The conviction and 20 year prison term slapped on Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh for raping two women in 2002, has once again turned the spotlight on India’s numerous self-styled spiritual gurus and preachers.
These days, gods seem to be in news for all the wrong reasons. From financial fraud to rape and even outright murders, their self-appointed leaders are grabbing national attention on a fairly regular basis.
From time to time, one of these controversial gurus, one may have never heard of, but who have lakhs of followers is charged with a crime. These gurus maintain innocence despite compelling evidence, their followers allege conspiracy and sometimes even take up arms against the State. The gurus may eventually even go to jail, but the followers refuse to stop believing in them.
A saga of this unfolded on November 19, 2014 when more than 6,000 followers of Sant Rampal Satlok laid siege of his fortified ashram in Hisar district of Haryana and by the end of the night, the controversial godman was arrested.
At least six persons lost their lives in the stand-off as Rampal eluded the police while many of his key aides and around 450 supporters were also arrested.
On August 25, the country witnessed a similar chain of events when the flashy guru Gurmeet Ram Rahim SIngh was convicted in the rape of two women disciples in 2002 by a CBI court in Panchkula in Haryana.
Minutes after the court gave the verdict, hundreds of Dera Sacha Sauda chief’s followers went on a rampage setting fire to vehicles and railway stations and leaving a trail of destruction that killed 32 people and injured 350 people.
This has become a truly hackneyed story. Every few years, a ‘godman’, who is never heard of, but has thousands of fanatical devotees, is charged with crime from financial fraud to sexual molestation to outright murder,
The guru goes into hiding, his followers scream conspiracy and sometimes are even ready to take arms against the State. Finally, the guru surrenders and put in jail. But the faith of his followers remains unshaken. We wonder-just who are these ‘godmen’. And what is forcing people to fanatically follow these ‘godmen’, when common sense and logic should command them to do the exact opposite.
Mankind’s propensity to believe in a God or higher power is well known. According to evolutionary psychologists, this propensity can be linked to the unique ability of human beings to attribute design or reason to things, even where there may be none. With society being in constant flux in the last many decades due to socio-economic factors, the need to rely on a higher power seems to have increased.
In a country of a million gods and thousands of identities, the changing landscape has had a huge cultural and psychological implications. Rootless individuals seeking to make sense of their world may drift to alcohol, drugs or psychiatrists to find answer.In India, most seem to have drifted to the godmen.
It is not difficult to understand why India has had a long history of gurus or spiritual guides-the learned master who attain higher knowledge. In recent times, the tradition seemed to have metamorphosed into an industry, with the so called godmen exploiting weaknesses of existing institutions like family, religion and society to their advantage and offering instantaneous miracles and quick-fix solutions to cure the dissonance caused by modern life.
So what accounts for India’s enduring relationship with the gurus. For one, in a fast-urbanising country, with ambition and confusion, gurus are like placebos for the uncertain masses. People flock to them, thinking that they can help give them big breaks in their lives.
India has always had gurus for a long as one can remember, There are global godmen like Maharshi Mahesh Yogi to the Beatles turned for spiritual salvation in the 1960s. And there are godmen for the rich and poor with huge followings. The origin of godmen and their popularity today can be traced back to guru-shishya tradition. Some godmen come from established school of spirituality but often they don’t belong to any religious order.
Well known author and journalist Khushwant SIngh in his book ‘Gods and Godmen of India’ writes: “India has been in the Godmen business longer and produce more of them than anywhere else in the world.” Singh’s final chapter is titled ” God save us from godmen’. The one thing he finds in common with anyone of the powerful guru-teachers in India is that, they are all fantastically wealthy. Our godmen are not committed to poverty.” says Singh.
The self-styled godmen or women have made a mockery of faith and have lavish life style. From Swami Sachidanand, Radha Maa, Trikal Bhawant, Asaram Bapu (now in Jodhpur Central Jail after being charged with raping a 16-year old girl), Swami Amrita Chaitanya, and the list is endless.
Will Rahim’s sentence in Rohtak’s Sunaria district jail end the blind faith of thousands of people on the self-proclaimed godmen in India or will these so called gurus continue to thrive is a question to ponder.
(The View are Personal.)