The Tragedy of Sai Baba

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Sai Baba of Shirdi is a patron saint to many. The small town of Shirdi is known to us only because Sai Baba resided and did his work there.

Sai Baba was a fakir. A fakir is someone who has given up on Earthly pleasures and attachments to things physical. It includes very things we describe as wealth and luxury.

fakir, or faqir (/fəˈkɪər/; Arabic: فقیر‎ (noun of faqr)), derived from faqr (Arabic: فقر‎, “poverty”) is a Sufi Muslim ascetic who has taken vows of poverty and worship, renouncing all relations and possessions. Fakirs are prevalent in the Middle East and South Asia. A fakir is thought to be self-sufficient and possesses only the spiritual need for God.

Sai Baba’s time is early 20th century and he is said to have died in 1918. So, we have some photos of Sai Baba when he was alive. Some of them are shown in this post. As you can see in the photo below, he is wearing clothes which seem unwashed and are torn and is sans any adornment which is in line with his status as a fakir. No one had to say to us Inme fakiri dikhti hai to inform us or to confirm his status as a fakir. That he possesed almost nothing in terms of money or wealth is another indicator. What we know of him is because his contemporary disciples have told us so. That he could laurel himself with the finest of clothes of silk and adorn himself with loads of gold and silver ornaments was certainly possible, as his contemporary disciples included some very wealthy people. But instead, being true to his nature, he chose to live a simple life, and not partaking any worldly pleasures or objects that were indeed seen by him as not required.

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Sai Baba’s work included helping one and all, including especially the downtrodden and people on the margins of the society. And now 100 years after his death, his disciples seem to have reinvented him in their own self-image. Look at the photo above, which is the template for his idols at Shirdi and elsewhere. And look at what they have done with the idol made of marble. They have made it into something which Sai Baba was not. Look at the corruption of his image that they have made.

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A Sai Baba adorned with gold!

This just a perversion of the saint and what he stood for, bringing him down to and equalling in the depravity of wealth which he was indifferent about. He is adorned with the finest silks and surrounded by gold and silver ornaments. And devotees make show off triumphantly what they have “devoted” to the cause of Sai Baba. Someone had made a gold crown for him, how much he himself must have despised something like that, he chose to wear a torn headcloth over a crown.

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A Sai Baba surrounded by silver!

The revamped image of Sai Baba is in tune with the self-image of the devotees. They see him enjoying the finest silks and ornaments made of gold, silver and diamonds and hard cash just as they do. The people who are “managing” the temple after him, are no different. In name of charity, they are doing anything but charity. The management of the temple now seeks to remove all the beggars from the temple premises. So if Sai Baba came to Shirdi 100 years later, he would not be allowed as he would resemble a beggar. The irony of the situation is not lost,  you just have to visit Shirdi once to see the rampant monetization of the premises. The entire setup is just the anti-thesis of what Sai Baba was and what he stood for. And this my friends is the tragedy of Sai Baba..

(All the images CC by SA from Wikimedia Commons)

Whistleblowing as an act of political resistance

The individuals who make these disclosures feel so strongly about what they have seen that they’re willing to risk their lives and their freedom. They know that we, the people, are ultimately the strongest and most reliable check on the power of government. The insiders at the highest levels of government have extraordinary capability, extraordinary resources, tremendous access to influence, and a monopoly on violence, but in the final calculus there is but one figure that matters: the individual citizen.

And there are more of us than there are of them.

–  Edward Snowden

Anonymity and community in the age of RTI

(Draft under work.)

The year 2005 was a significant event in the history of India, as it
saw the introduction of bill for Right to Information. Under this
act any person could request data from government departments
pertaining to issues of interest. This was seen as first step
towards transparency of government of India, and indeed it was. The
RTI act was a weapon in hands of activists, who could now get the
required information officially. What was important also was that
there was a timeline which had to be adhered to while replying to
the RTI query. The information gathered from the various RTI queries
which individuals across the country empowered the citizens about
their rights regarding many issues. Also equally importantly RTI was
a tool for exposing the corruption running rampant in various
government departments. A RTI query could expose the irregularities
and bypassing of rules and regulations, leading to
corruption. There are many famous cases for their expose of big
names and massive corruption which were brought to light. (Some
examples?)

