The strange case of Sadhu Saravanan: Hindu Sadhu lives don’t matter

Kundangal Kaadu Puliyampatii in Sankagiri taluk in Salem district of Tamil Nadu is a hamlet so remote that it may not even show up on Google maps. Its only claim to fame is that it is next to Edappadi village, the home town of the chief minister of Tamil Nadu. In the last few days, however, Kundangal Kaadu is in the limelight for a shocking and distressing reason—the  humiliation and torture of Sadhu Saravanan by a police inspector that subsequently triggered the Sadhu’s death by suicide.

Sadhu Saravanan, 47, a resident of the village, was a member of a Siddhar (saintly followers of a Tamil spiritual tradition known as Siddha) sub sect known as the Sivan adiyar or humble devotees of Shiva. Popularly known as “Samiar (Holy man)  Saravanan,” the householder was an occult practitioner who practised esoteric rituals such as exorcism or driving away evil spirits, foretelling the future, performing rituals and poojas and offering talismans or sacred threads to address health ailments of the people in and around the village.

On August 14, 2020, based on a tip off, Antony Michael, Sub Inspector (SI) of Thevur police station, swooped down on Sadhu Saravanan. According to the local police, Saravanan, dressed in a saffron dhoti, was attending to two women who it is said, were possessed by evil spirits. The women reportedly told the police that the sadhu had “forced” them to drink liquor.

The police also claimed that they targeted Saravanan as he was reported to be performing “naked poojas” with women. Abusing and taunting him for being “half naked,” Antony Michael humiliated and thrashed the Sadhu so violently that his cane is reported to have broken into two pieces. He also reportedly “advised” him to shave off his beard and take up employment.

Saravanan’s family that included his wife, son and daughter, witnessed the police brutality. The SI also threatened  to expose him as a “poli (fake) samiyar (sadhu)”—a frequently used weapon to intimidate and silence  victims, especially sadhus. According to the family, they were intimidated and threatened by the police to “keep quiet” and Saravanan’s children, who are still minors, were also beaten up.

Saravanan’s family says that traumatised and deeply humiliated by the incident, especially because he was shamed in front of his children,  Sadhu Saravanan  left home the next day and did not return. Alarmed, the local people and Saravanan’s friends searched for him. The next day, Saravanan’s friends and family received a WhatsApp video sent by Saravanan where he blamed Antony Michael for his humiliation that led to unbearable stress and trauma that was driving him to end his life.

In the video, the forest, reverberating with the song of birds, dominated by the ominous cawing of crows, provides a surreal backdrop for the last few moments of Saravanan’s life. He attributed the SI’s behaviour to his “sense of power” that gave him a false sense of entitlement and impunity to behave  without any accountability.

In a poignant dying declaration, he blamed Antony Michael for his decision to end his life and vowed that he would continue to “haunt”  him for his despicable act. Two days later, the decomposed body of Saravanan was discovered in a forest adjoining the village. His mobile phone was also beside him.

Technically, as Antony Michael had instigated Sadhu Saravanan’s suicide, he is to be charged with abetment of suicide under Section 306 of the IPC (Indian Penal Code), a serious offence that is cognizable, non-bailable and non-compoundable. However, there is considerable cynicism and apprehension that  no charges will be filed against him, not even a departmental enquiry.

The horrific police brutality, a classic instance of statal violence, that triggered the Sadhu to end his life is deeply shocking and disturbing. Perhaps even more shocking is the widespread public and media apathy in Tamil Nadu. Contrast this with the righteous indignation and outrage that erupted across the state and snowballed into a national issue when two Christians lost their lives due to police brutality in Sathankulam  in Tamil  Nadu and the human rights groups who clamoured for justice. As in the lynching of the Palghar sadhus, why are we selectively silent  on atrocities against  Hindus, especially religious and spiritual figures?

Meanwhile, the local police have registered a case of unnatural death. However, this raises doubts over the credibility of a free and fair investigation and outraged netizens and conscientious citizens now accuse them of “protecting” Antony. Strangely, no FIR (First Information Report) has been filed against him  despite Sadhu Saravanan’s dying declaration.

