By Stig Toft Madsen
April 23, 2010
The Ananda Marga – the Path of Bliss – was founded in 1955 by Prabhat Ranjan Sarkar as a socio-spiritual organization. In 1959, Sarkar added the political wing, known as Proutist Universal, where PROUT stands for Progressive Utilization Theory.
Sarkar was born a Bengali in Bihar in 1921. His uncle was Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, the still very popular Bengali revolutionary, who aligned his forces with the Axis powers during the Second World War. Sarkar established the headquarter of the Ananda Marga in Purulia district in West Bengal and its main urban node in Calcutta.
The movement also got many followers outside India. For years, Denmark and Sweden were important sites for the movement. Ananda Marga used to be quite visible in Copenhagen, where many walls had “PROUT” graffiti scribbled on them in the 1970s and 1980s.
The movement has long been on a confrontational course with the central government in India. It was one of a handful of organizations that were prohibited during the emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi in 1975. The tension lasted even after the emergency was lifted in 1977. When Indira Gandhi visited Denmark in 1983, the Ananda Margis joined Khalistani Sikhs and Danish ultra-leftists on the Copenhagen Town Hall square (Rådhuspladsen) to protest against the Prime Minister. Despite similarities in political ideology, the Ananda Margis has had an equally – or even more – inimical relation to the Communist Party of India (Marxist), which has ruled West Bengal since 1977. The conflict between Indian authorities and Ananda Marga violently visited Denmark in 1977 when Molotov cocktails were thrown at the residence of the Indian Ambassador to Denmark (Blüdnikow 2009).
In recent years, the movement has led a more unobtrusive existence. With the recent decision reached between Denmark and India to extradite Niels Holck to be tried in India for his role in the so-called Purulia Arms Drop in 1995, the movement has come back into the limelight.
The story of Niels Holck may be read as a story about a Dane devoted to social and economic justice to the extent that he decided to selflessly help the suppressed Ananda Margis by arming them for self-defence against their evil foes. This is a trope manifest also in the Danish Blekingegadebande, which altruistically robbed banks, etc. to supply the Palestinian organization PFLP with funds for its fight against Israel. However, the story of Niels Holck (alias Niels Christian Nielsen, alias Kim Peter Davy, alias Barfodsrøveren – the Barefooted Robber) may also be read as a story about Ananda Marga.
The following, therefore, is a brief presentation of the movement based on an article by Helen Crovetto entitled “Ananda Marga and the Use of Force”, which traces the elements of violence in the Ananda Marga movement.
According to Crovetto, the Ananda Marga core members have subjected themselves to a form of institutional and ideological “totalism”, which has regulated their physical and the mental life. The organizational form has been centralized and authoritarian with Indian male renouncers (sannyasis) exercising the maximum influence. In pursuance of justice and human development, the Ananda Marga has established a number of agrarian communities, called Master Units, where physical isolation may support institutional totalism.
The leader of the movement PR Sarkar – also known Sri Sri Anandamurti – is seen as an incarnation of both Lord Krishna and of Lord Shiva, or rather of Sadashiva, i.e. the True Shiva, who is believed to have lived 7,000 years ago when he entered this world to teach Tantra Yoga. Sarkar has set out his philosophy in the 264 books and the 5,018 songs he wrote before his death in 1990. Though Sarkar tried to maintain a strong hold on the movement, divisions occurred within his lifetime. The authoritarian ideology prevailing within the movement meant that defectors and renegades were seen as a threat to the movement. In some instances, renegades were apparently killed.
The Ananda Margis see themselves as being persecuted by the state in their homeland India. Unlike many other political Hindu organizations, the Ananda Margis do not direct their ire against Muslim and Islam, but against the state and its regulatory arms, particularly the police and the judiciary.
