By Vidya Bhushan Rawat
02 September, 2013
It was the month of November 2000 and I was in Lucknow to attend a wedding. It was in close relation hence the responsibility was a bit big. We arrived in the city two days prior to the wedding but our euphoria evaporated as the brother of the woman getting married disappeared. All efforts were made though the matter was kept under the wrap till the marriage was over which also reflect the brutality of social system where nobody want to take a chance and marriages are not made of convictions but of chances and money.
After the marriage ceremony was over, we lodged an FIR in the police station. For nearly a week, the police was active, giving us all the details of ‘bodies’ they recovered in accidents or unknown but later the matter was never really investigated. Being in Delhi, it was not possible for me to provide every day support but I did my best to help the family out. The mother of the boy was getting perturbed and still waiting for her son even after so many years.
In those initial days mother and sisters of the disappeared man were ready to do anything anyone suggested. And the problem was they would seek my opinion and active engagement in their matter as there was no male member in the family. Despite my being absolutely away from these nonsense as I do not normally join marriage ceremonies unless they are self-arranged or simple in nature, I had to provide them my active support being present to them whenever needed. One day, I was told that the police are unable to find it and we have to do at our own. The boy’s mother was doing her best to go to these ‘tantriks’ as people were suggesting. One of them told her that her son was alive, roaming around Lucknow, Faizabad side and is influenced under the evil spirit of a widowed woman. She was sure that being her only son, many girls were after her son and he must have been influenced by them.
So in those tense moments, whoever was suggesting, the family was obliging it diligently. The problem was that in many cases, I was asked to accompany them. One day, the younger sister of the disappeared man called me and said that she had heard there is a ‘well-known’ astrologer in Lucknow whose predictions are ‘perfect’ and to the point. To strengthen her point she gave numerous example of people who vouched by the ‘miraculous’ power of the priest. I told her to desist from these non-senses as nothing will come out of it and it would only be an exercise in futility. My opinion was that we must put pressure on police but the concerned sister said,’ when we are doing so many things, then what is wrong in trying this too, may be his predictions could help us find her brother’. So one fine evening around 8 pm, we went to meet this ‘Siddhast’ priest. There was a big board in the front with lots of ‘claims’ and ‘world known’ facts about him. We were asked at the gate about our motives to come and then put straight to his room where he was sitting in his room. He talked to us. The girl did all the talk about her brother and everything. After listening to her he said that her brother was alive and is within the vicinity of Lucknow only and he would definitely return. He suggested we need to perform some special Pujas and that should be performed by the only blood relations. He just kept me separate distance, talking to the girl only and said that the Puja would be performed at his place and its timing would be in the mid night. The young sister would have to sit in the Puja and very careful about it. She must ensure that she is not in the menstrual during that time as the entire mantras would become invalid. The most shocking thing he said was that the girl would have to come alone in the mid night to perform the Puja and will have no cloth on her body when performing this only then the mantras would be effective. We both were shocked. First time, I saw the face of this girl just turned pale. We decided to come and the girl decided to not push further this. Perhaps, this opened her eyes not to believe in these thugs who use women in the name of miraculous powers.
The aim of writing this story is clear. I do not claim to save a woman from the clutches of a Baba but the fact is fortunately the woman accompanying me understood the games of the Baba and immediately decided to do away with such tactics. Today, the exploitation of women in the name of religion is growing. The story of the girl allegedly exploited and raped by Asharam Bapu is similar. One should realize how the faith and deep faith is used to exploit people and that is why it is time for the government to intervene. These issues are not going to resolve with just polite appeal but with the strict arms of the law. The claims of such Babas must be verified and testified by an independent authority.
The problem is that the devotees of these Babas only know about ‘miraculous’ power of them and hence no reasonable debate or arguments can be done with them. The endless devotees are a fodder for them to promote their senseless ideas and remain powerful without being accountable and it is not just the poor but educated middle classes too who have become ‘followers’ of them. Some of them are rustic like Asharam while others are sophisticated such as Ravishankar and the devotees will not leave any stone unturned in glorifying their power and knowledge.
In the past thirty years, we have seen enormous growth of these ‘cultural’ gurus influencing our polity and society. The basic principle of faith is not to question and only believe in their powers. It is the first work of a devout faithful person to tell people that they could realize the power only when they ‘truly’ believe in them. Hence, if you do not believe truly then your work will remain incomplete and in deep faith people are forced to do many things. Among the devotees, there is a competition as who is ‘close’ to Baba. Women are the easiest target as most of they belong to middle class families suffocating at home and no chance to express. Hence when these Gurus started ‘dance’ and ‘songs’ in their ‘Satsang’ all of them enjoy it. In the toughest family environment, you can only go out freely in the name of ‘Satsang’. Nobody question you as why were you dancing because it is a ‘Satsang’. So for many women who cannot venture out of home without a male escort, these congregations are a relief and also a status symbol. Once you are a ‘volunteer’ then you are trained to glorify the Babas and force the women to follow the male diktats. Why are there more women in these congregations? And you will realize how Babas are using gender as a soft target. Women are suffocated in this feudal religious culture. When the culture of brutality so strong and locked, it is just a small window and make them feel that they are ‘something’. Most of them don’t want to lose the opportunity of coming out from their homes and ‘enjoying’. Later in the larger group, you happen to meet many people and when emotionally close then you are ready to do anything.
