Indian Rationalist Association

India's largest rationalist organisation. Founded in 1949. Fights for scientific temper, secularism, freedom of thought and expression. Defends reason and science. Exposes superstition, blind belief, obscurantism, paranormal claims caste-based social divisions and guru-politics nexus. Strives for a post-religious society. President: Sanal Edamaruku Contact: Phone: + 91-11-6569 9012, +91-11-64630651

Monday, December 04, 2006

Satya Sai Baba and President A P J Abdul Kalam!

India deserves a (more) dignified and responsible President

Sanal Edamaruku
President, Indian Rationalist Association and
Rationalist International

The poet-President & the “creator of the universe”

India’s President Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam has been the chief guest during the glamorous birthday show of controversial godman Sai Baba on 23rd November 2006. It is shameful and outrageous that the Indian President pays respect to a saffron charlatan, who exploits the gullible by claiming that he can produce ‘holy ash” from thin air, cure all illnesses, has created the universe and other nonsense more. It aggravates the case against President Kalam that he did not content himself with performing a kind of public relations routine, but went out of his way praising and glorifying the charlatan.

“I have immense love for Sai Baba”, Dr. Kalam said in his speech at Sai Baba’s headquarters in Puttaparthi . “I penned a poem in my mother tongue to greet Sai Baba on his birthday.” And he was not ashamed to read his poem (in a Telugu translation of the Tamil original) publicly to the cheering crowd of Sai Baba devotees. The rather embarrassing piece glorified Sai Baba as a glittering lighthouse and symbol of goodness. Because of Sai Baba’s presence, the President of India rejoiced, the earth was the most blessed planet in the solar system.

This is not only extremely silly and in bad taste. It is moreover irresponsible and undignified to a degree that is not compatible with the august office of the Indian President. President Kalam has misrepresented India and betrayed the trust of her people. India deserves a (more) dignified and responsible President.

The scientist-President & the exposed miracle man

It is deplorable that there are still many poor people in India, who are deprived of basic education and who don’t have any opportunity to develop scientific literacy. They are easy prey for frauds, fanning their fears and raising their hopes with “miracles” and promises of magical solutions for all problems. Miracle mongers and faith healers are inflicting a dangerous disease upon the weakest section of Indian society and have to be stopped by all means. It has to be one of the primary tasks of human development in India, to help the victims of superstition and blind belief to break the shackles of their archaic mindset and join the twenty first century.

Besides being the Indian President, Dr. Abdul Kalam is seen as one among the most prominent scientists of India and has raised great hopes for a better future, guided and protected by science. His concept “Vision 2020” promises to lead India smoothly into the orbit of the developed world. If a man of this stature and position uses his influence to come to the rescue a scandal-tainted godman, he commits a serious and unpardonable betrayal.

The children’s President & the alleged child abuser

In recent years, Sai Baba has hit international headlines as the center of another scandal. The aging godman stands accused of sexual abuse of minors among his devotees. Numerous cases of victims from India and abroad have come to light. Though Indian authorities seem still far away from opening a trial against the well-connected offender, too many victims and witnesses - mainly from Europe and USA - have broken their silence to further ignore his crimes. Some of their statements are recorded in articles that appeared in the London based The Daily Telegraph and in the film documentary "Seduced by Sai Baba", produced by the Danish State Television. In 2000, UNESCO washed its hands off Sai Baba by deciding neither to sponsor nor take part in a conference it had been planning to organize along with the Institute of Sathya Sai Education (ISSE, Thailand) and The Flinders University Institute of International Education (Australia), in Puttaparthi, India.

But all this seems not enough to stop President Dr. Abdul Kalam from publicly praising the fallen saffron star to the skies and lending him the shield of national honor to cover his shame. It is a shocking and somewhat macabre picture to see President Kalam, who loves to show himself in the company of children and cultivates an image of the great friend, promoter and protector of India’s youth, quite unperturbed and in such cordial relations with the man, who is held responsible for using his godly image to commit cruel and inhuman sexual abuse against hundreds of helpless minor devotees.

Philanthropy? A letter to the Indian President

Tainted and defeated, Sai Baba found a new avatar. One year back, on the occasion of his eightieth birthday, fans announced his transformation from miracle-man to philanthropist. Sai Baba's trust , which claims to be "the biggest NGO in the world after the United Nations", has allegedly spent millions of Dollars for drinking water, hospital and school projects around Puttaparthi (Andhra Pradesh) and in Bangalore (Karnataka). His down-to-earth development work is winning Sai Baba "even the hearts of non-believers", hoped his supporters.

In December 2005, I have written a letter to President Dr. Abdul Kalam, which was never answered. It demanded criminal investigations against Sai Baba. "If Sai Baba's 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?" I asked in my letter.

Spending a part of the great fortunes, swindled out of the gullible by pretending to have supernatural powers, for social development around his ancestral village doesn't make Sai Baba a great philanthropist. It is a well-known strategy of dacoits and gangsters, to build themselves a strong support base and a safe haven by winning the total loyalty of "their" villagers at home. Hasn't the cocaine mafia in Colombia done the same with their comparatively modest means? By the way, isn’t it a matchless irony that Sai Baba spends money, obtained by claiming the power to cure all illnesses, for super-specialty hospitals? Sai Baba himself, when he recently fell ill, preferred to be treated in one of his modern hospitals instead of relying on his own magic.

The people of India have a basic right to receive drinking water, appropriate medical care, education etc. It is the duty of any government to provide these essential goods. And it is an utter humiliation, if people are forced to receive their dues as alms from the hands of a "philanthropist" who expects them to bow theirs heads in front of him and praise his generosity. The situation becomes worse, if the government leaves the citizens in dependency of a "philanthropist", who is a criminal and a megalomaniac, and claims that he has supernatural powers and even created the universe. Sai Baba's birthday has become a day of national shame for India with a section of leading politicians, scientists and artists at the feet of a charlatan and alleged child abuser. If they express their devotion, because they are personally weak and gullible people, we have to ask ourselves why we don't elect confident, efficient, strong and intelligent politicians instead. If they do so because they want to celebrate the "benevolence" of a politically well-connected fraud and alleged criminal, they are deeply corrupt.

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