For the last few weeks Humanists, Rationalists and Human Rights activists have been waging a huge battle against the forces of fundamentalism in Andhra Pradesh. This is a battle where all sections of society, and in which the media, the police, the justice system, aggressive fundamentalists, the Dalai Lama as well as the Humanists and Rationalists are involved. It is a battle that is being watched with keen interest by millions of homes as it unfolds on live TV and through public discussions, newspaper articles and also in homes.
How the fraud became public
Sambhavi, a child of 7, is claiming to be the reincarnation of a childhood friend of the Dalai Lama. She speaks with great clarity and precision. She claims Tibet will be free in 2010, that there would be a great event in 2012, and that the Dalai Lama would visit her soon in Surya Nandi temple in Kurnool District. It seems the child is in touch with the Buddhist leader by telepathy. Sambhavi is also saying that the Telugu Soothsayer of medieval times Veerabrahmendra Swamy’s predictions will come true in 2012 and 2014. Her caretaker Usha Rani says she has miraculous powers.
It is nonsense, because rebirth implies we have a soul which can retain memories. No one has shown that the soul exists and we all know that the seat of memory is the brain which dies with the rest of the body. Claims of rebirth are culturally conditioned which is why we do not hear of them in Muslim or Christian or African societies. No claim of rebirth has been shown to be true in Hinduism or in Buddhism.
We asked who Sambhavi’s real parents were as only Usha Rani who is parading as Sambhavi’s caretaker seemed to be around. What were the economic interests behind this claim, we queried. And if the Dalai Lama was visiting Surya Nandi to inaugurate Buddha Vijayam – the ashram being built for Sambhavi – what are his interests? If it is true that he was coming, was he coming to nominate his successor? We also pointed out that the sooth sayer Veerabrahmendra Swamy’s predictions were hardly what someone could take credibly – there is no authentic text, nothing has been predicted in a verifiable manner – there is only myth, legend, pulp fiction and popular cinema.
Thanks to all the media promotion, Telugu people soon knew everything about Sambhavi – a lovable child with charming mannerisms: daughter of Bengali brahmins living in Varanasi, she was made a sanyasin at the age of 4, and once when she went into a trance she travelled to the Himalayas where she met the Dalai Lama and also read Tibetan manuscripts. The child’s caretaker Usha Rani claimed that Sambhavi expressed concern for the Dalai Lama’s health and suggested that the Dalai Lama became healthy after Sambhavi prayed for him. We all now knew that Sambhavi held regular confidential telepathic discussions with the Dalai Lama with regards to the future of Tibet. We were told that she speaks 5 languages fluently, blesses whoever prostrates in front of her, and that the devotees were quickly benefitted emotionally and economically. Sambhavi came to Surya Nandi with a famous film singer’s family and when she arrived here she miraculously started speaking Telugu, and chose to establish her ashram there!
What did Sambhavi Say?
But all the reports from the gushing journalists, the charming childish talk of Sambhavi and the halo of the Dalai Lama’s support could not hide the real estate business being set up in and around Surya Nandi, the eagerness of Usha Rani to promote her ward’s supernatural claims, or the incoherence of the child and the political nature of the statements being made through her. Here is a sample:
- India is doing well because India has Buddhism.
- China and Pakistan have bad people. They will be punished.
- Tibet will be free in 2016; China will become democratic in 2012.
- I was born for Tibet’s freedom and I will do anything for Tibet’s freedom.
- There is a giant statue of the Buddha in the soil in Tibet – it went inside the soil because otherwise China would take it away. It will emerge from the earth as a ray of light.
- The Dalai Lama was the Buddhist diety Balabadhra in the past life and I (Sambhavi) was the Buddhist goddess Ugra Taraka Devi.
- Lord Siva is in Tibet. Hanuman will go to Tibet, worship him, and he will free Tibet.
- All non-vegetarians will be destroyed when Veerabrahmendra Swami will reincarnate as Veerabhoga Vasantarayalu in Surya Nandi on 14 January 2012.
- Veerabhoga Vasantarayalu will also pull out the eyes and the hearts of non-believers (atheists).
- Jagan Mohan Reddy, son of late Rajasekhar Reddy will become the next Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh state.
How to Stop This?
The constant media hype and the frenzy that accompanied it, the announcement of the impending visit of the Dalai Lama and the daily challenge to our sanity were priming us up for action. Now there was also news that India’s richest industrialist and one of the world’s wealthiest individuals Anil Ambani donated Rs. 1 Crore (Rs. 10 million or USD 200,000) to Surya Nandi temple. The Dalai Lama, it was announced, would come on 21 Dec. to inaugurate Sambhavi’s ashram.
There was now an urgency for action as things seemed to be rapidly getting out of hand. What if the Dalai Lama arrives as threatened on 21 Dec in Surya Nandi and declares that Sambhavi would be his successor? Even if he did not do that, what if he declares Buddha Vijayam as Sambhavi’s ashram? If that was done, Sambhavi would never be able to have a normal childhood. This is how in Nepal Hindu maidens are made Kumaris, who are till puberty considered divine and after nearly a decade of isolation from the rest of society are thrown out of temples to fend for themselves.