Last year a Sri Lankan woman had narrated her own experiences with one of the ‘greatest’ Gurus of India, whose ‘miraculous’ power were well known. She belonged to an influential political family of Sri Lanka. In the Ashram of the Baba in Andhra Pradesh, people would line up to have a ‘Darshan’ of the Baba for hours and hours. In such a situation if you are considered close and ask to come to ‘his’ cottage, then it is a matter of great pride. The Baba would call himself as Rama and had many Sitas for him as he would bless everyone close to him as his ‘Sita’. All these Babas have political connections and hence these ‘mutual’ understandable things never come out in open. We have seen the stories of Swami Nithyananda in Karnataka and yet his ‘followers’ feel that he has been trapped.
All these stories have one thing in common that women are the biggest ‘strength’ of these Babas and they use this connection to promote themselves. It is easier to push her up under the pressure of culture and also emotionally blackmail her. The Babas will always tell them how they can convert them into ‘goddess’ or powerful ‘orator’ or leader. In today’s cutthroat competition, connection and ‘Juagad’ have to be used and these Gurus know that psychology very well and that is why they are providing ‘liberation’ to women.
It is not unusual therefore when women come in large number and protest against the arrest of Asharam as presence of large number of women will only ‘prove’ how women are ‘safe’ in these ashrams and all the charges against Asharam are ‘fabricated’.
Today, the media is against Asharam but he can very much come back with greater advertisement and sponsored programmes on their channels. Already the Hindutva organisations are targeting the government for trying to defame the ‘Hindu culture’. The power of money actually bring Nirmal Baba to our homes early morning despite so much of hue and cry about his ‘methods’ and ‘claims’. There are many others like him making tall claims about their miracles which have neither been verified nor testified. When any item that come in the market has to pass through tests and cover under MRTPC then why are these miraculous Babas left unchallenged? It is time these claims must pass through the scrutiny of a commission and people must be made aware about the dangers of them. Like the warning on smoking, let these sponsored programmes also have a warning that faith is good but blind faith kills and exploits and is detrimental to the development of human being.
It is important that the central government bring a guiding legislation against the superstition and miracle so that these claimants can be challenged in the court of law and punished under the law. With each of their sponsored programme not only should it be mentioned that these are sponsored programme but also a note about their claims that these are not verified and people must authenticate themselves before adoption.
In this age of science and reasoning, these Gurus are the biggest threat to reasoning and building up an enlightened society. They are the biggest threat to democracy itself as they promote a class of hoodlums who will take law on their hands and violently protest if their Guru is questioned or charged. There is no concept of equality and hundreds of girls will be vulnerable to them as their parents are ready to offer them to these ‘babas’ to wield away ‘evil spirit’.
We must thank to the bold girl and her father who dared to file case against Asaram. His eyes got opened. He listened to the cry of his daughter and realized that enough is enough. All those who blindly follow such farce actually help the cause of these powerful unaccountable elite who use religion and culture to dominate the socio-political system. From the last 12 months, we have seen a persistent hue and cry against the sexual violence on women in India. People came on street and protests forced the government to bring anti rape law. It was a great effort of the middle classes even when we know they are calculative and conspicuously silent on many other similar occasions but we felt that the law would help every woman.
Today, it is not shocking that the upper caste middle classes have completely exposed themselves. Those who were crying against government to stop crime against women and hang the ‘culprits’ for rape are silent and seeking recourse in ‘law of the land’ jargon. Why the same can’t be applied to others. Problem is that we want to hang the guilty immediately when they are ‘Dalits, OBCs, Muslims and slum dwellers’ but want the law to take its own course when the perpetrators are upper castes, priests, Gurus and big people. That is why there is no outrage on violence against women in Haryana as victims are predominantly Dalit girls and the perpetrators of the crime are the powerful upper castes? There is no outrage against Asaram and Nityanand the way we saw against others and interestingly no demand for their ‘public hanging’. It is the selectivity of the issues which is destroying Indian society to unite and combat against such onslaught on women’s freedom and liberty.
Well known anti superstition activist Dr Narendra Dabholkar was killed in Pune and the Sanatan Dharm Sabha took pride in his elimination. ‘He died as per God’s wish’, they said. It was good than dying in bed or in old age, they justified. What had Dabholkar done? He was just trying to bring out an anti-superstition law which would stop activities of Tona-totka, ‘tantra-mantra’ but then those who benefit out of it would not allow it. How can the right wing allow a law against street thugs and cheats who make millions with miracle claims and super natural powers? Dabholkar’s voice was that of reasoning and those who killed him were afraid that if the society becomes enlightened and if there is a law against such claims then it would be difficult for this extra constitutional and unaccountable power to befool people in the name of culture and super natural powers.
Fight against superstition is important. One can understand nature of faith as long as it does not hurt. Nobody has a right to take life of any individual in the name of these powers. It is the duty of the state to curb on such miraculous claims. It is important because if we do not stop them then not only will we justify ‘Nar Bali’ Shishu Bali’ (human sacrifice-child sacrifice’) but also allow our girls to be ‘exploited’ by these thugs. A strong federal law against superstition is essential and for that it is important that our health services must be easily accessible to rural poor but also our school and college curriculum should inculcate the spirit of ‘spirit of inquiry’ and humanism. It is also important that charitable status from such institutions which are religious and making billions must be withdrawn and they must be taxed and this tax could be used for the benefit of the poor. It is time to put a tight noose over such obscurantist forces that violate our rights and thwart the process of law.
Vidya Bhushan Rawat is a social and human rights activist.