“Let Poetry Be a Sword!”

How Dr Nagaraj changed the way we read Gandhi and Ambedkar


Published : January 2011

I T WAS BEFORE DAWN on the morning of 12 August 1998. I sat up, confused by an unexpected sound. My first cellphone, a large, unwieldy purple-coloured Nokia, was ringing away on a table across the room. I struggled to get out from under the mosquito net tied to the ancient, uncomfortable four-poster bed I was sleeping on, in a draughty inhospitable bungalow

belonging to a Parsi family in the Pune Cantonment. Rules about noise, sleeping, waking, phoning and such matters were pretty strict, even for a guest like me. My caller, a grown man, was crying. DR Nagaraj, thinker, friend, teacher, and possibly one of postcolonial India’s five greatest intellectuals, had died late that night of a heart attack, at his home in south Bangalore. He had been up past midnight, drinking with his friends, eating rich food that was specifically disallowed to him. He had been in great spirits. He was 44.

That awful morning, I stood in the darkness, thinking I was having a nightmare, and if I only waited a few moments, I would wake up from it. The Parsi family forgot their rules about disturbance and gathered round, trying to console me. More than 12 years have passed, and like all those who knew and cared about DR, I am still inconsolable. When I now read the last sentence of his essay, ‘The Lie of a Youth and the Truth of an Anthropologist,’ it seems to me cutting, unfair, breaking the bounds of irony and bordering on tragedy: “Politics teaches us to live, not die,” he wrote. So why did he have to die?

The answer might lie in the slogan that DR gave to the new Dalit and Shudra literary movement in Karnataka in the 1970s: “Let poetry be a sword!” Prithvi Datta Chandra Shobhi, a former student of DR and editor of this new volume of his published and unpublished work, spells out the unusual manifesto in its entirety: Khadgavagali kavya, janara novige midiva pranamitra! Poetry, or literature, in this conception, was to be both a dear friend and a protector of the people. When I try to rationalise his death, I tell myself perhaps it was inevitable that someone who based his politics on the power of poetic language would not live very long on this earth.

Chandra Shobhi, I and a handful of others were DR’s graduate students at the University of Chicago, just before his untimely death. He landed like a missile on the Hyde Park campus, in the freezing spring quarter of 1997, exploding our usual methods of Indology and philology, anthropology and literary criticism, area studies and political theory. The university was no stranger to Kannada culture: AK Ramanujan, UR Ananthamurthy and Girish Karnad had all been in and out of Foster Hall from the 1980s onwards. But even that long institutional relationship with Karnataka had not prepared us for the brilliance, the irreverence, the eccentricity, the charisma and the originality of DR Nagaraj.

We studied Gandhi with Lloyd and Susanne Rudolph, caste with Ronald Inden, colonialism with Bernard Cohn, religion with Wendy Doniger, Sanskrit with Sheldon Pollock, modernity with Arjun Appadurai, and historiography with Dipesh Chakrabarty, for starters. As overworked, overwrought, ambitious, arrogant, multilingual and slightly unhinged Chicago South Asianists, we thought we had it all. Little did we know, signing up for DR’s new course on Dalit Literature, that our bearded, bespectacled, maverick visiting professor—with a grand reputation and no publications, with his bizarre English and his disarming friendliness outside the classroom—was about to sweep away all our assumptions and certainties as an irresistible current might so many mud embankments.

Ashis Nandy, Chandra Shobhi and Rukun Advani have done a great service to the ongoing study of social change and cultural politics in India by bringing out this volume of DR’s writings and talks. Both Nandy in his preface and Chandra Shobhi in his introduction remind readers of what we all knew about DR: he was as disorganised as he was brilliant, as lazy as he was insightful. The task of finding, completing, systematising and publishing his work after his sudden death was never going to be easy. Indeed, it took a dozen years, even with Nandy’s deep personal regard for and dedication to the memory of DR, along with Chandra Shobhi’s unparalleled native knowledge of Kannadiga history and society, not to mention his closeness to DR. The project has also received support from DR’s wife, Girija Nagaraj, his mentor UR Ananthamurthy, his former colleague and friend Sheldon Pollock, and Ramachandra Guha, who must have felt Bangalore’s intellectual life irreparably impoverished by DR’s passing.

