PEOPLES UNION FOR CIVIL LIBERTIES
KERALA STATE COMMITTEE
GANDHI BHAVAN, KACHERIPADY, BANERJI ROAD, KOCHI 682 018, KERALA
PRESIDENT: Adv:P.A.Pauran: GENERAL SECRETARY: Vilayody Venugopal
TREASURER: Jacob V. Lazer
MOVE EARTH AND HEAVEN TO PROTECT THE LIFE OF SREENI PATTATHANAM – An Appeal
A National Defense Committee (NDC) was formed by PUCL, Kerala to further the actions against the Kerala Government’s inhuman Order against the Malayalam writer and eminent rationalist leader Mr. Sreeni Pattathanam. Following the NDC, the Peoples Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) State Committee has passed a resolution to support the writer Mr. Pattathanam. It appeals before every human rights activist and like-minded people to help this cause in whatever way they can. What follows is a short account of the controversial issue, which led the author Sreeni Pattathanam to become the prey of religious fanatics.
About the Author
Mr. Sreeni Pattathanam is a Malayalam writer who has ten books and many investigative reports to his credit. He was born in Kollam, Kerala State. He began his career in Police Department, which helped him to find the unjustifiable alliance between the State and Religion. Mr. Sreeni Pattathanam was instrumental, among others, several years ago in exposing the ‘miracle’ of the divine Makarajyoti light, which appears during the annual Ayyappa pilgrimage in Kerala on a remote hill. Having resigned from the Police service Mr. Pattathanam joined as a teacher in a Government school.
The investigative mind of a police officer and the analytical mind of a school teacher gave Mr. Pattathanam a charming presentation of his topic which reflected in his writings as well. He traveled a lot in the nook and corner of Kerala.
He had been the Editor of ‘Ranarekha’, rationalist monthly, published in Malayalam. He was also the State General Secretary of Indian Rationalist Association (IRA) of which Mr. Sanal Edamaruku as its National General Secretary. Currently he is the Chief Editor of ‘Yukthirajyam’, Malayalam rationalist monthly; and, the General Secretary of Bharatiya Rationalist Association.
About the Controversial Book
Mr. Sreeni Pattathanam has written a book Matha Amritanandamayi: Divya Kathakalum Yatharthyavum (Matha Amritanandamayi: Sacred Stories and Realities, Mass Publicationas, Kollam, Kerala, revised edn.) that becomes the controversial one in Malayalam language. It was first published in 1985, since this godwoman was not as famous as she is today. For the book there was no demand from the Math to prosecute the author. But later, when the lady became an incarnation of the Lord Krishna himself, they could persuade the government to move against the author.
Mr. Sreeni Pattathanam’s efforts to bring to light facts are pioneering. His main contentions are: the Math’s claims to miracles are bogus, and that there have been many suspicious deaths in and around her ashram, which need police investigation. The research work contains elaborate references to court records, newspaper reports and quotations from well-known literary figures, including statements from the Math’s close relatives, as well as an interview with Matha Amritanandamayi herself.
About Matha Amritanandamayi Devi
Matha Amritanandamayi Devi ( Sudhamani, born in 1953 in the district Kollam, Kerala State, India) is known to the world as the “hugging mother”. She was also the subject of a televison documentary in the ‘Weird Weekends’ series on BBC TV, presented by Louis Theroux. She hugs people and passes on to them ‘energy’. Reportedly she has hugged and healed some 20 million people all over the world as part of her mission. On Fridays she acts as the goddess Kali, and on many occasions she has claimed to be Lord Krishna himself.
Like god man Satya Sai Baba, she too has many devotees: BJP leaders like Prime Minister of India A.B. Vajpayee, Home Minister of India L.K. Advani, and also Congress Party Chief Minister (of Kerala) A.K. Antony are amongst them.
Home Ministry records of the Government of India show that the Matha Amritanadamayi Mission is the second largest recipient in India of foreign funds – in 1998-99 alone Rs. 51.55 crores were received (about 515 million Indian Rupees or about 11.5 million US Dollars). Educational institutions established by this primary school drop out enjoy Deemed University status; Penguin India published her authorized biography (Amma, a Living Saint by Judith Cornell) where her miracles and her boundless love are highlighted, and the train Amrita Express (Palghat Town- Thiruvananthapuram) is named after her.
