On 4th August 2012 the life of 23 year old Satnam Singh Mann, a law under graduate from National Law university, Lucknow, came to an abrupt end due to unnatural causes in judicial custody of the Karunagappally Police Station in Kollam District of Kerala. Satnam who was arrested on 1st August 2012 on charges of trespassing the sabha of Maa Amritanandamayi, was also a former student of Bishop cotton Shimla and belonged to a respected family Gaya District, Bihar. He had simply gone there to seek Maa’s blessings and he was overtaken by anxiety when he tried to barge on Maa’s podium and speak to her and he has been suffering from mental illness for a while. On 3rd August Satnam’s brother Vimal Singh had met him and found him in good health and spirits. Next day when his body was produced before him there were thirty injury marks and some seemed to have been caused by hot burning rods.” Vimal was informed that Satnam was found unconscious in the Mental Asylum where they had shifted him. Soon after when he was taken to the Government medical college at Thiruvananthapuram where he was declared dead just before midnight.The inquest, held in the presence of the First Class Judicial Magistrate, Thiruvananthapuram and the Additional District Magistrate, found that there were over 30 marks of torture on the body of Satnam. It was also suggested that several of the marks were not of torture by hand but by iron or wooden rods. Doctors at the Mental Health Centre said that Mann was brought there with injuries suffered obviously due to torture. He was brought with his limbs tied together, they said.
Shafeeq Thamarassery, a journalist based in Kerala’s Kozhikode writes;
2019 marks the 7th death anniversary of Satnam Singh Mann, the radical who dared to question progressive Kerala’s belief in faith.
On the last week of July 2012, an international seminar on Metaphysics and Politics took place at the Taj Hotel, Varkala. The seminar that was open only to invited guests saw a young man posing radical questions. 5 days later, the enigmatic youngster’s photo appeared with sinister headlines in paper. The Bihari youth was found dead in Peroorkada Mental health centre. One caveat though, he was charged with homicide attempt on Mata Amritanandamayi.
Satnam Singh Mann, a native of Sherghati town in Gaya, Bihar was anything but violent according to his parents. The boy they knew could never bring himself to travel in the first class A.C train compartments simply because he felt he didn’t deserve a luxury that those travelling in the general compartment couldn’t afford. His determination in suffering these long sweaty journeys packed with the lot irked his folk. He always tackled them with his insights on how progressive India had double standards about the working class,
‘Actual India travels in general coaches, while travelling in these coaches you will learn that India was a nation of poor farmers and migrants. But today’s India treat them as a burden, here people don’t want a super power but at least an easy 1000km journey for them…..’
A brilliant student of law, Satnam could initiate discourses that unnerved his teachers. Balraj Chauhan, former Vice chancellor of Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia National Law University, Lucknow fondly remembers the impact Satnam had on his professors who scourged academic texts to answer Satnam’s questions.
‘Asking questions in life does not mean depression’
Satnam’s life was symbolised by a quest to seek the truth, asking questions was second nature.
The Mohar river banks were flooded with people all over from Sherghati during his funeral. Never has he seen the entire town weep like that before, cites a local journalist. To this day, all public events in the town is celebrated in the memory of Satnam.
When he was caught by the mob in Kerala for his alleged violence, he chanted the du’a ‘Bismillahi Ar-Rahmani Ar-Raheem’. Simply put, ‘In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful’ was not appropriate for a common prayer space that saw every faith come together. Satnam’s identity become irreparably sealed with a terrorist tag.
Satnam was well versed in Sufism and Islam. He communicated with several Islamic researchers that strengthened his understanding of the religion. He found the practice of Islam by the Muslims around him to be incorrect. He could recite verses in Arabic without losing their rhythm and meaning. Satnam got fascinated by spirituality while he was studying law. His decision to abandon a secure life and live like a nomad can seem perplexing to many. During this phase of spiritual enlightenment he spend time in Mahabodhi temple, Vellore math, Rakhyapeeth Ashram, Varanasi and the likes. His curiosity in such spiritual and religious concepts were not to prove anything, recalls Swami Sachidananda Saraswati, Satnam’s mentor from Rikhiapeeth Ashram. Satnam stood out to him and he laments how Satnam would have gone on to become a prominent think-tank in India had he been alive today.