In his home state, DR had been recognised from his early days as a student activist and a literary agent provocateur. At the time of his fatal cardiac arrest, he was juggling at least three positions: at Bangalore University, at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies in Delhi and at the University of Chicago. DR, himself born into an extremely impoverished and backward weaver caste, gave a new kind of voice to Dalit and Shudra identity struggles: compassionate, confident, comfortably learned, and equally critical of both upper-caste humbug and Dalit self-pity.

B UT HOWEVER SIGNIFICANT HIS ROLE in the Dalit Movement in Karnataka and outside, his most lasting legacy will prove to be his utterly original reading of Gandhi, Ambedkar and the complex relationship between these two founders of modern India in the early part of the 20th century, especially as regards their—apparently— conflicting views on

the caste system and on the problem of untouchability. DR’s seminal essay, ‘Self-Purification versus Self-Respect,’ first published in The Flaming Feet in 1993, cannot but alter any reader’s understanding of Gandhian and Ambedkarite positions on the untouchable and on the meanings of caste in Indian modernity. If DR had written nothing else besides this piece, it would not have lessened his intellectual and ethical contribution—I suspect that at some level, he knew this.

This essay—echoed in a few related pieces that also appear in the new volume—describes how Gandhi and Ambedkar changed one another through their long and intense engagement, and their “intimate enmity”—an idea that DR, like everyone else in Indian social science, learned from Ashis Nandy. DR examines Ambedkar’s efforts towards having the British create separate electorates for untouchables, and Gandhi’s fast against this eventuality, culminating in their notorious Poona Pact of 1932; their respective tank and temple satyagraha mobilisations, aimed at securing access to public goods like drinking water and entry into places of caste Hindu worship for untouchables; and their shared desire to produce a change in upper-caste consciousness so as to end the centuries-long oppression of the untouchables.

DR’s stroke of genius is to see that the ‘self’ in Gandhi’s project of ‘self-purification’ is the upper-caste self; the ‘self’ in Ambedkar’s project of ‘self-respect’ is the lower-caste and untouchable self. The two political projects, thus, unfold upon different subjects, even as they appear to both address one and the same social evil, namely, untouchability. For Gandhi, it is the upper-caste person who must purify his being of the ‘sin’ of untouchability through a variety of spiritual practices; for Ambedkar, it is the untouchable who must reject the entire history of his humiliation at the hands of caste society and embrace equal citizenship. Gandhi’s motivation is his deep religiosity; Ambedkar’s is his thoroughly political understanding of human life and human dignity. Gandhi comes to the problem of untouchability from the side of tradition; Ambedkar’s approach is radically modern.

The very terms ‘Dalit’ and ‘Harijan’ which ultimately come to be associated—in Ambedkar’s case, retrospectively, after his death in 1956—with the two critiques of untouchability, capture the separate and to some extent even opposed types of affect that are associated with Gandhian and Ambedkarite politics. ‘Dalit’ (crushed) evokes the unrelenting structural violence against the untouchable in caste society, and consequently elicits a reaction of righteous anger. ‘Harijan’ (God’s creature) suggests not concrete social equality but a sort of vague existential parity in the eyes of the Maker—bestowing an inherent and inalienable value to the life of the untouchable that it is left up to the upper-caste person to acknowledge.

One category allows for a politics of anger and resistance; the other depoliticises even its beneficiaries into mere ‘Congress Harijans’ who quickly, within Gandhi’s lifetime, lose the respect of the very communities they are supposed to represent, and cease to provide the leadership that the Dalit Movement evolves for itself over the course of the 20th century. Like their unfortunate brethren, the ‘Congress Muslims,’ Harijan leaders are domesticated—and effectively defanged—by the mainstream, liberal, secular and self-congratulatory pieties of the post-colonial caste Hindu ruling classes. In a story DR tells repeatedly, a Harijan boy has to be reborn as a Dalit youth: a kind of fast-track political education that tellingly comes out of his transformative encounter with Gandhi (and not Ambedkar), an outcome that even the Mahatma himself did not correctly predict. As I revisit DR’s writings, I remember well this anecdote, of the untouchable boy who did not turn up with the requisite orange to break Gandhi’s fast at the appointed time. DR’s gift for storytelling was an inseparable part of his pedagogic method. He had perfected the art of finding the right parable to illustrate every social scientific or historical claim that he made. Those are the sorts of lessons that one never forgets.