Her devotees have celebrated Matha Amritanadamayi’s 50th birth anniversary at Kochi. The five day long (in 2003) ceremony was in fact a festival in which all the pompousness and luxurious attitude of the ashram was reflected. It is said that 191 delegates from the UN member countries were participated in the anniversary festival. The President of India Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam himself inaugurated this!
The whole Eastern Religion and Philosophy especially Vedanta declare that there is no birth and death and man is an immortal being. Mata Amritanadamayi is claimed to follow the Vedanta philosophy. But instead of showing reluctance to the concepts of birth and death she has celebrated her 50th birthday! What is the point in a particular number? Has the number 50 got any divine significance? In fact the hidden truth is that the devotees have made use of Amma’s birthday for popularizing the ashram and its multifaceted business ideals. PUCL State Committee strongly believes that in and around the ashram many corporate brains are being worked and the ashram itself is a multinational corporate company.
Origin of the Complaint
Let us now come to the complaint made by Adv. T.K. Ajan, secretary, Amrita Apartments Residence Association, of the ashram, Kollam, Kerala, for a permission to prosecute Mr. Sreeni Pattathanam, the author of the book as well as the publisher and printer, under section 295-A of IPC, 292 of IPC, 196 of Cr PC with section 34 of IPC. The first petition was filed before the The Principal Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of Kerala
Instead of investigating the allegations and examining the evidence produced in the book, the state government – headed by the Mata’s ardent devotee the Chief minister A.K. Antony – initiated moves to prosecute Mr Pattathanam for making ‘objectionable references’ to the spiritual leader, and for ‘hurting the religious sentiments of her devotees’. With great alacrity, the state government moved swiftly, and the police inspector of Karunagappally recorded statements from Sreeni Pattathanam as well as the publisher and printer. The relevant law going to be applied would be Section 295-A, which criminalizes ‘insulting or attempting to insult the religion or religious beliefs of any class of citizens with an intention of outraging its religious feelings’.
Rising to the occasion, a group of writers and social activists headed by eminent Malayalam author Paul Zacharia and Human Rights activist Mr. Mukundan C. Menon issued a statement condemning the vindictive nature of the government’s moves. “Since certain ruling politicians, both at the federal and state governments, are known devotees of the Mata, we have reasons to suspect that there is a sinister and malicious conspiracy behind the move to prosecute Mr Sreeni Pattathanam”.
Because of the ensuing international attention, the government relented and halted its steps to facilitate the prosecution of the author. However, the Mata’s devotees against those who came to Sreeni Pattathanam’s defense launched a relentless internet-based campaign.
High Court’s Intervention
Mr. T.K. Ajaya
n has then filed another petition before the High Court of Kerala. Thus the government has reopened the issue and the State Home Secretary has summoned Mr. Sreeni Pattathanam to present himself before him on 18th March 2003 for hearing.
After this questioning, the government of Kerala has sanctioned Adv. T.K. Ajan to prosecute Mr. Sreeni Pattathanam, the author of the book Matha Amritanandamayi: Divya Kathakalum Yatharthyavum as well as the publisher and printer. (The government Order is attached herewith).
The Question of Human Rights and the Writer’s Freedom of Expression
It was pointed out by the Supreme Court of India in L.I.C. of India v Prof. Manubhai D. Shah (AIR 1993 SC 171: 1992 (3) SCC 637: 1992(4) JT (sc) 181), that freedom of speech and expression is a natural right which a human being acquires on birth and, therefore, it is a basic human right. This human right has been admired as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948). UN Human Declarations have to be respected by all the signatory States, which India is.
In the Preamble of the Constitution of India, the people of India declared their solemn resolve to secure to all its citizen liberty of thought and expression. This resolve is reflected in Article 19(1) (a) of the Constitution, which guarantees the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression to all citizens.
Indian Constitution affirms the right of freedom of expression, which includes:
1. Right to voice one’s opinion.
2. Right to seek information and ideas.
3. Right to receive information.
4. Right to impart information.
An Indian State is under an obligation to create conditions in which all the citizens can effectively and efficiently enjoy the aforesaid rights. What Mr. Sreeni Pattathanam has done is that he only made use the Constitutional rights stated above. Mr. Pattathanam says: “I believe that I worked in accordance with the Indian Constitution…they are trying to deny my constitutional rights.”
