For those who may wonder at this title, I have to remind them that I am not the inventor of the phrase “Republic of Bellary” in reference to the district of Bellary in Karnataka. It was coined by Justice Santosh Hegde, the ex-Lokayukta of Karnataka. He came up with the name because the writ of the govt. of Karnataka was not applicable there. It was mentioned in the Lokayukta report that when one of his officials had gone there to make enquries about the mining scandal, he was asked by a senior IAS officer whether he had taken the permission the President of the republic… oops the owners of the district, the now (in) famous Gali Reddys of Bellary, who have hit the headlines all over the country for their involvement in the mining scandal. This area was their personal fiefdom and all activities there had to be done with their permission.
Having been instrumental in bringing the ruling Bharathiya Janatha Party to power using their money and muscle power, they had been extracting their pound of flesh from the ruling combination, tons of money, through various mining scandals. After these became a national level issue, the CBI was forced to investigate. With the President of the erstwhile (banana) republic behind bars, it has recently returned into the fold of the Republic of India! If this had not happened, our program would have had to be conducted there after seeking his permission! Jokes apart, our interactions there were organized by a group called Arivu, which means knowledge in Kannada, most of whose members had been opponents of this exploitation of the resources by these people.
This group has been very active in organizing programs on various areas such as environmental degradation, dissemination
of scientific knowledge etc. They have also been promoting rational thinking in their area and have also conducted programs for the people of Bellary city, which was the capital of the now defunct republic, and that too without the permission of the powers that be at that time! This time, one of the members, a chartered accountant called Pannaraj, wanted me to come over to his village where he had organized a one day function in the memory of his late mother and had also inaugurated a trust for the same to be run by the members of his family. He wanted me to administer an oath to them that they would carry on his work after he was no more. Arivu is not an organisation run by a single person. There are three couples involved- Dr. Aravind Patel, a Surgeon, his wife who is a gynecologist, Dr. Havildar, who is a Banker, his wife who is a teacher and the family of Pannaraj. My contact with Dr. Havildar’s family goes back two decades. His wife had taken my training in one of my first exposing miracles workshops held at a nearby place. The husband had also accompanied her and had become my uninvited student. He had started conducting this activity himself! In fact he had done more of them than his wife who had taken my training formally. This time it was going to be a well attended program with people from the surrounding villages too joining in and spending the day in Sirigere, Panna Raj’s village, attending the various activities for the promotion of rational thinking. The events included more spectacular activities such as pulling a car with a hook through the skin of one’s back, standing on swords, lying on a bed of nails etc. They had invited a special team from Tamilnadu comprising of Aruchamy and his comrade, who are our specialists in the field and have been doing thse things for the past two decades.
Taking advantage of my trip some other interactions had also been arranged. In the meanwhile the producer of the Australian TV channel, Gareth, who had filmed me in the past, wanted to complete the shoot with an interview featuring his reporter, a very famous TV personality called Alison. I suggested that they could come to Bellary to shoot and they readily agreed. This was the third program.
There was also a fourth incidental program giving me a first hand experience of how things were in Bellary. Here are the details. Bellary is one of the most economically backward, superstition ridden areas of Karnataka, but has a large amount of iron ore. This was being exploited by the mining lobby lead by the Gali Reddys, who started making huge profits when the demand shot up taking the prices up. They were operating in the adjoining state of Andhra too with the active connivance of the ruling party there. In fact they had gone to the extent of altering state borders to encroach into Karnataka and had licenses in Andhra Pradesh. After making billions by dubious means they started subverting the whole systems of laws of the nation regarding mining, transport, environment and the rest. They became so powerful that the others who wanted to do any mining activity had to pay a ‘royalty’ to them. They became such megalomaniacs that they started sitting on golden thrones wearing crowns of gold and diamonds. Their superstitions went to the extent that a golden crown encrusted with diamonds costing about 350 million rupees was also offered to the temple at Tirupathi. They were so stinking rich that they had several choppers which they used even for things like flying home for lunch from Bangalore, which is around 300 kms away, and then flying back!