D R CALLED GANDHI AND AMBEDKAR ‘Bapu’ and ‘Babasaheb,’ respectively—appellations that were part of his special genius. He had, in some fundamental sense, embraced both these figures, come to think of them as his own, as beloved,

in the way that their followers had done when both were alive. DR knew how to index his appropriation, equally, of Gandhian and Ambedkarite politics, and he forced us to think: Why not? Why should we not learn from our two greatest modern thinkers how to make sense of caste and how best to critique it? Why should the Dalit Movement eschew the Mahatma’s legacy, which is India’s most potent ethical inheritance from the freedom struggle? Is it really worthwhile to ridicule and denigrate Gandhi’s sincere—and in its own way, successful—war on untouchability, just to assert Dalit pride? If you have to lose ahimsa in order to reject the category ‘Harijan,’ then that is just throwing the baby out with the bathwater. DR astutely used the language of intimacy, familiarity—and love—to show up the poverty of identity politics in Dalit discourse. He always said/wrote ‘Gandhiji,’ ‘Bapu’ and ‘Babasaheb’, as a reversal of the unthinking, self-defeating patricide that has marred and embittered so much of post-colonial India’s ideological life.

However, DR saw even further than we guessed, in his truncated career as a political thinker and social theorist. For he argued that in trying to see the good in the caste system and salvage some of its communitarian and organic aspects, Gandhi was really trying to preserve and strengthen the village, with its mosaic of interdependent upper and lower castes, symbiotically related caste society and untouchable groups. Gandhi foresaw, far ahead of his time, that violence against Dalits, ‘the disappearance of the village,’ the eradication of artisanal communities or ‘technocide’ and the assault on traditional modes of social organisation would ultimately leave India utterly vulnerable to the incursions of global capital. In this sense, Gandhi’s campaigns around the charkha, khadi, village industries, non-violence, untouchability and organic communities all have to be seen as part of a single cohesive politics that sought to strengthen India against the depredations of Western civilisation and technological modernity. In DR’s words, “In this modern nation, Muslims, Harijans, tribals, and the poor will all be decimated. They will be crushed to pulp [n.b. the literal meaning of the word ‘Dalit’] under the wheel of desire and machines” (p88). In this vision, articulated most clearly in his manifesto Hind Swaraj (1909), Gandhi provided the only alternative to the hegemony of capitalism, the sole hope of surviving its pervasive and endemic violence.

DR was able to interpret Gandhi in this way because of his own complex and multifarious engagement with Lohia’s followers, Left-Gandhians, and Marxists, besides Dalit intellectuals of various stripes. I think had he lived, he would have produced a totally revolutionary reading of Hind Swaraj, synthesising Gandhi’s numerous and apparently disparate ideas into a magnificent edifice of political thought unmatched by any of the other makers of modern India, including Ambedkar. In fact, in my view, DR was beginning to appreciate that Ambedkar’s own turn towards Buddhism at the end of his life was an effect of Ambedkar’s dissatisfaction with a purely political, constitutional and materialist solution to the inequity and injustice of the caste system, and also of Ambedkar’s realisation, after Gandhi’s death, that his greatest adversary had, in many crucial ways, been right. To forget and deny caste altogether would mean, for Dalits, to cut themselves off from their communities, unmoor themselves from their histories, and become mired in self-loathing. Ambedkar came to recognise that these costs were too high a price to pay for the emancipation of the low-caste subject.

Untouchability for both Gandhi and Ambedkar, at the far side of their decades-long wrangling with one another as intimate enemies, converged as a problem that was not primarily one with material dimensions—land, agrarian relations, poverty and so on—but as a problem of value structure, having to do with the very soul, the psyche, the spirit, as it were, of Indian civilisation. At the end, Ambedkar left Marx and went to the Buddha; Gandhi began in Manuvada and came closer to the Bhagavad Gita. Bapu and Babasaheb, one a Bania, the other a Mahar, had changed one another irrevocably. To use DR’s words, “the beauty and the horror” of their respective positions on caste had been reconciled, synthesised, interchanged and brought into a truly dialectical relationship: beauty, from the idea of equal citizenship and the revolt against traditional inequality, and horror, from the nitty-gritty of positive discrimination and compensatory justice. As a matter of fact, Indian society could not progress without both the idealist and the materialist aspects of the struggle to undo the damage of caste. We needed as much the spiritual exercises, the disciplines of self, advocated by the Mahatma, as we needed the affirmative action of the new Constitution, drafted under Ambedkar’s supervision.