In Romesh Thappar v State of Madras (AIR 1950 SC 124: 1950 SCR 594:1950 SCJ 418: 1950 Cri LJ 1514), the Supreme Court of India held that the freedom of speech and expression includes freedom of propagation of ideas and this freedom is ensued by the freedom of circulation.
Taking into consideration the above cases PUCL State Committee has passed a resolution in which it has criticized the government Order against the writer and reiterated the fact that by issuing this Order the government has violated the above two Orders of the Supreme Court of India.
India’s first blasphemy protection was happened in 1933 when Dr. D’ Avoine, the President of the Rationalist Association of India (RAI) from 1938 to 1944, published an article entitled, “Religion and Morality” in the September 1933 issue of “Reason”, the official journal of RAI at that period. The Bombay Police confiscated all the copies of “Reason” and later arrested Dr. D’Avoine and charged under IPC295A.
On 5th March 1934 Sir H.P. Dastur, the Chief Presidency Magistrate of Bombay, dismissed the case by saying that “The accused may be wrong…But the article merely represents the writer’s view.”
Religion or Charitable Trust?
In the complaint of Adv. T.K. Ajayan, dated 23/05/2002, it is emphatically stated that Mr. Sreeni Pattathanam should be punished because of his “deliberate and malicious intention to outrage the religion and religious feelings of the devotees of Amma” (Complaint no.5&7). He also says that Mata Amritanandamayi Math Amritapuri is a place of worship of the devotees of Amma who is their religious Guru (Complaint no.3).
But there is no mention in the complaint about the nature and content of this ‘religion’. There are many religions in the world like Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Zoroastrianism. Barring Hinduism each religion has its own founder. However, all religions have their own particular rituals, ceremonials, principles, and sacred books. Hinduism is a group of religious sects each of which commonly accepts the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita as scriptures. Since all these are the known facts, the plaintiff should have stated in his complaint the name, nature, and content of his religion. He has not pointed out any ‘ism’ in connection with ‘Amma’s’ name. If it is a religion what is its religious book or books? What are their religious principles?
If he says that it is Hinduism, which is ‘Amma’s’ religion he should not forget the truth that Hinduism is as old as the Rig Vedic period. Besides this, each Hindu religious sect has its own religious ideals, which may contradict with other sects of the same religion. All these show that criticism is not foreign to Hinduism. The Hindu religious philosophers like Sankara, Ramanuja, and Madhva had developed criticism among them. But they had not prosecuted their opponents nor had they demanded prosecution from the political authority. Instead, they allowed a discussion among themselves. But Mr. Sreeni Pattathanam is being crucified by the demands of this so-called religion and its followers.
The certificate issued by Collectorate, Kollam, certified that “the organization/institution namely ‘Mata Amritanandamayi Math’ (Register No. IV.9/1988(KL/KPY), Amritapuri (P.O.) Kollam District), Kerala – 690525 is a charitable and non-profit making organization in India working in the field of Health/Social welfare/Education/Rural development as a non-sectarian basis…” In the complaint the plaintiff himself has given a list of charitable activities managed by the Math.
Nowhere in the certificate is it mentioned that the Math is a religious institution or a religion. It is not a religion but an “organization in India working in the field of Health/Social welfare/Education/Rural development.” The government of India has never accepted this Math as a religion.
The aforesaid reasons point to the fact that the allegation of the plaintiff in the complaint that Mr. Sreeni Pattathanam’s book is written with “deliberate and malicious intention to outrage the religious feelings of the devotees of Amma” is obviously inconsistent, illogical, and hence illegitimate.
Since the Math is not a religion Mr. Sreeni Pattathanam has not committed any offence that comes under the section 295-A and 292 of IPC. Rather by demanding from the authority for the prosecution of the author the plaintiff Adv. T.K. Ajan insulted the sincerity and investigative mind of an author, because, in the complaint (no.6) it is said that “Through the selling of the book the said Sreeni Pattathanam gain money illegally and also gain publicity illegally.” But publishing and selling books is not considered as illegal in India or anywhere in the world. Neither is it illegal to gain publicity thereby. Hence the contentions and the arguments of the plaintiff are weak and not legitimate.
