Conscience Keepers (sic!) A Sant, a Judge and an Editor
THIS is about three stories – of a sant, a judge and an editor. The Sant is a jnani who attains moksha and shows the path to God; the Judge, who, according to George Mikes, has a 'God complex' and the third and the most important one is about an editor who considers himself as 'one who can make or break a God'. Though all three seem to be related with God, God is not our concern here. They are. Story One: The Sant According to scriptures, a Sadhu or Sant or Baba in popular parlance is one who follows the path of Sadhana Chatushtaya – viveka (discrimination), 'vairagya' (dis-passion, detachment), Shad-sampat (the six virtues, which are: sama – tranquillity or control of mind, calmness; dama – control of the senses; uparati – renunciation of activities which are not duties; titiksha – endurance; shraddha – faith and the last one samadhana – perfect concentration) and mumukshutva (intense longing for liberation). We now have a Sant, who according to his website, is 'revered' even by many other sants. In his presence, it seems everyone would experience 'bliss', including the other sants. So he is no ordinary man, though he is born to ordinary parents and led an ordinary life till he was shown the path of moksha, obviously by another sant. He is none other than Asaram Bapu. Today, there are more than 400 ashrams run by the trust and many homes to train children and women. Many people swayed by the propaganda machine of the Bapu trusted him and became ardent devotees. Unfortunately for them, this Baba does not have any of the qualities of a sadhu that the scriptures had prescribed, least of all vairagya. Reports of rape, sexual abuse, atrocities and death of children found space in media, despite all efforts to scuttle them from reaching public consciousness. Those who had complained were attacked not only by the 'devotees-under-trance', but also by the government that swore on a secular constitution. Due to the adamant persistence of some of the women who were physically abused by the sant, cases were registered. To arrest him was another big drama. Ultimately, he was arrested. Till today, his son, an accomplice to all the crimes is at large, evading the hands of law. This Baba is known for his closeness to the 'Hindutva' ideology and thus to the governments in Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh. His views on women, specifically after the brutal December 16 rape incident evoked nationwide condemnation. These statements made by him only reflect his regressive mindset and are in consonance with his deeds – abusing women. Denied bail and languishing in jails, he is now accusing the Congress for foisting false cases upon him due to his political and ideological allegiances. The story is not complete. It is still evolving. Only time will tell us what the ending will be! Story Two: The Judge According to some of the famous jurists who had commented on the ethics of judges, “a judge cannot afford to be accused of acts of moral turpitude. He cannot indulge, in or outside his court, in such behaviour as can create doubts about the credibility of his character. His behaviour has to be a model one. Only then he would be able to command respect. Like it has been said: 'Caesar’s wife has also to be above suspicion'...A scandalous behaviour on the part of a Judge, even in his private affairs, is bound to affect his image and prestige in the office of the Judge”. But as George Mikes wrote in his article on Professional Deformities: “(Judges) sooner or later most of them develop a 'God complex'...when, in other words you are treated like God, then it is difficult not to believe in your own divinity. You are addressed as 'My Lord', almost like Him, so naturally you are inclined to believe. He is your colleague”. Some of our judges aptly fit this description. Of course, as Mikes himself points out there are exceptions: “this rule, like all rules, lacks universal validity. I have known cunning geese. I have met naïve foxes. And I have known modest and almost human judges”. The Jurist in our story is not a naïve fox or a modest and human judge. He had an intern working with him and had used his position to sexually abuse her. It took more than a year for that woman to gather courage and bring the matter to light, that too through a blog. Fortunately, the Supreme Court constituted an internal committee to enquire into the matter. Except this saving grace, the entire episode reeks of abuse of position, power and societal prejudices. Let us read the interview this girl had given to Wall Street Journal: “All that I wanted to do was to erase the memory from my conscience. This was a man I had admired, I looked up to him...Indeed, I pondered over the idea of legal recourse, but feared it would do more harm than good. First, my case would have dragged on for years. Second, defence lawyers would make me relive every violating moment in court – something I wanted to bury at the time. Third, in cases of assaults, where there is no physical evidence, it's one's word against another's, really. There's no reason why a law graduate would have won over a judge with a spotless record. Even now, for instance, when I appear before the panel, I feel I'm being looked at with suspicious eye. I have to constantly justify that I'm not lying, I'm not making up this story. I feel humiliated”. This was her experience of facing the panel constituted by the Supreme Court and that too she herself is a lawyer. Imagine the plight of ordinary women, without legal background or backing and facing a panel constituted by some lower level courts! Let us read the reaction of her family members, when she had mentioned the issue before them: “When I told my grandmother I was assaulted, she couldn't understand why I was making a big deal out of it. In fact, she didn't even think it was wrong. 