DR’s scintillating piece, ‘Two Imaginary Soliloquies,’ in which the deceased Ambedkar and Gandhi both reflect on various issues on 15 August 1997, at the 50th year of India’s independence, shows that he really had, in his mind, gone past every post set by Indian social science, and was on the verge of a genuinely momentous breakthrough. Ashis Nandy recalls that DR told him, a few weeks before his death, that he had almost completed a manuscript on which he had been working for the previous two years (that is, at the University of Chicago). No such manuscript was ever found in his Chicago, Delhi or Bangalore computers, Nandy writes, full of regret. Shobhi recounts—and I know, personally, having been a hapless witness to the entire process— how much trouble he had reconstructing a literary history of Kannada for Pollock’s massive edited volume, Literary Cultures in History (2003), in which DR was to have had the chapter on Karnataka. But looking now at the work that DR did write down, type up, publish or deliver as talks, it’s clear that the missing manuscript was, in some non-literal sense, ready—it was, in this way, there.

T HE FASCINATION WITH BUDDHISM was, in truth, as much DR’s own as it was Ambedkar’s. In keeping with his preferred address of intimate familiarity, he referred to the Buddha as Tathagata. He constantly invoked the Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna, and recast modern arguments in terms of archaic modes of argumentation, rhetorical tropes and semantic

strategies employed by the ancient Buddhists in their intellectual contestations with the Brahminic traditions. DR could teach us about Gandhi, Ambedkar and Nehru, in many ways India’s archetypal modernists, all the while speaking in a style that suggested that even today, the Buddha was delivering sermons in Sarnath, and the classical doctrines of Nayyayikas and Buddhists, Mimansakas and Advaitins, Carvakas and Jainas, Sufis and Sikhs, were creating the pleasant hum and hubbub of an Indic intellectual world. My hunch is that DR identified, in a personal way, with the protagonists he constantly returned to: the Buddha, who walked away from worldly attachments, only to find it supremely difficult to actually detach himself; Nagarjuna, a Brahmin who turned Buddhist, the South Indian from Andhra whose texts brought Buddhism to Tibet and China; Ambedkar, the modernist obsessed with premodernity; Gandhi, who had to wrestle as hard with his own indefatigable appetites as he did with the mighty British Empire.

DR’s catholicity, his capacious hunger to master Pali and Sanskrit, old Kannada and classical Tamil, Continental philosophy and postmodern literary theory, challenged every stereotype about radical intellectual politics, whether coming from patronising upper castes or contrarian Dalits, fatcat cosmopolitans or mealy-mouthed vernaculars. “Ananya,” he said to me one time, “you must learn to be comfortable in many different discourses.” He joined his hands together and wove them through the cold Chicago air. “Swim in many different discourses,” he said to me, “like a fish in water.” He took his palms apart, and held both my hands tight. “There is nothing in the world of human knowledge that is not ours,” he intoned, slowly, looking straight in my eyes, as though burning into my memory something of great importance. It was, though I didn’t know it then.

Karnataka, DR’s cultural and linguistic home, has an active literary tradition that is highly self-aware in the sense of recognising its own history, taking cognisance of caste politics as an essential element in the use of language and the production of literature, and being actively engaged with issues of social, political and economic significance to the reading public. Kannada literature is an example of literature at its best. DR did much to bring Dalit-Shudra literature into the mainstream of Kannada literary culture, and to challenge its upper-caste construction both from the evidence of history as well as from the politics of the present. His essays and interventions on Kannadiga Dalit- Shudra writers, both historical and contemporary, forced everyone—in Karnataka, at least—to widen their understandings of genre, linguistic register, metaphor and historicity. The original Flaming Feet was dedicated to Devanoor Mahadeva and Dr Siddalingaiah, whom DR called “founders of the Dalit Movement in Karnataka.” He taught works by both these men to his students in Chicago.

DR asked the public to acknowledge that not only were Dalit-Shudra writers—novelists, poets, playwrights, short-story writers, journalists—experimenting with form from the 1970s onwards, but that many of the Deccan’s important literary artefacts in fact came down through non-Brahmin and ascetic/renunciant (shramana) traditions, like the Virashaiva and Jaina literatures of premodern Karnataka, and devotional (bhakti) traditions more generally of premodern India. DR gave a history lesson as much to modern Brahmin litterateurs as to Dalit-Shudra practitioners of the craft of literature. This was why he was critical of, say, Kancha Ilaiah, the Telugu polemicist against Brahminism: only rejecting upper-caste histories, without simultaneously embracing lower-caste and outcaste histories, was a limited and negative project that did not interest DR. He insisted that the history of literature was far more complicated than any simple upper-caste versus lower-caste antagonism could ever begin to capture.