Some people became what are now known as RTI activists. The RTI
activists were whistleblowers of the RTI age. These activists
exposed many scams at local and national levels. Such expose make
the people involved very uncomfortable. And as it happens in many
cases the people involved are very powerful and would not stop at
anything to attain their goals. In many such cases the RTI activists
were “easy” targets. By using the four-fold approach of /saam/,
/daam/, /dand/ and finally /bhed/ those in trouble try to stop the RTI
activists. Unfortunately in many cases, it turns out the activists
were killed as a result of their whistleblowing acts. (Give
examples)

What the RTI activists in various parts lack is a safety net, by
this I mean they lack support from people with similar
interests. They also lack, in a sense, a feeling of community who
will stand by them in case of such bad incidents. What can be done
for them? What kind of mechanism can result in their protection?
There was a proposed whistleblower bill, which if enacted will
provide security to such people. But the bill was not passed. Is
there any other option? Is there a way in which people can still ask
for information under RTI, without revealing their identity, so that
they cannot be “targetted” as whistleblowers. Is there a way in
which despite being anonymous there is a sense of community among
the activists of the RTI? It seems there can be an alternative way in
which we the people can provide a sense of anonymity and at the same
time that of a community to the RTI activists. What follows is
such a proposal which will try to cover these fundamental issues.

The proposal is to setup a front, which for lack of a name I would
call a /collective/ for now, which will mask those requesting RTI
from various government departments. The activists can send their
queries to the government departments through this collective. This
collective will in a sense create a buffer between activists and the
respective government departments, and associated problematic
elements. Since the RTI queries will be sent through this
collective, there will be sense of anonymity for the RTI activists,
as their names wouldn’t come under spotlight as in the earlier
case. One can also have a way in which the activist need not reveal
their identity to collective, that is we should also allow for
anonymous requests for queries. Some may point out that this might
be abused, but we have to give in this possibility hoping that pros
will outnumber the cons. Thus at no point we would have any data
regarding the identity of the applicant, hence we will not be able
to reveal it, when asked. This as will be pointed out can be abused,
but Thus the collective will form a mask for all the RTI
requests. Of coure people who want their name displayed for their
work, will be proud public faces of the collective. It would be much
more difficult to subdue or silence or attack the collective as it
would not be single point contact, but rather a distributed system.

So what do the activists gain by submitting to the collective,
apart from the anonymity. The collective will have a policy that
all the data that it receives from these RTI queries, will be put
up in public domain. This will in turn create a public archive of
information which will be accessible to anyone. Such a archive will
address many issues, like redundancy in filing of RTI queries, or
making the future RTI queries much more pointed and making material
available for researchers.

Such is a very rough proposal for the formation of the
collective. Suggestions and refinements in the proposal and
possible way of execution of this collective are needed.

World We Live In

“I don’t want to live in a world where everything that I say, everything I do, everyone I talk to, every expression of creativity or love or friendship is recorded. That’s not something I’m willing to support, it’s not something I’m willing to build, and it’s not something I’m willing to live under.”

via Techdirt.

Privatization, Responsibility and Corruption

Privatisation seems to have gone from dynamic ideological choice, to route of least resistance for the state to abdicate its responsibility in a variety of policy areas. Anything difficult and measurable – problem schools; elderly care; waste disposal; big infrastructure projects – is left to private capital. In exactly the same way that outsourcing has evolved for private enterprise, it has become an expensive way of getting rid of problems to which those in charge have no solutions.

It is much easier to close a free school than to explain why a state school has gone disastrously wrong.

via theguardian

The same is happening in India. Now they are planning to privatize airports and Indian Airlines on the reasons of efficiency. For education, the government supports private school with aids. When the same money could have been used to better the government schools. In each sector the reliance on private sector to do the jobs is increasing. Even in case of vehicles in government offices, the trend is that you employ a private vehicle and a driver, instead of having a driver on the payroll. So is the case with computer maintenance. In each government office there are private firms which are paid large sums to make sure that the computers are kept running. Why can’t there be an internal department to look after that? The privatization both complete and contractual, lead to massive corruption opportunities for both politicians and the bureaucrats as can be seen in the recent series of scams that have surfaced in India. The main problem that is facing the people is privatization of our natural resources and that of responsibilities of the Government, the resulting corruption is just the tip of the iceberg. It is a symptom of the disease. Even then the major media houses never question, why these mega scams became possible in the first place? They are more eager to make scapegoats out of certain people, but the system which allowed the scams to happen is never challenged.

That said, it seems the ideological stance privatization, resulting in denial of responsibility of state and loss of money from the public purse cannot be halted unless there is a strong pressure from within to halt such measures.

Bank Accounts with no Account

”Look, every chief minister has been corrupt. In that sense, Yeddy is no different,” says a member of the Congress. “But he is probably the first CM to collect bribes and kickbacks in cheques.”

via Tehelka – India’s Independent Weekly News Magazine.

These are the words for the former Karnataka Cheif Minister B. S. Yedurappa. This should be read by all the bankers, they can make accounts which cannot be accounted. So that people who are taking bribes can have it easier. Is this not what the Swiss Banks and the tax havens are doing?

 

Transparency Revolution

To quote A K Antony on the current state of affairs in the nation.

“Our country is passing through a transparency revolution. Walls of secrecy are crumbling gradually. But politicians, bureaucracy, judiciary, business people, armed forces, and journalists are still not ready for this transition to transparency,”

And then he adds:

“But they will have to follow the transition and I don’t think anybody can take any step in a different direction,”

Lets see how much of this comes through, within our life times.