'We have all been harassed at some point or the other,' she (grandmother) would say...My mother, meanwhile, said what had happened was indeed wrong, but that I had to accept it and move on. 'You don't have any other option,' she (mother) would say”. These are just some of the reflections of the prejudices existing in our society. This story too is not complete. It too is evolving, waiting for the names to roll out. Before moving to the last story, an interesting fact needs to be mentioned here. The Supreme Court, which had delivered the famous, path-breaking Visakha Judgement on sexual harassment and directed for the constitution of committees to prevent and probe such incidents, did not have such an institutional mechanism till few days back. It took 16 years for the Supreme Court to implement its own ruling. It is an open question, how long will it take to set-up such mechanisms throughout the country? Story Three: The Editor Before going into the story, let us first read about what constitutes a democratic press, ethics and responsibilities of a journalist: “By its most rudimentary definition, a democratic press is meant to inform educate and entertain the citizenry in a fair, objective factual and proportionate way. It is meant also to be opinionated, irreverent and inviolably committed to the idea of individual; and civil liberties. At its purest, however it is meant to have the appetite to investigate and question both money and power and hold them to the idea of the greater common good. It is meant not only to reflect the popular mood, but also to stand against it, if the popular ever consolidates into something detrimental to a core constitutional or democratic value”. About the responses of Indian media and whether it is living up to the ethics and challenges of journalistic profession: “How is the Indian media responding to these spikes? How is it reading the symptoms? And is the media's response sufficient to inspire confidence in the public?....given the great freedoms and duties it bears as a profession, the media's response to challenges within, do not just concern the fraternity, they concern the country”. And now comes the advice: “Perhaps, it is time now for the Indian media to recall the old parable of the frog as well. If you don't recognise the slow heating of the waters you swim in, a day comes uncomfortably soon when you find yourself fried. For a variety of reasons, it is indisputable that the Indian media is coasting in several danger zones now, but are we, as fraternity, sufficiently willing to acknowledge that? Are we putting in the correctives? Do we even agree the water is hot? And if so, why”? All these are not taken from some textbook teaching aspiring journalists about the profession they are entering and the challenges they have to face. It is Tehelka, holding aloft its banner of 'Free and Frank Journalism', speaking through its managing-editor Shoma Chaudhury (Issue no 50, 2012). If a year past is a long time for morals and advices to change. Hold on. In the just concluded infamous Thinkfest organised by Tehelka, Shoma spoke so eloquently about rape and the rights of women. Ironically, the Thinkfest, hosted some of the rape victims too, to sensitise the guests invited not only about the rampant prevalence of sexual harassment in the country, but also about the plight of the women and the societal prejudices. None could even foresee that amidst them is sitting a predator. The predator, who claims of espousing progressive values, was “forced to apologise” and after being “angrily confronted” by the learned managing-editor. And the 'progressive' editor “voluntarily” stepped down for six months, which is “over and above what the alleged victim had asked for”. What a display of benevolence and concern indeed! And with this, they sought to put the lid on the matter and when questions were asked, straight flew the answer exposing the skin that lies under the mask of 'feminism; and 'progressivism' “I don’t know how this concerns you…I don’t think you can ask me these questions”. With the law hot on heels, Tejpal stands further exposed. From regretting the “shameful lapse of judgement that led me to attempt a sexual liaison with you on two occasions... despite your clear reluctance that you did not want such attention from me”, he now shows his true nature in his bail application: “the first incident, that occurred on the night of 7 November, was light-hearted banter”. From there, he proceeds further and stands alongside all his patriarchal brothers in assassination of the character of the victim. Shameless to say the least, he said, “the victim was at every party and social event in the conference and also stayed out late into the night”. Shedding all his pretences of “This is easily the worst moment of my life – something ostensibly playful gone so horribly wrong, damaging of all that I hold dear in life, from people to principles...My punishment has already been upon me, and will probably last till my last day”, Tejpal stands true as who he is – the abuser. As Asaram Bapu had accused the Congress of political vendetta, he is accusing the BJP of political vendetta. Birds of the same feather! Moral: The sants pose as conscience builders, the judges as upholders and the journalists as perpetually on watch to ensure that social consciousness stays on its moral course. Ironically, all the three stand exposed today. Of course, this is not to paint everything and everybody in black. There are still spots of oasis. Unless we all come together to fight against social prejudices, superstitious beliefs and regressive mindsets, we will be witnessing more of such incidents unfolding. Do we know that the government, which had enacted the Nirbhaya Act, post the December 16 rape in the capital, is yet to notify the laws of the Act? This is not just a reflection of lethargy, but of a social mindset. This is what we need to fight against. And it is not a day's event, but a lifelong struggle. Join it. PS: And the story of doctor and his wife, who too is a doctor, is not mentioned.