The Dalit politician and current Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Kumari Mayawati, has built in the capital of UP, Lucknow, a grand theme park, along the banks of the river Gomti, in honour of Dr Ambedkar. One element of this enormous space, full of stupas, pillars, gates, gigantic carved elephants, paved courtyards and avenues, is a row of larger-than-life statues of Dalit-Shudra historical figures, sculpted in white marble and standing under individual canopies of red standstone. The series begins with the Buddha and ends with Mayawati herself, and her mentor, the late Dalit leader Kanshi Ram (1934-2006), founder of the Bahujan Samaj Party. It includes Kabir, Ravidas, Sri Narayana Guru, Jotiba Phule, Birsa Munda and Ambedkar, in a total of 11 statues. Mayawati’s is a brilliant attempt to literally construct a Dalit-Shudra canon: she begins 2,500 years ago with Siddhartha Gautama, and archly stops at herself. DR’s imagination was equally ambitious: he was able to find ancestors and kindred spirits, men and women, across religious traditions, across the subcontinent and across historical time. He never went so far as to say this in as many words, but he succeeded in demonstrating that the Dalit-Shudra tradition is one of the great traditions of Indian civilisation, like the Buddhist, the Brahminical and the Indo-Islamic strands. Ambedkar, DR and now, somewhat surprisingly, Mayawati, all have had a role in positing the Dalit-Shudra canon afresh.

Between 1998 and 2004, I spent my youth researching Ambedkar, writing a dissertation on the category of Shudra in Maharashtra, travelling all over the Deccan, seeking my dead teacher in the eyes of his friends, family, students and admirers. I sat innumerable hours at Koshy’s with Karnataka’s eclectic literati, who would laugh and cry as they got drunk, telling outrageous DR stories. I went to Heggodu, to attend an annual theatre festival that hadn’t quite recovered from earlier visits by DR. I went to Udupi, to the home of the late N Murari Ballal, where Ashis Nandy, UR Ananthamurthy, Vandana Shiva, Medha Patkar and Sunil Sahasrabudhey, among others, came in DR’s wake. I studied in Mysore, did years of fieldwork in Pune, taught in Bangalore, and nowhere did I ever talk to anyone about caste, Dalit politics, Kannada literary history or Ambedkarite Buddhism without DR’s name entering the conversation. From Rajni Kothari and DL Sheth to Ramchandra Gandhi and Arindam Chakrabarti, everyone had to take DR seriously as an interlocutor, in death as in life. In probably no more than 15 years, he had arced across India’s intellectual horizon like a shooting star, and people were still awe-struck.

Peruse a few pages of DR’s writing, and you will find yourself dizzied by the range of his references: from Lohia to Vargas Llosa, Freud to St Francis of Assisi, Heidegger to the Mahabharata, Matilal to Basava, Wittgenstein to Allama Prabhu, up, down and around goes DR’s roller-coaster, and we in it, our hair flying, hearts pumping. Sometimes I thought him dazzling, other times distracted. Sometimes I felt he was irrepressibly creative, other times he seemed to have Attention Deficit Disorder. Hannah Arendt once famously characterised Walter Benjamin’s intellectual personality as being that of a ‘pearl diver.’ DR correctly identified his own intellectual personality as being that of ‘the bee.’ He explains himself, laying out the philosophy behind the madness, which is to apply an essentially literary way of thinking to the task of social analysis, using metaphoric language and imaginative leaps. “The method of the social science[s] is like working the earth: painstaking preparation of the earth for the farmer. Well, the bee is a different species altogether.” (p52). All the properties of his discursive style are encapsulated—again! —in this powerful image: the flash of pure gold, the sweetness, the sting, the vivacity, the thirst for the truth. A brief, heady, fragrant springtime, and then he left our garden.

One of my most vivid memories of DR is one day in Chicago, when he, I and a classmate of mine left the department together. We walked on either side of him. As we descended the steps of Foster Hall, he affectionately put his hands on our shoulders. Then he laughed in his Dalai Lama sort of way, a blameless child piping up in the cage of a man’s body. “I feel like Bapu,” he said, referring to Gandhi’s last short walk towards his assassin on 30 January 1948 at the Birla House in Delhi, his hands resting on the shoulders of his nieces, Abha and Manu. We walked into the quads, the three of us, talking and joking, with nothing but his cavalier premonition to warn us of the terrible sundering that lay ahead.


