The saga of the “false gods” of India

The saga of India’s “false divine men”

Criminal convictions do not deter followers


November 15, 2021

Babas like Asaram Bapu (left) and Ram Rahim (right) have been charged with crimes including rape, murder and money laundering

Despite the convictions of several “false gurus” for violent crimes such as murder and rape, many Indians continue to believe in the promises of Nirvana peddled by self-proclaimed godmen across the country.

From the Sanskrit root sadh, which means “achieve your goal”, a sadhu is a religious ascetic or a holy person in Hinduism and Jainism who has renounced worldly life and earthly possessions. Revered for their renunciation and detachment from the world of greed and lust, millions of Indians line their doors to seek their blessings and receive teachings from them, offering them anything from the simple food, a seat on a bus or train or even millions of rupees.

India’s fascination with divine men goes back a long way, and even Prime Ministers like Indira Gandhi, who followed Dhirendra Bhramachari and Narasimha Rao, whose spiritual advisor was Chandra Swami, had pledged full support to their gurus, Gandhi. having already given land for the construction of an ashram. by Chandraswami.

Many politicians consult with god-men to seek their blessings for victory in elections and even to find out the right time or muhurat for all important official and personal activities. But it’s not just politicians who are looking for divine men. Followers include millions of ordinary Indians like the family of 32-year-old Shreyansh Khanna, who lives in Calcutta, followed a guru for several years. Although Khanna does not share the same belief, he accepts the spiritual comfort they provide to followers.

“People on this planet seek a little comfort in understanding God and they are often led to these babas by word of mouth, as they themselves seek to experience miracles, ”said Khanna India Media Group.

Although many sadhus are undoubtedly sincere in their search for ‘Nirvana’, the controversial teachings of these godmen are just as historic as the public’s belief in them. Chandraswami, whose influence even reached international waters as he allegedly advised figures such as the Sultan of Brunei, actress Elizabeth Taylor and former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, was also known to be involved in several financial scams and in 1996, was arrested on charges of defrauding a London-based businessman of $ 100,000, as well as being charged with being involved as a financier of the assassination of the former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.

Such controversies plagued the legacy of the god-men even decades later. Perhaps one of the most notorious revelations came in 2017, when the Akhil Bharatiya Akhara Parishad (ABAP), the supreme body of the Hindu organization sadhus, published a list of 14 “false babas” or self-proclaimed god-men and demanded legislation to crack down on “rootless cult leaders”. The list included sadhus accused of various crimes, from money laundering to rapists and murderers.

One of the best known on the list is Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, a popular self-proclaimed guru with many followers in the northern states of Punjab and Haryana, who has been charged with several offenses, including forced castration, was convicted of rape by a court in 2017, and sentenced to life imprisonment in 2019 along with three others for the murder of a journalist. At the time, his conviction led to widespread violence and protests from his supporters and members of the Dera Sacha Sauda (DSS), who left several dead and injured.

Another self-proclaimed guru, Asaram Bapu, who follows Hindutva-centric ideology and claims to have established 400 ashrams in India and abroad, has been visited by political leaders including Prime Ministers Atal Behari Vajpayee and Narendra Modi . Asaram was convicted in 2018 of raping a minor, after ironically joking earlier that calling his rapist “bhaiya” (brother) would save women, along with other charges of unlawful encroachment and witness tampering. .

Despite the prevalence of such cases, many Indians still follow them. The so-called fugitive god Swami Nithyananda, known to have used pseudoscience to disseminate his discourse on the Hindu scriptures, has also been charged in a case of rape as well as the kidnapping of two underage girls in 2019, then on the run. Ecuador after missing several court hearings. . In December, he said he had created a new “Hindu nation” called Kailasa, and absurdly declared that it was the only sovereign Hindu nation in the world, even creating its own currency.

“I do not know why sadhus have so many followers, even though many of them have been arrested for bad deeds and are serving time in prison. I feel we all have God within us, but some of us are aware and some are disconnected, [and those people] to look for babas for spiritual comfort and solace. Other than that, there’s no point in questioning someone’s belief, ”Khanna adds.

Radhika (name changed) and her family were followers of Sadhguru Jagdish Vasudev, who has been teaching yoga in southern India since 1982 and was awarded the Padma Vibhushan Prize in 2017 for his contribution to social welfare. “Indians are among the most superstitious people. Babas are hawkers of faith and many take advantage of these superstitious beliefs of people and deceive them in the name of [promoting] miracle of God. We follow babas blindly because of a need to believe in something or someone, ”she said India Media Group.

With such clandestine transactions and large donations from influential supporters, many of these babas are generating immense wealth. Sri Sathya Sai Baba for example, who claimed that he was the reincarnation of Shirdi Sai Baba and was famous among normal people as well as dictators, businessmen and politicians for his proclamations of spreading love, peace and humility, passed away in 2011, left a legacy estimated at around INR 400 billion. The revelation of the treasure of gold, silver and silver, found secretly buried in temples, sparked a bitter struggle among his devotees after his death, with money being desperately smuggled out as police, administrators and relatives were digging for the treasure.

This violence unleashed by blind faith is not uncommon among communities that support sadhus, but raises the question of whether strict laws should be put in place to ensure less occurrence. Although conviction rates have apparently been high, with many investigations leading to arrests and long prison terms, aided by public outcry, many who have spoken out against this system have also blamed the sadhus. to work with the police to evade the law.

In January this year, the Supreme Court refused to hear a plea against fake divine men when a petition, characterized as public interest litigation (PIL), was filed by Dumpala Ramreddy, a resident of Telangana, who was upset that his daughter was being kept in an ashram. by a self-proclaimed man-god in Delhi. The ashram where Ramreddy’s daughter, Adhyatmika Vidyalaya was staying, was run by Veerendra Dev Dixit and was on the list of bogus ashrams published by ABAP.

The court reportedly said that it was up to the individual to discern the babas fakes, and that if these so-called god-men have ever been convicted in criminal cases, that was reason enough for people to avoid going to see them.

However, the solution may not be that simple, as not all victims are able to make such informed decisions, especially if they are children. In November, the so-called god Siva Shankar Baba of Tamil Nadu was accused of sexually abusing young girls, some students from his own school, exposing a frightening and murky world where these god-men prey on religious beliefs to exploit their followers. Siva Shankar had previously been arrested on charges of Protecting Children Against Sexual Offenses (POCSO). In August, earlier this year, Shankar was denied bail by the court which ordered his continued detention.

Such cases sound vaguely similar to several reported incidents of young boys being sexually assaulted in Catholic churches in Europe, which have captured public attention since the 1980s. Long-term patterns of abuse and the drive to cover up any wrongdoing, by church members and similarly in India by groups like Dera Sacha Sauda, ​​have set a dangerous precedent, and perhaps it is time to take a stronger stand against such operation. in the name of religion.

About Harold Hartman

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