Already in 1967, Ananda Marga sannyasis were allegedly attacked by local people at the instigation of communist party workers at its Calcutta headquarter. In 1971, Sarkar and some of his disciples were arrested for abetting the murder of several renegades. On his part, Sarkar accused the state of poisoning him while in jail. In 1976, he was convicted even though he had obtained some international support. In response, no less than seven people committed suicide, including two Germans who self-immolated on the steps of a church in Berlin. Sarkar was subsequently granted another trial. Cleared of all charges, he was released in 1978. However, before he was released a splinter group called Universal PROUTists Revolutionary Federation (UPRF) claimed responsibility for criminal acts, including the bombing of the Hilton Hotel in Sydney in Australia in 1978 where the Indian Prime Minister, Morarji Desai, was a guest. Three people died in this attack. Like many other incidents on the Path of Bliss, the circumstances around this incident remain disputed.
Another violent incident occurred in 1982 in Calcutta when seventeen Ananda Marga sannyasis were killed. The killings may have been instigated by communist workers. The attack may have been related to possibly well-founded rumors that Ananda Margis kidnapped children in order to secure inmates for their schools and children‘s homes.
Militias in the Cosmic War
Sarkar put stress on military preparedness. To manage religious gatherings, Sarkar created a paramilitary wing called the Volunteers Social Service (VSS) for men and a Girl’s Volunteers (GV) force for women. Their work was described as “boy-scout” activities, but in reality they were paramilitary forces. According to Crovetto, such forces practiced with firearms in Europe during the 1970s.
In other words, pilgrims on the Path of Bliss strode a thorny path. As other fundamentalists, Ananda Margis see the world as divided between the forces of good and the forces of evil. Unlike some other fundamentalists, the Ananda Margis do not owe allegiance to a particular land or territory, but they share with similar organizations “absolutism, elect membership, sharp boundaries, behavioral requirements, charismatic and authoritarian leadership, and moral dualism” (Crovetto, p. 37). According to Sarkar, “Peace is the result of fight. Peace-lovers of the universe must not keep themselves away from fight” (Crovetto, p. 38). Peace for Sarkar had two forms: Black static peace implying absence of struggle, and white “sentient” peace implying active and, if necessary, armed struggle on behalf of the suppressed. Crovetto writes:
“To win the fight against evil in society, Sarkar said täntrikas should acquire strength because it was “impossible for goats to establish sentient peace in the society of tigers.”The real source of people’s power might be their spiritual force, but organizing on the material level was indispensable. He observed that arms were more necessary than the drums and cymbals used for worship.Not only should täntrikas arm themselves, they should go on inventing ever more powerful weapons as a counter-balance to those society has…..With regard to taking preemptive actions, Sarkar told his followers that one needed to be sure of the enemy’s intentions and could then act with impunity” (Crovetto, pp. 40-1).
Niels Holck, the Danish deliverer of arms for preemptive and self-defensive action, has secured impunity for himself for more than fourteen years. Granted the twists and turns that court cases against Ananda Margis have taken in the past, it may be that his impending confrontation with the Indian legal system may be brief: The cases against him may be dismissed on formal grounds. But it may also be that he will have to spend some time litigating in India before he is returned to Denmark. The communists in West Bengal have recently suffered several election defeats. If state elections come early in West Bengal, Niels Holck may be in India when the communist government will hand over power to a new government.
Berlingske Tidende, “Jeg ser mig selv som frihedskæmper”, Birgitte Erhardtsen, 17. May 2008, 22:30 hours, www.berlingske.dk/danmark/jeg-ser-mig-selv-som-frihedskaemper
Blüdnikow, Bent 2009, Bombeterror mod København: Trusler og Terror 1968-1990, Gyldendal.
Crovetto, Helen “Ananda Marga and the Use of Force”, Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions, Volume 12, Issue 1: 26-56.
Deadline, DR2, 12. April 2010, 22:30 hours: “Retsforfølges i Indien”, http://www.dr.dk/DR2/Deadline2230
Information, 21. August 2007, “‘Hvad nu hvis det var en inder, der havde kastet våben ned over Nørrebro?”
P1 Debat, P1, DR, 14. April 2010, 12:20 hours, “Holder sikkerhedsgarantien?”, www.dr.dk/P1/P1Debat/Udsendelser/2010/04/14150724.htm