Sai Baba is a third rate prestidigitator and manipulator


Sathya Sai Baba’s death triggers fight for his £5.5 billion empire

The death of an Indian guru who built up a worldwide following of up to 50 million people has triggered an unholy scramble for control of his £5.5 billion empire.

Sathya Sai Baba's death triggers fight for his £5.5 billion empire

Sathya Sai Baba had built his empire on the myth that he was the reincarnation of an earlier – and much loved – Indian saint of the same name Photo: EPA
Gethin Chamberlain 4:48PM BST 24 Apr 2011

Sathya Sai Baba’s claims to divinity, and his apparent ability to magic holy items out of thin air were enough to win him an army of devotees, including celebrities such as Goldie Hawn, Sarah Ferguson and Hard Rock cafe founder Isaac Tigrett.

India’s president and prime minister both attended his latest birthday celebrations.

Their devotion was tested to the limits in recent years by persistent allegations that the guru indulged in widespread sexual abuse of young acolytes at his ashram in Puttaparthi in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh.

Yet even when video footage proved beyond doubt that his “miracles” were simple sleight of hand and he was implicated in the murders of four followers, millions still refused to believe the worst.

His death on Sunday, however, is another matter. Sai Baba had built his empire on the myth that he was the reincarnation of an earlier – and much loved – Indian saint of the same name. In doing so, he had prophesied his own death at the age of 96 – and his reincarnation eight years later.

As news of his deteriorating health spread, police were ordered into Puttaparthi to maintain control, with devotees venting their anger and frustration at officials and members of the trust which runs the Sai Baba empire.

With allegations circulating that the trust had neglected Sai Baba’s health in recent months, worried politicians held top-level meetings to discuss whether the state should seize control of his vast fortune.

His nephew, RJ Ratnakar and devotee Satyajit, who had taken over responsibility for his care in recent years, are among those reported to be jostling for control over the Sai organisation.

His death also raises questions about the future of his controversial education programme, which had been expanding worldwide in recent years.

In the UK his organisation has exploited the requirement for schools to provide spiritual, moral and cultural development, which was introduced in the 1988 Education Reform Act.

It promotes the lessons as a way to reverse the trend towards anti-social behaviour and the international Sathya Sai organisation says almost 200 schools across the UK have acquired its manuals.

The UK courses were written by Sai Baba follower Carole Alderman, a regular visitor to his ashram and a devout believer. She has no teaching qualification but did run the Christmas play at his ashram for six years.

Asked in an interview with the Sai radio station about the relevance of his teachings to the challenges faced by contemporary society, she replied: “I’m happy! Almost all of the time. And if I have any problems, I can just turn to Him and He’ll sort them out for me.”

Critics claimed the programme did little more than encourage vulnerable young people to join Sai Baba’s personality cult.

With his saffron robes and trademark Afro hairstyle, Sai Baba certainly cut a distinctive, if diminutive – he stood just 5ft 2 ins tall – figure.

He was never slow to proclaim his own divinity, insisting that his arrival on earth was prophesied by Jesus, that he was the one who originally sent Jesus to Earth and that he was clearly the Lamb of God because his name – Ba Ba – is the noise a sheep makes.

He inspired devotion among his followers, who flocked to the ashram just to catch a glimpse of him and maybe to be given a sprinkling of the holy ash he claimed to be able to materialise from thin air. The lucky ones received watches or gold statues, which he would apparently produce from his mouth.

But for his growing army of critics, he was nothing short of a child-molesting fraud who had for years taken advantage of the gullibility of his young male followers to sexually abuse them during private audiences in his rooms.

Victims have told in harrowing detail how they were groped during private audiences and required to take part in sexual acts with the man they had trusted.

So seriously were the claims taken that for many years the US government warned its citizens to stay away from the ashram because of the risk and UNESCO, the UN’s Educational, Social, and Cultural Organisation, pulled out of a conference at the ashram citing deep concerns about “widely-reported allegations of sexual abuse”.

Sai Baba had dismissed the sex abuse allegations as false and described them as the “cawing of crows”.

“All that is written on walls [or] said in political meetings, or the vulgar tales carried by the print media, should not carry one away.”

But former devotee Barry Pittard said Sai Baba was a dangerous confidence trickster who should have been allowed to have anything to do with children.

“For the worst victims of his depredations, the victims of murder and maiming and people being beaten by his officers and families being broken up and the boys, some of them very young, their sufferings have been very great.”