The PUCL State Committee expressed its grief in the growing intolerance of the fanatics. It affirms that we can expect tolerance, love, and compassion only from a civilized people.
International Humanist and Ethical Union’s Intervention
International Humanist and Ethical Union became aware of the prosecution proceedings from the very beginning. Mr. Sreeni Pattathanam as well as Mr. C.I. Oommen, the President of Bharatiya Rationalist Association, met with IHEU leaders in January 2003 and in a video taped interview with IHEU Executive Director Babu Gogineni they told about their fears that in view of the prevailing campaign against rationalists, and the rise of Hindu fundamentalism, the danger for them was still not over, and that efforts to prosecute would be restarted. Mr. Pattathanam could be arrested and even tortured. Custodial deaths are not uncommon in Kerala, they reminded the free thinkers. Mr. Pattathanam says: “This inhuman and cruel move against a writer by Hindu Fascists should be stopped”. He told a newspaper, “If the charges contained in my book are ba
seless, the devotees could have published a rejoinder. They have published malicious reports against rationalists in their publications”.
IHEU calls upon the Kerala State government to uphold the principles of secularism and Humanism incorporated in Article 51 A (h) of the Indian Constitution which enjoins every Indian citizen to develop scientific temper and Humanism.
IHEU also calls upon its member organizations, associates, human rights activists and defenders of democratic principles to send letters of protest to the Chief Minister of Kerala as well as the Home Secretary of Kerala state. IHEU is bringing the urgent matter to the attention also of Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Reporters Sans Frontieres, The International Committee for the Protection of Journalists and the UN Special Rapporteur of Freedom of Religion or Belief.
Need of the Hour
Mr. Sreeni Pattathanam’s case is not a new one in human history. He inherits the great minds of the yore that showed an extraordinary courage to criticize the established religion and the state. Socrates had to drink the hemlock, Hypatia, a courageous woman in the medieval period who criticized the Church, are some examples we have from the pages of ancient history. In modern times too, writer’s like Salman Rushdie and Tasleema Nasreen are being subjected to the intolerance of religious fanaticism. Recently in Pakistan Dr. Younus Shaikh had been jailed for blasphemy. But as a result of the worldwide demand for the release of Dr.Younus the Pakistan government had to release him from death sell. So if human rights activists, secularists, free thinkers and rationalists take this matter seriously and act urgently to persuade the government to quit from the execution of the Order that will be a boon to all those who think freely. Above all, if we act in this very moment we could perhaps prevent the similar incidents in future. What we must do now is to organize a worldwide campaign and do everything in favour of this writer and hence the Kerala State Committee of PUCL requests the cooperation of all like-minded people and organizations in this regard.
PLEASE SEND LETTER TO
Mr. A.K. Antony
The Chief Minister of Kerala State
Thiruvananthapuram 695 001
Fax:+91-0471-2333489 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org@kerala.gov.in
Dear Chief Minister Mr.A.K. Antony,
I am writing to protest against the recent govt. order to sanction the prosecution of an author and rationalist leader Mr. Sreeni Pattathanam in your state, because of his book Matha Amruthandamayi – Divya Kadhakalum Yatharthiavum (Matha Amrithanandamayi: Sacred Stories and Realities, Mass Publications, revised edition) exposing the alleged wrong doings of Mata Amritanandamayi.
I am aware of your own personal devotion to Mata Amrithanandamayi; however, I am alarmed that as Chief Minister as well as home minister incharge of police and security, instead of examining the evidence produced in the book and launching an inquiry into the ashram activities, you have chosen to initiate moves to prosecute Mr. Sreeni Patthathanam on the grounds that his book has hurt the religious sentiments of people, following a complaint by one Mr. Ajan. The Mata’s organisation is registered as a social organisation and not as a religious organisation. How can criticism of a social organisation and the doings of those associated with it cause hurt to religious sentiments? In any case, religious leaders cannot be immune from the attentions of the criminal justice system.
I call on you to uphold the principles of secular democracy, to uphold the rule of law, and to protect Mr. Pattathanam’s freedom of expression and belief and its lawful exercise.
In these troubles times in India where intolerance is on the rise, the international community is watching you and looking to you to uphold democratic principles