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Holy Cow And Unholy Silence

By B.F Firos

09 March, 2014

Matha Amrithananda Mayi’s ex-aide turns whistleblower. But Kerala’s mainstream media refuses to cover the damning revelations, writes B F FIROS.

A recent explosive book on self-styled saint and god-woman Matha Amrithananda Mai by one of her former personal attendants and the subsequent blackout by Kerala’s leading newspapers and TV channels need to be analysed in the context of how media houses tend to play second fiddle to the power wielded by some of the veritable spiritual empires with financial, social and political clout.

Holy Hell: A Memoir of Faith, Devotion, and Pure Madness, written by Australian-born Gail Tredwell, recounts her two decades’ harrowing experiences with the Matha’s Ashram in Kerala. The book is a damning indictment on the spiritual empire built assiduously over the past many years by Sudhamani, born in a poor fishing family in a non-descript village in Kerala’s Kollam district. She attained ‘godly’ power at a very young age by reportedly being `possessed’ by Lord Krishna. Years later, she built a spiritual empire worth millions of dollars, with millions of dollars received as donation by the Ashram every year from followers around the world.

The controversial book says Tredwell suffered in silence all the persecutions and trauma in her quest to find Indian spirituality till she left the Ashram in 1999. She was raped by the lieutenant of the God-woman many times in the Ashram. According to her, the true self of Amma is a far-cry from her preaching and public utterances. Buried under the false veneer of divinity and universal love are tales of torture, rape and financial misappropriation. She also alleges that a major portion of the donations are not being used for welfare of poor but instead gobbled up by the family members of ‘Amma’.

The explosive revelations were first reported by newspapers like Madhyamam and news channels like India Vision and Media One. Despite a studied silence by the leading newspapers and TV channels, the issue refused to die down, thanks to the social media, especially Facebook where the contents of the book were widely posted. One leading news paper, instead of reporting about the book, carried only the reaction by the Ashram. In fact, this paper front paged a positive news item about ‘Amma’ in an apparent bid to blunt and deflect the seriousness of the allegations.

Confronted with the question of initiating action, the Congress chief minister Ommen Chandy praised the ‘good works’ done by ‘Amma’. What is being buried under the carpet is the fact that in the absence of a direct complaint, police can take suo moto case based on the allegations of a rape victim. But the police, instead of initiating any criminal investigation against the Ashram authorities, registered a case against Facebook users who commented about the book. (http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/thiruvananthapuram/FB-post-against-Amma-Police-register-case/articleshow/30831123.cms)

The refusal to report about the book by the leading press stems from many reasons, the primary one being the advertising revenues from the educational and other institutions run by Amma’s trust across India. (Yea, institutions are spread across the country. Just an example: http://www.orissadiary.com/CurrentNews.asp?id=20827). The newspaper managements, with vested interests in the economical and political clout of the Ashram, don’t want to rub the Ashram authorities on the wrong way.

They also don’t want to lose the readership of Amma’s followers, which is of paramount importance in these days of dog-eat-dog marketplace with fast-dwindling appeal for newspapers. In spite of all the lofty talks of progressiveness, these vaunted newspapers, knowingly or unknowingly, become purveyors of superstitious beliefs and practices, by allowing the publication of promotional materials of fake gods and saints, one of the reasons they find themselves morally flabby to confront such corrosive and digressive elements, including the self-styled ‘Amma’.

One of the justifications for blacking out “Holly Hell” is that these are mere ‘allegations’ and are not credible. Analysing the `credibility’ of the book’s revelations is a different matter; it is the job of the police and the judiciary. The media’s job is to report it, especially when it came from someone who had been with Amrithanandamai for close to two decades. And in this case the leading media’s refusal to report is very much palpable, denying its readers the right to know.

Given the political, economic and social clout enjoyed by the Ashram and ‘Amma’ the media in Kerala of various hues - mainstream, social and alternative - are clearly divided, with a blatant attempt by the powerful media to sideline the issue.

The issue took a turn when John Brittas, Chief Editor of CPM-promoted Kairali TV, interviewed Tredwell in New York, during which she made a more scathing attack on ‘Amma’. After the first part of the interview was telecast, the Ashram authorities threatened Kairali TV with legal action. Nevertheless, the channel stood to its ground and went ahead with airing the second part of the interview.

Attempts are being made to sideline the issue from going towards any serious legal investigation. Backed by powerful media in the state, there have been clear attempts to shield the activities of the Ashram.

The question is: will these powerful media houses ever wake up from its ‘slumber’ and report about the explosive revelations of the book and will the Congress-led government allow law take its course.

In fact, the withering attack made by Gail Tredwell is not the first one; in the past there have been attempts by rationalists to unravel the sordid saga unfolding within the portals of the self-styled hugging saint’s Ashram. A leading rationalist Sreeni Pattathanam had written a book exposing the many mysterious deaths inside the Ashram.

B.F Firos is a Bangalore-based journalist. He can be reached at firosbf@gmail.com



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