And former Sai organisation teacher Robert Priddy, who helped set up the teacher training model, said most people teaching the programme were unqualified to do so.

“The aim of embedding ‘spiritual’ values in children was heavily imprinted with indoctrinating them to believe in Sai Baba’s divinity and doctrine,” he warned.

Sai Baba had also been denounced by the Indian Rationalists Association, who debunked his “miracles” and pointed to numerous videos available on the internet which show the one-time conjurer producing items from various places where he has concealed them, including his mop of hair.

The negative publicity had little effect on the growth of his fortune, though. Court documents allege he owned two Mercedes limousines, two BMWs, one Daimler, one Jaguar, and plenty of other Indian vehicles.

The documents also allege he had the roof of his temple lined with solid gold. The grounds of his ashram contain a museum, mostly dedicated to his own works and there are numerous statues, including a slightly larger than life gold statue of Sai Baba himself, a gold chariot, a silver chariot and a cricket pitch laid for an international tournament for which he offered as a trophy a solid gold cup weighing 20kg and valued at £150,000.

The battle for control over that fortune promises to be bitter. Family members have already fired the first shots at the trust, and there are suspicions the state government would like to get its hands on the coffers.

Despite Sai Baba having previously assured his followers that he would not die anytime soon, his physical health deteriorated rapidly in recent months.

He was admitted to his own hospital at the end of last month suffering from pneumonia and breathing problems. On Thursday, his condition worsened and doctors said his organs were no longer functioning. He died on Sunday, reportedly of heart failure. His exact age is a matter of debate: his own organisation put his age at 85, while his purported date of birth in 1926 would suggest he was 84. Others suggest he was born in 1929.

Narendra Nayak, President of Federation of Indian Rationalist Associations, said that his failure to reach the age at which he had claimed he would die should be enough to convince people Sai Baba was no God.

Speaking before the guru’s death he said: “Sai Baba is a third rate prestidigitator and manipulator who is now paralysed and he cannot cure himself. How can he cure others? There is a saying in English –physician heal thyself. So I would say Baba heal yourself.”


Digvijay Singh backs Mayawati’s demand for Dalit in Lokpal Bill panel


Senior Congress leader Digvijay Singh today backed Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati’s demand for inclusion of a Dalit representative in the Lokpal drafting committee while Justice Santosh Hegde does not seem to find any merit in it.

“The demand is valid,” Singh said when asked about Mayawati’s demand.

However Hegde, who is a member of the commitee, said, “if you have to have any caste-wise representation, then this committee can never be constituted.”

Asked about the issue, Union minister Salman Khursheed, a member of the joint committee, said, “we should trust the ten members. Let them present their product…we should give them a chance. After the product comes out, we can see and examine it and put forth our objections if any.”


Mayawati’s demand for Dalit in Lokpal Bill panel is valid: Digvijay Singh


New Delhi: Senior Congress leader Digvijay Singh on Saturday stood by Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati’s demand for inclusion of a Dalit representative in the Lokpal drafting committee while Justice Santosh Hegde does not seem to find any logic in it.

“The demand is valid,” Singh said when asked about Mayawati’s demand. However Hegde, who is a member of the commitee, said,

“If you have to have any caste-wise representation, then this committee can never be constituted.”

Asked about the issue, Union Minister Salman Khurshid, a member of the joint committee, said, “We should trust the ten members. Let them present their product…we should give them a chance. After the product comes out, we can see and examine it and put forth our objections if any.”


Maya asks: UPA, civil society couldn’t find one qualified Dalit?


Express news serviceTags : Joint committee to draft the Lokpal Bill,Mayawati, Dalit communityPosted: Sat Apr 23 2011, 02:16 hrsLucknow:

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Asking the joint committee to draft the Lokpal Bill to distance itself from members whose integrity is being questioned, UP Chief Minister Mayawati today called for the reconstitution of the panel to provide representation to a member from the Dalit community.

 In her first comments on the controversy, Mayawati did not name anybody but said: “The committee constituted for drafting the… Bill must seriously consider if there are question marks raised over the integrity of any member or members and they should immediately distance themselves from such members”.

 She accused the UPA government and civil society of ignoring Dalits. “Not even one member in the 10-member joint drafting committee… is from the Dalit community. It’s intriguing that the UPA government and civil society could not find even one competent person among the Dalits who is well versed with the Constitution after 63 years of Independence,” she said.

Mayawati said: “The nomination of a Dalit member in the committee will not only rectify the mistake committed by the UPA and the civil society, it will also remove the apprehension and misgivings among the Dalits”.