Meanwhile, Maridhas, the frank and forthright You Tube activist and vlogger, in an incisive video Why hasn’t Sub Inspector Antony Michael been arrested in the suicide of Sadhu Saravanan? highlights that there is no one to voice concerns against atrocities perpetuated against people of Hindu dharma, especially those associated with Hindu religious and spiritual organisations. Lashing out against the silence of the mainstream media in Tamil Nadu to highlight Sadhu Saravanan’s death, he attributes their selective apathy and trivialisation of the issue to the fact that “most media persons in Tamil Nadu are products of Loyola College in Chennai,” increasingly associated with Hinduphobia and a Left-Liberal stance.

He speaks of a nexus between the media, political parties, law enforcement and Christian evangelical organisations to selectively minimise, trivialise or ignore atrocities perpetrated on spiritual  and religious  people associated with Hindu dharma organisations.

In another telling video, Were Christian evangelicals behind Sadhu Saravanan’s suicide? Maridhas distinguishes between Christians and Christian evangelicals; the purpose of the latter being the conversion agenda. According to Maridhas, the SI Antony Michael is a member of a Christian evangelical organisation Jesus is here and  has even been awarded a doctorate by a fake university, the Global Peace University. Interestingly, these spurious credentials are being used by  so-called social activists to build Antony Michael’s brand!

“Political parties too need to take up Hindu causes from a rights-based perspective. But  this is not a priority for either of the Dravidian parties in Tamil Nadu, given their stance of minority appeasement. Hindus, unlike Christians and Muslims, are not regarded as vote banks,” explains Maridhas.

He raises several pertinent questions regarding Sadhu Saravanan’s suicide:  Why hasn’t  the photo of Antony Michael, (whose whereabouts are unknown and reportedly he has been transferred to another police station)  the accused in this case, not yet been released?

“Who are the  evangelical  forces  behind Antony Michael?  Siddhars and Sadhus are  people who act as roadblocks in the conversion agenda of  evangelical organisations. Across the country, atrocities against sadhus are on the rise because  they impede religious conversion,” says Maridhas, who says the Hinduphobia is also fuelled by lack of awareness and ignorance of non-Abrahamic traditions, using incompatible frames of reference  to view Hindu dharma, and the hegemonic view of Abrahamic faiths as superior that leads to muting of Hindu voices and concerns.

“I appeal to leaders of diverse Hindu faiths to stand united against the common enemy. The situation is dangerous. Political forces, evangelical forces and law enforcement are in an unholy alliance. It’s also important for young people of the  Hindu dharma  to stay rooted in traditions. Respect all faiths but don’t be foolish. Speak up, if you must,” says Maridhas.

Meanwhile, the Legal Rights Observatory (LRO), a legal rights organisation that addresses Hindu issues from a rights based perspective, has approached the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), seeking action against Sub Inspector Antony Michael and others under the Juvenile Justice Act for physical attack on Sadhu Saravanan’s minor children. NCPCR has taken cognizance of the matter and asked for the DSP to investigate and report within a week.

The  police brutality and the subsequent suicide of Sadhu Saravanan has provoked outrage among netizens. The Indu Makkal Katchi (IMK)  flagged off the issue  and is demanding #JusticeforSaravanan and  even published a  photo of the SI.

Shri Arjun Sampath, President, IMK,  is confident that Sadhu Saravanan’s  dying declaration is sufficient to secure justice and has demanded Antony Michael’s arrest. In addition, he has demanded a compensation of Rs 25 lakhs for the family from the state for this bizarre incident of statal violence.

However, given the  ingrained Hinduphobia in mainstream institutions and narratives  that only tend to dilute and downplay such issues, and the cabal of politics, law enforcement and  media, there is a sense of cynicism and scepticism about justice and redressal, which  remain as elusive as a mirage in the desert.

(Featured image source: OpIndia)


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About the Author

Dr. Nandini Murali
Dr. Nandini Murali is a communications professional,  author and researcher in Indic Studies.  She is a Contributing Editor with the HinduPost. She loves to wander in the forests with her camera.