31 October 2014

Will the Havyaka community please stand up?


I have decided to not publish any more comments that go on about why Raghaveshwara Bharati Swami is above the law, or respond to them. I have published enough dissenting comments and replied to them, so it's not as if this a one-sided conversation.

To me, this is simple enough and for the life of me, I cannot fathom what's so unfathomable to the  bhakta-trolls, who're busy spewing venom across the internet and coming up with one conspiracy theory after another.

They go on and on about why they think Premalatha Diwakar's statement is not the gospel of truth and, hence, this case is false. The latest I heard about why we should disbelieve Premalatha is that there is no witness to her 'alleged' rape, hence she's lying.

Are rapes done with witnesses hanging about?

I am astounded. Amazed. Disgusted. Sick to the stomach. And, sometimes, even amused at the lack of ingenuity of these zombies. These people are no less criminals than rapists and no punishment is enough for them, as they poison the society with illogic, unreason, and misogyny.

The person who made this comment is not worthy of my answer, my time, and my intellect.  

When did we, as a society, lose what we call in Kannada - vivechana shakti - the power to think and reason?

Who are you and I to say who's guilty or not? Is this the new way we're going to decide cases? How are we different from a khap panchayat then? God forbid, is there a fatwa coming? What, pray, shall we do with these institutions that we have created called the executive, the judiciary, and the government?

What concerns me now is not so much the Premalatha Diwakar case. My faith is unshaken that she will get justice. But the concern is the disappearance(?) of a community known for its gentle ways, its accommodative nature, and agrarian spirit of living together. The quality of bhakta-trolls is as worse as any other trolls. I thought I came from a community of educated and courteous people, but the language of the bhakta-trolls is as bad as any over the internet. What have we turned into?

There are many among the Havyaka community who do not side with the bhakta-trolls, but their silence, and fear of being bhaka-trolled feeds these low-life creatures. It is to them that I appeal to break their silence and demand that the law be given precedence over all else. You do not need to take a stand for or against anybody, but demand that everyone be treated equally before the law.

For, if you don't do this, you will be supporting adharma by your silence and passivity. So, c'mon people. Speak up. Speak to your family, your neighbours, the journalist friend you know, the cop you have contacts with, your MLA, your chief minister... Do not stop until we have established again that the Havyaka community is a law-abiding one.

17 October 2014

Something is rotten in the state of Karnataka

Update: A few days ago, the order prohibiting the Shastri couple from talking to the media was removed. They have now spoken to some Kannada TV channels. 

Something sinister has been happening in Karnataka since the last couple of months. For those of you not in the know, and there are many of you thanks to curbs on media reporting, I present below a timeline of the events and my thoughts below. 

August 26: Two cases are filed. In the first one, Seer Raghaveshvara Bharathi Swami accuses a couple - Diwakar Shastri and Premalatha Diwakar – of blackmail in Honnavar, Karnataka. The couple was promptly arrested and their bail plea set for September 10. This couple was associated very closely with the Ramachandrapura Math – of which the seer is the head – for long years. Premalatha, an acclaimed singer, used to perform at various Math events and her husband held some positions at the Math.

In the second case, the couple’s daughter filed a complaint in Girinagar police station, Bangalore, alleging that the seer sexually harassed her mother. Subsequently, Premalatha herself lodges a similar complaint, accusing the Swami of rape. In her complaint, she said that the Swami raped her many times over the last three years or so.

The seer makes appearances on some Kannada TV channels claiming his innocence.

Swami is not arrested.

August 27 - 31: Media pretty much blacks out all reportage on the case. We hear later that there is a order from the Honnavar magistrate prohibiting media organizations from maligning the Swami(!). But surely, it didn’t ban reportage of the case? In any case, the big media establishments suspiciously fall silent. Smaller, non-mainstream newspapers though carry on reporting.  

Swami is not arrested.

August 31: Diwakar Shastri’s brother commits suicide in his village near Mangalore, Karnataka. In his letter, he states that he killed himself as some people close to the Math were pressurizing him to ask his brother and his wife to withdraw their case.

September 7: Bangalore police issue a notice to Raghaveshwara Bharathi. He says he’s observing Chatrumaas, can’t appear before the police before September 9.

Around this time, Swami makes another appearance on TV proclaiming his innocence and throws an open challenge to people who want to fight the Math. Please note that the Honnavar magistrate's ban on media reportage doesn’t obviously apply to the Swami. He can go on air any time and say what he will.

Swami is not arrested.

September 8: Swami petitions the High Court to quash Premalatha Diwakar’s case against him as it as ‘false’. Court reserves order.

Swami is not arrested.

September 10: High Court stays arrest of Swami, but says police can investigate.

In Honnavar, meanwhile, at the bail hearing in the blackmail case, the Swami’s lawyer tells the court that the Diwakar couple should not be released because the couple face a threat to their life, hence jail is the safest place for them. This has to go down in history as the most ludicrous plea to not grant bail.

Swami is not arrested.

This is till where I followed the case day-to-day. By mid-September, the Diwakar couple did get bail despite all machinations to the contrary. Of course, there are conditions, one of them being that they cannot say things injurious to the Swami’s reputation.

