Vulnerability of Religiosity

The long arm of the law finally caught up with the so called god-man of Sirsa in Haryana. Fifteen long years of struggle since incrimination, this morning saw newspaper headlines emblazoning his 20 years imprisonment for brutal crimes. Social media is awash with more skeletons as victims come out with his strange ‘maafi’ (forgiveness) rituals for women and stories of men being castrated. It was truly all horrific! The cult-following enjoyed by this god-man can only be gauged by his Facebook page claiming – ‘more than 50 million people around the world as faithful followers’.

Even as we fail to understand such horrendous acts, so also we fail to understand the multitudes that throng such organizations. It is a despairing feature of our country that countless people become devotees of these self-proclaimed god-men. It is time we begin to question the rationality of these practices and look deeper inside to try and understand why they get so enamored. What is it that creates unflinching loyalty to these louts who get offered all the ill-founded veneration?

These bizarre figure-heads continue to draw vulnerable people in the name of religion.  Much like the axiomatic Pied Piper, be it the aged dhoti-clad reader-of-scriptures or the bling-appareled, gem-studded glib talker – hundreds of thousands of followers began to look upon them as saviors. Riddled with personal woes and copious troubles people flocked to them in hope of psychological respite and mystical ways out. They even end up offering their willing suspension of (dis)belief.  Who are these people that find time for these tricksters who soon enough begin to exercise abysmal control over them?

If you look closely it is certain classes of people who largely become followers. They are caught on by religiosity, caste-folds, paucity, and backwardness and are keen to don new identities. In the case of Baba Gurmeet Ram Rahim Insaan, sentenced today, it was the Mazhabi or out-caste Sikhs that became firmly entrenched into the cult. Thousands and thousands of people from villages, towns, and bastis of Haryana began to find new-found dignity and social come-uppance as members of the Dera.

And the Dera was rich. As are other such ashrams providing alternate ways of life. Importantly they provide medical support, food security and psychological well-being to an otherwise neglected strata of society. The Dera in particular is quite modern in outlook. With malls and other facilities women particularly found it convenient as it afforded them a wonderful escape from ordinary humdrum lives. Not to speak of spiritual succor – the ultimate opium of the masses along with a sense of righteousness. In fact it offered all of which that should rightly be coming from the government.

It ought to be the government’s job to deliver succor, relief, fulfillment to its people. But it is the portals of such organizations that draw the multitudes seeking it there. And the government just plays the shut eye. Despite suspicions of wrong doings the powers-that-be know full-well that these god-men offer a vote bank. Electoral outcomes matter and officials do not hesitate to kow-tow to these feigning god-men. After all, their nod could mean tacit support for vote margins. The highest in the land have not hesitated to bestow patronage.

Women are willy-nilly drawn into the fold. Lower middle class vulnerable women more so. A sense of freedom, alternate lifestyle, peace of mind and most important food in their bellies are some of the alluring reasons that draw them over. But when they come to learn that gender disparity and exploitation raises its ugly head in these fiefdoms in graver and more insidious ways – often it becomes too late for a turnabout. Unfortunately young women and even young men have suffered most grievously at such places.

We can now but suggest that nobody ought to follow such god-men blindly. It becomes the responsibility of civic institutions to caution people about dangers of following cults. We should assist people to question themselves about what they do and why.  Let religion be in the private domain, within homes and reserved for inner contemplation and personal wellbeing. Let the sacrosanctity of religiosity be a matter of personal spiritualism and not become an opportunity in the hands of such culprits. Let us no longer be duped in the name of our religious vulnerability nor allow self-seeking god men to lay hand on ill-gotten gains, exploitations and our personal dignity.