India would have been a better place without Sathya Sai Baba

Posting for a wider reading.

India would have been a better place without Sathya Sai Baba
Sanal Edamaruku
President
Indian Rationalist Association & Rationalist International

When Sathya Sai Baba died this morning (24 April 2011) at the age of
85 years, he proved once again that miracles and predictions fail. He
had predicted at a public gathering at his head quarters in
Puttaparthy, in 2000, and repeatedly many times, that he would die at
the age of 96 only. And till the last moment, many of his devotees
clung to his word and waited for a miracle. May it be an eye opener
for the millions of gullible people whom he misguided and deluded.

De mortuis nihil nisi bene, they say, say nothing but good of the
dead. But I think Sathya Sai Baba’s case qualifies for an exception.
Too great is the damage that he did to India. His devastating
influence on reason and scientific temper caused huge setback to the
country. At a time, when scientific progress led to great social and
economic leaps and scientific awakening started spreading all over
India, Sathya Sai Baba launched a “counter revolution” of
superstition, supported by irresponsible politicians and other public
figures who should have known better. In my judgment, this is his
greatest crime. I have succeeded again and again to expose him
publicly as a fraud, so did some other rationalists. But due to his
political protectors he was never held responsible for his crimes
against public reason. Nor was he ever booked for any other crime he
was accused of. Numerous cases of alleged sexual abuse and murder are
yet to be investigated, not to mention the financial secrets of his
empire.

Sathya Sai Baba insisted in all seriousness that he was god, the
creator of the universe, and “proved” his divinity with a couple of
small “miracles”. As son of a village tantric he was familiar with the
hand sleights and tricks of the trade. However, he did not only
fascinate poor and uneducated villagers with his fraudulent
performances. Over the years, he managed to attract a galaxy of
India’s rich and powerful, among them ministers, prime ministers,
presidents, chief justices, top industrialists and superstars.

Sathya Sai Baba had a special modus operandi that was the key for his
astonishing success and the root of his enormous clout. Many of his
high society devotees came to serve their own vested interests. Some
came to rub shoulders with the prominent. Many joined the club because
it was working as a powerful syndicate spreading its tentacles all
over the political system. It was a way to the top jobs and a way to
get things done. Others were seeking financial support or wanted to
get rid of ill-gotten black money: The empire, it is alleged, was
based on money laundering, using foreign devotees and branches. In
fact, the huge foreign donations to Sai Baba stood in contrast to the
comparatively modest number of active foreign devotees and the
sometimes quite weak foreign branches, some of them residing in
private homes. That is no great surprise, when one considers that Sai
Baba did not speak any other language than Telugu and traveled only
once in his whole life abroad – to visit his friend Idi Amin in
Uganda.

On his 80th birthday, Sai Baba’s supporters announced that he would
turn from a miracle man to a philanthropist. That was, after I had
demonstrated his miracles so often in TV shows that many kids in the
streets could imitate them. That he since spent a part of the great
fortunes, swindled out of the gullible, for social development around
his ancestral village, is highlighted now to present him as a saint.
But as useful and welcome hospitals, schools and drinking water
projects for the poor always may be: this kind of alibi-philanthropy
is well known even from mafia-bosses. It cannot be weighed against his
crimes and the damage he has done to the Indian society.

In December 2005, I wrote a letter to then President Dr. Abdul Kalam,
one of Sai Baba’s ardent supporters, which was never answered. I
demanded criminal investigations against Sai Baba. If his social
development projects are meant to be indulgence to nullify his crimes,
this procedure is unprecedented and unacceptable, I wrote. It is a
shame for India that well-founded accusations and numerous reputed
witnesses against Sai Baba are ignored without any investigation. Do
saffron clothes make an offender untouchable for the law? Do we have
to tolerate that political protectionism raises its head so boldly,
mocking India’s democracy?

Sathya Sai Baba caused great damage to India. His irresponsible
political patrons corrupted the political culture of India. Encouraged
by the clout of Sathya sai Baba, a new clan of miracle mongers
imitated him. India would have been a better place without Sathya Sai
Baba.

(This or other articles from the  Rationalist International Bulletin
may be reproduced by journals, blogs or web sites without change or
alteration in its content, and with due acknowledgment.)

Rationalist International: rationalistinternational@gmail.com

Gift of Love and Mayawati

ITAT had accepted Mayawati’s claim that immovable property worth Rs 62.72 lakh and cash payments of Rs 2 lakh were gifts given by her supporters out of love and affection.

via Delhi high court says ‘gift of love’ to Mayawati not taxable – The Times of India.

Now that this being the case, it reminds me of the Jadu ki Jhappi  of Munnabhai. How many more people will get tax exemptions based on this judgment? And what if a commoner like me argues the same way?