Another major development was for the Advocate General of Karnataka to take up Premalatha’s case. He challenged the validity of the High Court’s order which was preventing the police from arresting the Swami and the media from writing about the case.

On October 9, the High Court finally lifts these orders and dismisses the Swami’s appeal to dismiss Premalatha’s case. The police are free to arrest the Swami, but of course, they don’t. by the end of the same day, the Swami manages to get an interim bail of a month. He also secured bail in the other case of the suicide of Diwakar Shastri’s brother. The family has accused the Swami and his followers of being responsible for his death, because of their threats to him.

A couple of days ago, the CID began interrogating the Swami, while he is still out of jail. This is where the case currently stands.

Here are some questions that the government, the judiciary, and the police of Karnataka state have to answer:
  • The most obvious question, being of course: why have you not arrested the Swami yet? Before the High Court issued the order preventing the state police from arresting the Swami, there was a clear window when they could have followed the due course of law. Why didn't they? Why did the police issue a notice to Swami, when the law requires to just go and arrest a rape accused? How is he different from the Nirbhaya accused, Tarun Tejpal, Asaram Bapu, Nityananda or any other man who has been accused of rape and then arrested? Would you have allowed these others to walk away free if they had similarly said they were observing Chaturmaas? Or, some other religious practice? Were these others issued notices? Last I checked we are still a secular country, where we treat everyone equally before the law, irrespective of considerations like religion. Has this changed now?
  • Why did the Honnavar magistrate ban media reportage of the case? What interest does the magistrate have in protecting the ‘reputation’ of a rape accused? Also, what is the jurisdiction of the Honnavar First Class court to issue such an order? This one beats me.
  • Why were the Diwakar couple arrested promptly on August 26 and refused bail till mid-September? The speed with which police moved to arrest them casts real doubts on what fuelled their speed.
  • Even after the Diwakar couple was released, why were they prohibited from speaking to the press? Is is too late in the day to be naive and ask about freedom of speech?
  • On October 9, when the police/CID had a clear window to arrest the Swami, why didn’t they still do it? Were they waiting for him to get the interim bail? Nice teamwork there.
Meanwhile, our middle-class, herd moralities have kicked right in and they are making the same cliched, dripping-of-patriarchy comments, like:

How come Premalatha never complained before, but is only protesting now? People who ask such a question obviously have no idea what it means to be exploited by a man of power and good for them that that is so. I, for one, am amazed that Premalatha has emerged sane and brave enough, after her incredible ordeal, to actually fight this case.

Also, the Math’s followers seem to think their Swami is infallible. Reailty check: the Swami is still only a human being, capable of the same follies and vices as all of us. And, if he is innocent, he can prove that in a court of law. But for that, of course, he needs to be arrested.

Another crucial differentiation they need to make: the Swami doesn’t embody the Math. And, there is no attack on the Math, as the Swami would have you believe. It’s a rape complaint against a person, so let’s treat it as that.

Next, as happens with so many rape complainants in India, the investigation often starts with them and not the accused. And, by investigation, I not only mean one that is instituted by agencies of the state, but also the whisper campaigns against the victim and her family. Premalatha has been interrogated by the police multiple times for long hours by now. Meanwhile, people from her own community and close social circle are busy questioning her character because of the sole fact that her complaint was so graphic.

Such attitudes make me burn up with rage so much that I don’t even know where to begin.

Is it okay if a heinous crime is committed, but not okay to report it?

How does the character of a woman who complains of rape come under scrutiny? What does character have to do with this, anyway? Are we implying that only women of low or uncertain character are raped? That is, promiscuous women can be raped? And, what is the definition of this character, I’d really like to know. In any case, what’s the character of these men like? 

There can be no doubt that it is such attitudes of otherwise educated and well-placed people in society that must have made Premalatha put up with the brutality. And it all begins with disrespect of women right from the womb. Now that it’s become difficult to kill female foetuses, we cant wait to kill little girls as soon as they’re born.

If they escape that too, we then begin conditioning them about how to be ashamed of their bodies. If a man on the street leers at you, there must be something wrong with your dress. Maybe you dressed too well, maybe you wore the wrong clothes, maybe you look too good, maybe you’re so irresistible that you have no business to be on the streets. But never, ever, is it the fault of the man. No wonder, that we hear that rapes happen in India, not Bharat. I wonder what clothes were the Badaun girls wearing when they went to pee in the fields. Surely, not T-shirt and jeans.

I am not so much worried about whether or not Premalatha will get justice. Something tells me she will. But what makes me frigging mad is our unabashed eagerness to vilify women who come out against powerful men in our society. It’s 2014, people, don’t you think it’s time we actually started using our brain power to think logically and act fairly? It’s now coming to close to two months since the Swami has been accused of rape. That he’s still not arrested should strike everyone as odd and reeking of something rotten in our systems, whether or not they they think of him as innocent or guilty. And that something rotten is people’s brains and hearts: zombie-like, we refuse to think and don’t flinch a bit when attacking women whom we should actually be grateul for, for taking the courage to step out in the open and standing their ground.

Still, for all that has happened in this case, I believe Premalatha will get justice. Kudos to her and her entire family for their courage and tenacity. And, I post this video to inspire them further (English translation of the lyrics here). Plough ahead, sister!