Indian Rationalist Leader Sreeni Pattathanam needs support!
Kerala Government renews attempts to prosecute author for book with explosive details on religious leader Mata Amritanandamayi, the “Hugging Mother”
Mata Amritanandamayi (nee Sudhamani, 1953) of Kerala is known to the world as the ‘hugging mother’. She was also the subject of a television documentary in the ‘Weird Weekends’ series on BBC TV, presented by Louis Theroux. She hugs people and passes on to them ‘energy’. Reputedly 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 Mata 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 Amrit Express (Palghat Town- Thiruvananthapuram) is named after her.
Sacred Stories and Realities
In 2002, rationalist leader Mr. Sreeni Pattathanam, General Secretary of Bharateeya Rationalist Association – the Kerala State affiliate of the Rationalist Association of India, a member of IHEU – and Editor of the Malayalam language rationalist monthly Yukthirajyam, published a 170 page book in Malayalam: ‘Matha Amruthandamayi – Divya Kadhakalum Yatharthiavum’ (Matha Amrithanandamayi: Sacred Stories and Realities, Mass Publications, revised edition).
Mr. Pattathanam’s efforts to bring to light facts are pioneering, and his main contentions are that the Mata’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, news paper reports and quotations from well known literary figures, including statements from the Mata’s close relatives, as well as an interview with Mata Amritanandamayi herself.
In 2002, members of the Bharathiya Rationalist Association staged a protest demonstration outside the Government secretariat in Thiruvananthapuram calling for an impartial inquiry into the allegations of suspicious deaths as well as the activities of the so-called charitable institutions being run by the influential ‘god woman’.
Government and Public Response
Instead of investigating the allegations and examining the evidence produced, 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 statements from Sreeni Pattathanam as well as the publisher and printer were recorded by the police inspector of Karunagappally. The relevant law sought 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 Malayalee 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, a relentless internet-based campaign was launched by the Mata’s devotees against those who came to Sreeni Pattathanam’s defence.
Mr. Pattathanam’s Statement
Both Mr. Pattathanam as well as Mr. C.I. Oommen, President of the Bharateeya Rationalist Association, Kerala, met with IHEU leaders in January 2003.
In a videotaped 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 us.
Mr. Pattathanam emphasized elsewhere: “I believe that I worked in accordance with the Indian Constitution Ã¯Â¿Â½ they are trying to deny me my constitutional rights. 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 baseless, the devotees could have published a rejoinder. They have published malicious reports against rationalists in their publications”.
IHEU has now received urgent messages from Mr. Pattathanam that on the pretext of executing a High Court judgement, the State Government has reopened the issue and the State Home secretary has summoned Mr. Pattathanam to present himself before him on 18 March 2003 for questioning.
IHEU’s Call for Action
IHEU notes that Mr. Pattathanam was instrumental 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.
Leaders of the Bharateeya Rationalist Association have also performed immense public service to the people of India by stopping – through the means of a Public Interest Litigation in the Kerala High Court – the fraudulent claims of Mr.Majeed of Fair Pharma who earned millions of Rupees by claiming that his (unverified and unapproved) AIDS cure IMMUNO QR had saved 100,000 patients.
IHEU calls upon the Kerala state government to stop immediately the harassment of a respected rationalist who is performing public service by protecting the gullible and innocent through his investigations.
IHEU supports Mr. Pattathanam’s efforts to expose the truth behind claims to miracles.
IHEU defends Mr. Pattathanam’s freedom of expression and his rights as an author and applauds his courage in bringing to light important facts about suspected crimes.
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. Please copy your letters of protest to us via email.
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.
Rationalist Association of India and IHEU
The Rationalist Association of India is a full member of the International Humanist and Ethical Union (www.iheu.org).
Mr. A.K. Anthony
The Chief Minister of Kerala State
Thiruvananthapuram 695 001
Dear Chief Minister Anthony,
I am writing to protest the harassment Rationalist leader Mr. Sreeni Pattathanam is being subjected to 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 Aaashram 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
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