 “My party and the government wants to suggest to the UPA and the civil society that the joint drafting committee be reconstituted for giving representation to a competent person from the Dalit community. The Dalit chosen for the committee should be a non-political person”, said Mayawati.

 Training her guns at Anna Hazare, the UP chief minister said, “Anna has forgotten that Dr B R Ambedkar was born in his native state Maharashtra which has also witnessed several movements for social change. Anna should have considered these facts while selecting members for the joint committee”.

Mayawati also targeted the Congress, saying, “this party pretends a lot for the welfare of Dalits but when it comes to honour and dignity of the Dalits, the Congress has always ditched them”.

 However, the BSP leader supported Anna Hazare’s campaign against corruption. “My party welcomes the campaign of Anna Hazare against corruption. My party has been fighting corruption and criminalisation of politics since inception. Had the previous government taken corrective measures for curbing corruption , the BSP would not have been constituted at all”.

 Mayawati claimed that her government has inherited corruption and criminalisation of politics in UP, which had struck deep roots in the state.” We are trying to cleanse the polity in UP, but it will take some time since the problem has become chronic”, she added.

 In an apparent reference to the recent murder of two chief medical officers BP Singh and Vinod Arya, the Chief Minister said, “Some government employees have lost their lives, we are trying to arrest the culprits. Come what may, there will be no let up in our campaign against corruption”.


Include a Dalit on Lokpal panel: Mayawati


Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati on Friday demanded the inclusion of a Scheduled Caste member on the Lokpal Bill drafting committee.  The chief minister flayed both the Congress-led UPA government as well as the civil society for not caring to include a single Dalit on the joint committee constituted by the union government after a fast-unto-death by leading activist Anna Hazare earlier this month.

 Without taking any names, the chief minister also made it clear that the committee must distance itself from such members whose integrity was being questioned.


India’s top court cracks down on tradition of “honour killings”


20 Apr 2011 15:02

Source: Trustlaw // Nita Bhalla

honour killingsThe bodies of Sunita Devi (L), 21, and her partner Jasbir Singh, 22, lie on the ground after they were killed by villagers in an “honour killing” in Ballah village in the northern Indian state of Haryana. REUTERS/Stringer

    By Nita Bhalla

    NEW DELHI (TrustLaw) – India’s Supreme Court has called for an end to customary practices which promote “honour killings”, saying the brutal tradition of parents killing their children to protect their so-called reputation is “barbaric” and “shameful”.

    Khap Panchayats — community groups comprising elderly men which set the rules in Indian villages in regions such as Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan — are often seen as instigating such murders in these highly traditional regions. Yet these village councils have no legal sanction.

    Activists say cases of families lynching men and women,who engage in relationships with those of a different caste or religion, to salvage their perceived honour are widespread in India’s conservative northwestern belt.

    “We have in recent years heard of Khap Panchayats which often decree or encourage honour killings or other atrocities on men and women of different castes or religion, who wish to get married or have been married …” said a bench comprising of Justices Markandeya Katju and Gyan Sudha Misra on Tuesday.

    “We are of the opinion that this is wholly illegal and has to be ruthlessly stamped out,” said the two judges who were hearing a case of caste discrimination.

    Any opposition to Khap Panchayats diktats are met with harsh punishment, including public beatings or ostracism. Political parties rarely speak out against these councils which form a major vote bloc for many of them.

    Despite India’s rapid modernisation and growing cosmopolitanism, which has been driven by accelerated economic growth, discrimination against low-caste communities known as Dalits and minority faiths such as Muslims persists in this predominately Hindu country.

    The intermingling of caste and religion remains a taboo — not only for largely rural illiterate populations, who have lived under a system of feudalism for centuries, but even for educated, well-off families in urban India.

    In May last year, India’s media highlighted the case of 22-year-old journalist Nirupama Pathak who allegedly was killed by her mother in their home in the eastern state of Jharkhand, after she was found to be pregnant by her lower caste boyfriend.

    India’s top court judges have now directed all administrative and police departments to ensure that couples in such relationships are not harassed or subjected to violence, adding that inter-caste marriages are in the national interest and would help dismantle India’s age-old caste system.

    “There is nothing honourable in such killings, and in fact they are nothing but barbaric and shameful acts of murder committed by brutal, feudal-minded persons who deserve punishment,” said the judgement. “Only in this way can we stamp out such acts of barbarism.”