Eventually their affairs created such a national level scandal that the High court of Andhra Pradesh ordered a CBI investigation, which resulted in the arrest of the leader of the Republic of Bellary, H. H. Janardhan Reddy. With him cooling his heels in the jail at Hyderabad his allies started deserting him and so did his gang of a couple of thousand unemployed youngsters who were used to moving round the town of Bellary on their motor bikes at his cost, spying on people to see if there was any revolt brewing against their lords and masters. The rulers were so paranoid about the ruled that they had even taken up several acres of land around their residence to convert it into a sort of fortress. We were told that the plans for this structure were taken from the palace built by Saddam Hussain! Those who had property in that area were either paid a pittance or unceremoniously evicted and the structures razed to the ground in front of them. There was a five storied hospital in front of their fortress which could have provided a sniper a chance to shoot at them. When it was brought to their attention, I was told, it was purchased immediately at the price fixed by the great ruler himself without giving any choice to the owner! Such was their power that no official dared to take any action against them. Another reason for this was that most of them were in his pay! Now, after the scam surfaced, many of them are said to be running for cover. The economically backward sections of the population were in support because for each vote cast in their favour, they would be paid a handsome amount. But, after the decline of the republic and take over by the union of India (mind you, not govt. of Karnataka) things have changed. The construction of the fort has been held up. The subjects of the erstwhile kingdom have now started rebelling against their former rulers! The economy of the whole place, once heavily reliant on the illegal exports of iron ore, is now in ruins. Those who tried to organize a Bellary bundh against the arrest of the Reddys and had dared to barge into the district commissioner’s office have been arrested. They had been so accustomed to the influence of their lords and masters, they had barged into this office and destroyed computers and records, all of which was recorded by cc TV cameras. After identifying the culprits the police arrested the leaders, something that would have been unthinkable in their heydays, as the whole police department was subservient to him! Any one who was not would have been summarily transferred. When their wishes were not acceded to by the then Chief minister they had even made plans to bring down the govt!
Coming to the programs that we had in Bellary starting from the 8th of October, first there was a press conference during which we explained to the reporters what the aims and objectives of FIRA were. Then we moved to the village of Sirigere which was the native place of Pannaraj, one of the trustees of Arivu. As mentioned above, he had organized these activities in the memory of his later mother. He told me that being a non believer he had not performed any religious ceremonies for her but he conducted a lot of charitable work with the money that would have been spent on such useless rituals. The program started with my administering an oath to the younger generation of his family which included his nephew and nieces- the children of his brothers and sisters. The usual trend in India is to treat only brother’s children as members of the family and those of the sister! Then Dr. Havildar and I performed many of these so called ‘miracles’ explaining to the people the various scientific principles behind them. When this was happening, the members of the Australian TV crew arrived along with the producer and the anchor. That was a great diversion for the several thousand people assembled there. They broke into thunderous applause when the reporter Alison bravely volunteered to be the subject for two fire experiments – placing burning camphor on the tongue and passing a burning torch over the body!
After a sumptuous lunch the people of the villages assembled to see some seemingly impossible physical feats.
Aruchamy and comrades from Tamilnadu were the performers who passed skewers through their cheeks and tongues, shouting no god, no god to show to the people, that there was no need for the intervention of any divine power. Then they passed hooks through the skin of their backs and pulled a car, hung from ropes tied to these hooks, stood on sword blades and lay down on a beds of nails without suffering any injury. However, due to the over enthusiasm of the crowd, or maybe his own weakness, one of the TV cameramen who was with the Australian team fell flat on his face which caused him some abrasions. The programs had to be terminated as the crowd was seemingly getting out of control. But it was a great experience for the villagers who had always though that such things can be done only by those who either have supernatural powers or can invoke them! Some pointed out to me the open ground where this practice known as sidi is be performed on a particular day of the year, when those who had taken vows to that effect would be suspended by hooks passed through the skin of their backs and swung around after being suspended from poles by ropes tied to these hooks. It was a sort of shock for these people that this could be done without the need of any divine intervention and by people who were smiling!
The next day began with a shoot by the Australian TV channel. The reporter asked me a number of questions about our movement and how it could change the people of our country. They also wanted to walk the talk by taking to the typical dusty street of India, and this too was done. Some of scenes had to be shot in a particular dress to maintain continuity! The final shooting was done under the shade of a tree at a temple in the city. Then it was time for them to go and for me to go on! For Dr. Patel, one of the trustees of Arivu had fixed one interaction with the students of the college of Business administration where he had been recently elected as chairman. It was his first introduction to the students and he wanted it to be through our awareness program on rational thinking. We had to come out hurriedly from his college because the next interaction was for the students of the local medical college and the topic was –modus operandi of quacks. But, for reasons not known to us, the attendance was extremely thin, which was a surprise for me as our presentations are very well received at Medical colleges. But those present made up for the lack of numbers by asking lots of questions.
So, that was the end of my trip to the ex Republic of Bellary. I had taken the photos of the fortress of the Reddys and the hospital that was seen as a security threat without much risk. But, I was told that those who had done this before the ruler was dethroned had their limbs broken. I was also told about the reporter of one of the TV channels of Karnataka most famous for spreading superstitions, was assaulted and then knocked down by a speeding car, and was not supported by the top brass of the channel. He had resigned and is now a freelancer! Mind you these criminals are all members of the party whose elderly leader is now leading a National campaign against corruption. The money power of the Reddys was instrumental in bringing this party to power in Karnataka, where they formed their first govt. in the South. The leader of the opposition in the Parliament was their ‘mother’, but she dropped them like a hot brick when the charges became too hot to brush under the carpet. Their main supporter in Andhra was Y.S.R. Reddy, the late Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, who was said to be instrumental in bringing Congress to power in his state! So, it is evident that there are two things in India that have no political barriers- one is corruption and the other superstition!