Religion, said Karl Marx, is the opium of the masses. In India it has been proved again and again by many self-styled Godmen in the last few generations. On one hand where we cannot write-off India’s spirituality quotient as it is a part of our centuries old culture, on the other, the quest for attainment of ‘mukti’ or ‘nirvana’ (freedom from rebirth) often puts people in the hands of charlatans who exploit in the name of God.
India is often called the cradle of civilizations. As many as four major religions of the world were born here. Practitioners of eight or nine major religions live on this soil and practice their faiths with fervor and freedom.
India is also the land of 1.3 billion people, many of whom live in abject poverty and extremely competitive environment due to limited resources. With mounting Defense budgets for keeping the boundaries safe from hostile neighbors with Nuclear capabilities, the government often struggles to meet socialist or even populist goals. Lack of opportunities often make people seek short-cuts.
Being religious by nature, Indians often turn to God for blessings to fulfill their wishes. Since, God too is mobbed by seekers, in come the middlemen. Priests, godmen, Yogis, spiritual masters, gurus, there are many names for these men and women who profess to know the short-cut to God’s plenty.
Though thousands of them are small-time priests or spiritual leaders, some make it huge and become names to be reckoned with. There are those who hob-nob with Hollywood to those who are known as kingmakers for their proximity to the politicians. They have millions of followers across the world and more money than can be imagoned.
As it is rightly said, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, these men and women have been known to declare themselves demi-Gods performing miracles and magic to win over crowds and the kings. With unbridled power and money, many often take a few wrong turns and get caught in the web of law. Here are a few who got caught.
Chandraswami rose to fame as a Tantrik with close connections with the Indina Prime Minister PV Narasimharao. Soon after his rise in the 90s he got mired in controversies from tax frauds to arms kick-backs for which he spent time in prison. The most serious allegation however was his said involvement in the RajivGandhi assassination case.
Known as the controversial Godman, swamy was supposed to have friends in high places and across the world starting with Indira Gandhi and Margaret Thatcher to arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi and D-Company’s Dawood Ibrahim.
His life full of heady highs and dark of lows saw him hobnobbing with Elizabeth Tailor to spending nine years in Indian prison before he was cleared of all charges and set free.
A Sindhi from what is now Pakistan had opened around 400 ashrams around India. Asaram was doing great till he got involved in an alleged rape complaint against a minor residing in his ashram in 2013. He is also well known for his controversial statement during the Nirbhaya gangrape vigils in 2012. He had said that the girl being raped was equally to blame as she could have called the rapists brothers and begged them to stop. He had said that a clap cannot be sounded using just one hand.
Since 2013 he has been in police custody along with his son, Narayan Sai also accused in rape cases.
He is a self-proclaimed reincarnation of Sant Kabir, a prominent 15th century Bhakti saint and poet who hailed from a very poor and Muslim family but, was highly influenced by his Hindu guru.
Sant Baba Rampal ran a sprawling ashram in Haryana that was laid to siege by the Haryana Police in 2014. The baba had thousands of followers living in the Hisar ashram that was as secure as any ancient citadel. The followers fought a pitched battle with the security forces when they came to arrest the baba and it took 20,000 troops to push them back despite cutting-off both power and water supply at the ashram.
The baba had skipped 42 court summons for cases against him before the forces stormed his bastion. Rampal was arrested on the night of November 19, 2014, along with 492 of his followers, on charges including sedition, murder, attempt to murder, conspiracy, hoarding illegal weapons and aiding and abetting suicide-mongers.
He is awaiting justice and has been acquitted in two of the long tally of cases framed against him.
Among the baba’s teachings against temple visits, idol worship, charity, donations, untouchability, adultery and “vulgar singing and dancing” he also asked his followers not to criticize him and to consider any critic as a liar. This led to droves of his brain-washed devotees to stonewall any attempts to arrest him.
It seems we refuse to learn from our past or maybe we do not believe that these men can do any wrong. There is always the conspiracy theory to give them and us the leeway. Last week saw unprecedented violence in Haryana, Punjab and even parts of Delhi because, the Dera Sachcha Sauda chief, Baba Gurmeet Ram Rahim Insan, widely known as Pitaji or Papaji was found guilty of rape charges by a CBI court.
His disciples took to streets and attacked journalists, commoners and public transport vehicles. No less than 30 people lost their lives and hundreds were hospitalized with injuries.
When police failed to stop the warring mobs, the forces were called in and Section 144 was declared. Those who do not understand the Indian psyche will never be able to understand why people took to streets to bring the law and order machinery on its knees for a rapist who is also facing murder charges and is being investigated for castration of 400 of his devotees.
Such a man who has been raping women in his commune and castrating men should have been abhorred not loved and respected to this extent. But, in the eyes of his 5,00,00,000-odd disciples he was their guru. Their ticket to Nirvana.
There are more like him who have cropped up in the news in the last few years, the dancing sadhvi Radhe Maa who dresses up like a bride and loves to party at satsangs. Swamy Nithyananda who was caught on camera with an actress in compromising position. Then there is Jayendra Saraswati, under scanner for a murder in his ashram. The list is long and eye popping.
Even in the 60s when The Beatles came to India to learn Yoga from the Maharishi or Mahesh Yogi they left in a huff. Lenon later condemned the Yogi for being a charlatan who tried getting close to Mia Farrow who was one of the group who had arrived with the band.
Sex and scandals seem to follow these men and women as does money and fame. Many run expensive Yoga retreats, FMCG companies and other businesses that are subsidized by the government in the name of nationalism. Some like Baba Ramdev have courted controversy for alleged impurities in their products. But, people still buy these products making their ashrams and trusts rich and flourishing.
Indians, as well as foreign followers, flock to these ashrams and deras as a moth to a flame. If this is not Marx opium then, what is?