ANANTAPUR: The Puttaparthi police have banned consumption of liquor and non-vegetarian food within a radius of 9 km around Puttaparthi to maintain holiness of the international spiritual centre. Even though the ban was announced four days ago, the authorities have been treading a cautious path on the new rule.
Puttaparthi security wing DSP Gangaraju told TOI on Monday that police and ashram authorities decided to prohibit liquor and non-vegetarian food in and around Puttaparthi on the line of Tirumala. He, however, clarified that they were not harassing people and were only counselling them to maintain the holiness of the spiritual centre. At least 12 of the 15 owners of the liquor belt shops running in the surrounding villages have been counselled to stop selling liquor. Meanwhile, hotels outside the Ganesh Gate have also been asked to stop serving non-vegetarian food.
Officials said Puttaparthi town with a population of 20,000 never had a liquor shop, but visitors used to be served by the local belt shops.
Meanwhile, president A P J Abdul Kalam is likely to participate in the 81st birthday celebrations of Sri Satya Sai Baba at Puttaparthi on November 23. Official sources, however, said that the President's programme was yet to be finalised.
The President would be the chief guest for the annual convocation ceremony of Sri Satya Sai Deemed University on November 22. He will also participate in the birthday celebrations of the Baba at Prasanthi Nilayam on November 23. The President is also likely to inaugurate an indoor stadium constructed at an estimated cost of Rs 10 crore.
Sai Baba Exposed says: How cute. And a lovely 9km too! As if the radius wasn't a bit much, how fitting that it is nine kilometres - Sai Baba's favourite number?
And what was that about "officials" stating that Puttaparthi never had a liquor shop? What officials? Ashram officials? I wouldn't be surprised at these blatant liars. I was in Puttaparthi once and, after deciding to stoll outside the ashram to visit the local bookshop, I was accosted by a small child who couldn't have been older than six. He was repeating something to me over and over again in a low voice, and I ignored him because I thought he was begging for money as is typical in India. Only when I paid a little attention to what he was saying - "beer, beer" - did I realise that he was inviting me to a local liquor shop to drink alcohol!
As I was a devotee at the time I immediately refused to take him up on it and quickly proceeded to the bookstore. I was shocked to my core; how could liquor and meat be openly served in the "Kingdom of Heaven" where "God" personally resides? And yes, I discovered on my first trip to his ashram (back in 1993) that there was a non-vegetarian restaurant in the village. So now, in the run-up to Sai Baba's birthday (November 23rd) it looks like Puttaparthi police have been harangued by ashram authorities to ban the sale of alcohol and meat. The impression I got from this article was that this is some sort of temporary measure to "maintain the sanctity" of the village in view of the upcoming celebrations, but on a closer reading I see no mention of any temporary provisions. It looks permanent!
As usual you can expect the devotees to fully approve of this strategy. Here's a comment from one such that I found on another forum:
"I am glad to read this news item. True, we need to educate the people living there about the ill-effects of consuming alchoholic drinks and other pollutants like drugs etc. Also we need to educate all concerned about cleanliness and the need for keeping Puttaparthy spick and span. While the police is expected to do their duty in enforcing prohibition, the Sai devotees have also a responsibility for bringing necessary transformation in the hearts of those who are given to such addictions. Police can, at best, put an end to public drinking places and the sale of country and sophisticated liquor within a radius of 9 Kilometers. But how about drinking privately at homes by residents of Puttaparthy? How can the police nab such drinkers who are not a source of nuisance. Pl. think."
What-ho! As anyone knowledgeable about American history will know, the US Govt. already tried this in the Prohibition era, and what was the result? Massive lawbreaking and arrests all over the place; no matter how hard the law was enforced, people will find a way to continue indulging in their habits. If these Sai Baba goons think that they are on the way to achieving something great then they had better think again. "Please think", it won't work! And what's the problem about consuming alcohol within one's own home in Puttaparthi? Since when did devotees start leaning towards fascism?
Although I understand the intentions behind this new rule even though I do not consider Puttaparthi as a holy place as much as I don't consider Sai Baba as a holy guru or avatar, I don't think that banning liquor and meat is the right way of going about things even if it is being enforced cautiously. For a start, there must surely be a human rights issue what to speak of trade and business revenues making a significant downturn. Puttaparthi also has a sizeable Muslim population who are not bound to be vegetarian like their Hindu fellowmen, so does this ban apply to them too?
In their fundamentalist and frothing-at-the-mouth rabid enthusiasm to follow Sai Baba's teachings, it's clear that the ashram authorities haven't thought this through properly and are only interested in cribbing up some good publicity for themselves. They desperately want to join the ranks of other well-established (and real) pilgrimage centres and are intent on improving their surroundings so that they can perhaps apply for privileged status if they haven't already done so.
Just one thing though: The Prashanti Nilayam Township is a separate entity from the Puttaparthi village. It is a legally-incorporated entity in itself and does not have connections with the village as such. Is this yet another example of Sai Baba and his goons poking their noses where they don't belong?
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