In many ways, one can draw parallels from the lore of Gautama Budha. Satnam could never resign himself to the world’s ways. The world’s sorrows were his too.
Enchanted by the philosophy of Srinarayana Guru, Chattambi Swami, Vagbhatananda and Ayyankali, Satnam did not hesitate in visiting Kerala. After spending a couple of weeks in Sivagiri Math at Varkala he moved on to Amrithanandamayi Math.
The final catastrophic chapters in his life unfolded in dramatic fashion. On 31st July 2012, Kerala police arrested Satnam on charges that he tried to attack Mata Amrithanandamayi while she was blessing her devotees. Even before the police arrived, an unarmed Satnam was beaten up by the mob at the Amrithapuri Ashram. He allegedly approached the podium where “Amma” was stationed wearing nothing but a dhoti and chanting the du’a. He had reportedly suffered so much internal bleeding that the duty doctor at Karunagapally government hospital urged for immediate medical treatment. Yet it fell on the deaf ears of the Karunagapally police officers who detained him in custody for more than 24 hours. He was remanded in judicial custody with IPC Section 307, 332, 452 charged against him. Prominent faces in the public sphere were quick establish Satnam as a terrorist. The very next day of his arrest, RSS ideologue and director of Bharatiya Vichara Kendra P. Parameshwaran called for investigation into Satnam’s extremist links. Later, D.G.P Senkumar in his meeting with Satnam’s father explained that walking into a Hindu gathering and reciting Islamic prayers proved sufficient motive with no scope for bail.
As soon as they learned of Satnam’s arrest, his cousin Vimal Kishore landed in Kerala with certificates to prove Satnam’s mental instability. He attempted to convince the police officers records of the latter’s treatment and even sought the help of Bihar police to explain the state of affairs to Kerala police. Yet the officers were reluctant to let Satnam go citing how they were pressured from the upper rungs to detain and charge him with homicide.
After spending 2 days in station and Peroorkada mental health centre, news of his death broke out on the third day. He suffered gruesome death with blunt trauma administered to the back of his head and neck. He also had 77 bruise marks on his body along with other wounds. The post mortem report states that the head and neck injury happened 24 hours before his death. His death was officially confirmed on 4th August around 7 PM. The police concludes that the fatal hit happened between 3 and 4 PM.
Satnam’s demise flared into a controversy making a cover-up difficult. The government constituted a Special Investigation Team headed by IG B. Sandhya. Interestingly, she started the investigation only after directly seeking Mata Amrithanandamayi for blessings. Officer Sandhya was criticized for her one-sided approach that omitted contacting anyone from Satnam’s family. The commission points at the mental health centre as perpetrators although the post mortem establishes otherwise. The commission investigating in this matter only suspected the latter, ruling out everyone else in their final report to the government. The report also saw the ashram devoid of any wrongdoing.
Dejected by the trial that took place at the Trivandrum district court, Satnam’s father Harinder Singh Mann appealed to then Chief Minister Oommen Chandy and Home minister Thiruvanchoor Radhakrishnan for an enquiry by CBI. Still looking unfavourable, he sought the help from Kerala High Court. The case that was proceeding in the District court had to be stayed for the High court to first consider it. Usually in such situations, the cases are reviewed to be high priority. But all the High court did was adjourn it repeatedly.
While the court ordered for a single bench, the 2 workers from the mental health centre accused of murdering Satnam died. To continue at this point seemed fruitless to Satnam’s family who claims the real criminals are being protected.
Even the all-knowing Amma remained tight lipped as the entire nation turned to Kerala for answers. Her hugs couldn’t save Satnam.
The price in the name of truth was the one Satnam had to pay with his life. 7 years on, a family in Bihar still cannot fathom where it all went wrong. Nor do they hope to see justice.
This story was originally published in DoolNews, a malayalam web portal and the independent translation of this story is done by Parvathy V Nair, a Mass Communication graduate student in the University of Hyderabad.