State causes 13 deaths as lakhs are scorched by heat at a government rally

heat stroke death

The deaths due to poor arrangemens at the Maharashtra government organised big gathering in Navi Mumbai on April 16 are also a pointer to the new class of alleged spiritual leaders .

Maharashtra has a living Warkari tradition of devotion, there is no religious leader involved,people voluntarily walk in a spirit of piety to the Vithal temple in Pandharpur for miles together. There is a gender breakdown too as people address one another as Mauli, mother, irrespective of sex.

There is the famous story of Sant Tukaram, popularised in films as well, returning the gifts sent by Shivaji

The tradition of selfless men in other fields is long. As Mahesh Elkunchwar, playwright, recalled recently he took Vijay Tendulkar to meet Gandhian Shivajirao Patwardhan who had done remarkable work for leprosy patients. Tendulkar was highly impressed. Patwardhan told him – do not write about me. I am not doing this for publicity. No wonder so few today have heard of Patwardhan.

Sant Gadge Maharaj, who chose to live in poverty, used to gently thrash anyone with his famous broom if anyone touched his feet. He led an active campaign for cleanliness and built numerous dharmashalas for ordinary people.

There is a lovely Marathi film made on him, Devaki Nandan Gopala, in the 1970s with Shreeram Lagoo in the main role, an absolute rationalist in real life. I have special reason to remember the film because just before I saw it I had seen earlier in the day the Russian film on the famous music maestro Tchaikovsky. The combinationa was interesting.

Appasaheb Dharmadhikari, who was presented the Maharashtra Bhooshan award at the rally in the hot sun, has obviously done some social work but the money and publicity part seem to completely eclipse the better part of his being. He seems to have an obsession with monster rallies in an utterly unbecoming display of one up man ship.

This was actually the second time he got the award, the first was meant for his father Nanasaheb and was given posthumously when Vilasrao Deshmukh was the Congress chief minister in 2008. His website claims that that rally was attended by forty lakh people and was featured in the Limca book of records. So this is these people’s idea of dharma.

If there were no deaths and illness involved then, it was because it was held in the more bearable month of November.

It seems he sits on a huge pile of money belonging to a trust comprising solely of family members and receiving huge donations. In all fairness the government and Mr Dharmadhikari must give an account to the people, the government regarding the expenses for arrangements which resulted in so many deaths and Mr Dharmadhikari about the trust and finances. The rise of moneybag preachers in the Thane and Raigad districts bordering Mumbai is possibly explained by the sudden rise in income of farmers with capitalists and the government capturing land. Many of these farmers took to drinking and patronising dance bars. Dharmadhikaris stepped in here and weaned people from these issues. But the negative fall out is utter irrationality, blind faith and obedience.

And to think that this was part was once under the influence of the Peasants and Workers Party, once a highly progressive force.

Few have understood the social economic issues involved in the rise of the alleged spiritual men than Meera Nanda, author. She says – Middle-class Indians are becoming actively religious as they are becoming prosperous. The last decade has seen the proliferation of powerful new god-men, a massive rise in temple rituals, the creation of new gods, and the increased demand for priests. Hinduism has entered public life as well with politicians regularly using pujas and yajnas in their campaigning.

The state is enabling this Hinduization with the help of the private sector. From actively promoting religious tourism, to handing over higher education to private sector institutions, some of whom use religious trusts to run these institutions and impart ‘value-based’ education, to giving away land at highly subsidized rates to gurus and god-men, many of the privatization measures of the government are linked with the promotion of Hinduism.

Why has this happened? What does it mean? And does this spell the death of Indian secularism? In her eye-opening book, Meera Nanda looks at the rise of popular Hinduism and uncovers, for the first time, the nexus between the state, temple and corporate India, and the ugly truth behind India’s leap into globalization and economic reforms. She argues that india is creating its own, insidious form of fundamentalism, one that can lead the country into grave danger.ounter godmen

