, to restore to Shri Jayendra Saraswati the dignity that every citizen of this country deserves and to the Shankaracharya, the respect that a spiritual leader merits.

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Reyna LucasBy:
People and OrganizationsIn:
Petition target:
The Custodians of Indian Constitution

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