So, I started putting together a strategy, working with colleagues and collaborators and in discussion with Prof. Narendra Nayak, President of Federation of Indian Rationalist Associations.
We had to do a number of things:
- Approach the AP State Human Rights Commission.
- Alert the National Commission for the Protection of Rights of Children.
- Invite the cooperation of fellow Humanists and progressives.
- Prepare the ground for international action, and consult with Roy Brown for raising the matter at the UN in Geneva once local remedies are tried out.
- Ascertain whether the Dalai Lama and Anil Ambani really supported Sambhavi.
- Make the Sambhavi matter a household issue for which the media needed to be involved.
20 Nov: Universal Child Rights Day
We then announced to the media that our day of public action would be 20 Nov ‘09 which marks 20 years of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and 50 years since the UN’s Declaration on the Rights of the Child.
We submitted to the judge respectfully that
- This was not a religious debate, but a Human Rights struggle.
- Children who have been identified as the reincarnation of a dead person have always been psychologically damaged much before adulthood.
- Sambhavi has the right to a normal childhood, to be brought up in the loving care of a mother, and to play.
- It appears that the child has been indoctrinated for nearly 3 years and it had lost all touch with reality. Such mental abuse should attract the relevant civil and criminal provisions of the law.
- Not the religious views of the parents but the best interests of a child are paramount.
We urged the Judge to take action and directions:
- For the rehabilitation of Sambhavi into normal life with the help of child psychologists.
- To the State government to take immediate steps to halt the abuse.
- To summon Sambhavi’s parents and Ms. Usha Rani and the relevant birth records of Sambhavi to ensure that she has not been a victim of abduction and exploitation.
- To issue notice to the Dalai Lama to ascertain if he or his organization has a role in this.
- To issue guidelines to the media so that they will report such matters with sensitivity.
We also submitted that we were offended that a crime of abuse of a child is being portrayed as a spiritual achievement, to the detriment of the child’s best interests.
In response, recalling that when previously a child was being used for TV reality shows he had passed orders putting it in the protection of a Government Child Home, the Honorable Judge passed instant orders to the Collector of the Kurnool district to present a report on the parentage of Sambhavi as well as whether the Human Rights of Sambhavi are being violated. In view of the urgency, the Collector was given just 10 days to report – till 30 Nov 09.
The Hindu Right Wingers
TV9 was covering everything live, and their journalist excitedly announced that the situation was tense and that violence was expected between the two groups that were gathering there. Already a group belonging to the Student Federation of India who arrived with no prior information to us – but to support our petition – was arrested by the police and taken away. Members and leaders of the Hindu right wing VHP and RSS who had gathered there started shouting slogans against us, giving dire warnings to Rationalists for interfering with Hindu religious affairs. They picked up a fight with me. Some were drunk and all appeared intoxicated with their religion. After some 10 minutes of live TV interview, the police advised us to leave since the VHP activists were becoming increasingly difficult and aggressive.
We filed the petition to save Sambhavi. She has shown no miracles and should not be called a goddess. She has to go to school and should not be exploited in the name of religion: India would progress as a nation if all went to school. In any case, Sambhavi is a Buddhist and so the Hindus need not get agitated unnecessarily by our action. Not only the Rationalists but also many religious and non religious people were morally offended by how the child was being abused. Their humanitarian instincts were waiting for a formal avenue to express themselves. Our petition and campaign was on all their behalf.
The official inquiry was conducted for 3 days in all. Despite the empty boasting of Usha Rani’s lawyer and unclear threats of legal action, Sambhavi was finally produced in front of the inquiry. The press reports that Usha Rani was ordered out of the temple by the Endowments Department, and the local villagers also largely expressed their disbelief in Sambhavi’s miraculous powers when the inquiry was taking place. We were confidentially passed on recordings of telephone threats made by Usha Rani to some journalists. Others have received threatening phone calls. We are keeping a record
The Collector’s report notes that Usha Rani says she is 48 years old, that she completed her BA from Mysoora University, that she says she does not remember where the university is located nor the year when she passed the exams! He also noted that neither Eenadu, Andhra Jyothy, Vaartha, Saakshi and Praja Sakti Newspapers are gathering and publishing more evidence. Some have revealed that the Varanasi addresses given by them were fake; some traced and spoke to Usha Rani’s aged parents who pleaded with the media that they were leading a respectable life and that they had no contact with their daughter for a number of years. While Usha Rani said to the Inquiry that her son lived in the US, some journalists claim that he lived, in fact, in Bangalore. The Collector ordered that a caretaker and a police constable be posted with Sambhavi pending clarity about the child’s real parents. He prohibited Usha Rani and Soumya Acharya from taking Sambhavi from the area without government permission.
Some people ask us why we are interested in Sambhavi when there are millions of other children in India, all of them suffering They ask us if we will help all of them as well
We respond that every child has to be rescued child by child, and that they need not wait for us to help those they have identified: we suggest that this is a moral obligation that they too can share. That it is a national duty to help children in a country which is 139th in the comity of nations for living standards, and which shamefully has the world’s biggest concentration of child labor. We also remind them that it is a national malady that when someone does something good the onlookers query why this good thing, and not another!
(An abridged version of the article forwarded by the author through e-mail)