The modern gurus, who are practically CEOs of huge business empires, know that they operate in a highly competitive spiritualism market and try to differentiate their products and services accordingly. Spiritual seekers, too, shop around for just the right guru, often trying out many before settling on one. Depending upon their bent of mind and their spiritual needs, they go for one of the three main types of gurus: type I, the miracle making gurus; type II, the philosophical gurus who specialize in expounding on Vedic wisdom; and type III, the yoga–meditation–alternative-medicine gurus who may or may not combine yogic postures and breathing techniques with new age techniques of astrology/tarot, vastu/feng shui, reiki, pranic healing, aromatherapy, etc. The three categories are not watertight: gurus offering miracles will also offer philosophical discourses and new age techniques; those into Vedic heritage will not shy away from astrology, yagnas, and stories of miracles of their own gurus; while those offering yoga and alternative medicine will also offer reiki, acupuncture, biorhythms, colon irrigation, and the like. For their part, spiritual seekers also mix and match their gurus, and sometimes they move from one type to another, depending upon the need. On top of it, doing meditation in an ashram does not prevent anyone from visiting a temple or attending a yagna. India’s religious supermarket is spiritual seekers’ dream come true: it gives them an enormous choice of ways of exploring and expressing their religiosity.

While Satya Sai Baba is the very archetype of the miracle working guru, he faces fierce competition from Mata Amritanandamayi, the famous ‘hugging guru’. Unlike Sai Baba who actually materializes physical objects through his supernatural powers (or is it magic?), Amritanandamayi encourages her followers to think she is making everyday miracles happen on their behalf. Either way, miracles— extraordinary happenings that defy all known laws of nature —are of huge importance to those who seek deity-saints. Miracles serve as the visiting card of God in the human body of the guru. Indeed, tangible, physically observable miracles —and not just a promise of spiritual transformation—serve as the evidence which seems to prove the godliness of their chosen. As a result, the devotees end up convinced that their faith is rational, because they have actually seen the miracle with their own eyes

The death of people killed in the rally should be classified as social murders as Friedrich Engels called them. These were a direct result of State negligence in a State government organised event for the aggrandisement of politicians and the so called spiritual leader in whose honour the spectacle was organised in Kharghar in Navi Mumbai on April 16.

This calls for a judicial inquiry as anyone aware of basic Parliamentary norms would bear out. The most essential element is very much there, the involvement of the state government which was so direct and even a most unscrupulous State would not be able to deny it. It was a State government organised event with front page advertisements in many newspapers.

Formerly there used to be regular judicial inquiries into disasters of even small magnitude. One will find any number of such reports in the state legislature library. Now, the opposition in the State is so feeble and for a long time one has not heard of demands for judicial inquiries.

Shamefully, a section of the NCP, now appears all set to join hands with the ruling network in a clear betrayal of the legacy of Phule, Shahu and Ambedkar.

If not a judicial inquiry, people can hold a people’s court, a jan sunwai, in which witnesses and others can be called and the proceedings recorded.

How could the government be so callous towards people at a rally organised by itself, the victims, lakhs of them, sat in the hot sun for hours waiting for the alleged VIPs and died of dehydration, sun stroke, many could not even drink water as the mid day heat had made it so hot.

Often the government machinery routinely harasses social organisations wanting to take out morchas, all kinds of permissions have to be taken, those upholding democracy are treated like criminals. And here the government and the alleged spiritual organisation in a joint exercise organise this mega event at a cost of some Rs 12 crore to the government without preliminary precautions.

The least that the government can now do is to ensure that organisers of such mega events including corrupt politicians and others organising cricket matches , should ask the attendees to use public transport. In any case the size of such events ought to be restricted to a manageable degree.

For years we have been hearing disgraceful arguments being made by the government machinery that trade union and political morchas should be discouraged as they are a hindrance to traffic. But they have no problems with huge traffic jams caused by monopolisation of road space by motor cars.

A few years ago there was a spiritual guru called Pandurang Shastri Athavale, he was trained in philosophy, he helped many to give up drinking liquor, improve their lot, he had a mass following but he never went to such absurd lengths as organising these monster events.

The Navi Mumbai deaths remind one of the Hillsborough tragedy in which 97 football fans were killed and many injured during an FA cup semi final in Sheffield in 1987. The police were severely indicted for their mismanagement in an inquiry that lasted years. The deaths are remembered to every year to this day with floral offerings. The disaster had occurred on April 15, datewise, just a day before the the State-caused deaths.

Vidyadhar Date is a senior journalist, culture critic and author of a book on public transport

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