The recent arrest of a ‘godman’, Siva Shankar Baba, from Tamil Nadu, for sexually abusing girls has sent shock waves through the country. The dubious baba is also the founder of Sushil Hari International School. It strains credulity to believe that the founder of a school, an educationist, was capable of such depravity. The gullible and unsuspecting parents of these abused girls could have never imagined that the school they sent their children for education was actually a Gomorrah of vices and human perversion. Imagine the plight of these hapless girls – being summoned to this fake baba’s room and subjected to trauma that would scar them for life. One must appreciate their courage in coming forward and confiding in their parents about the sexual shenanigans of the baba whom they once regarded as the epitome of knowledge and wisdom.
Siva Shankar Baba is not the first and is not going to be the last of these corrupt and immoral spiritual gurus, whose every characteristic kink gets free play in our society. These gurus trade on our credulity and exploit our religious sentiments. They have the protean ability to take control of our stressful lives by offering solace and solutions to our problems. When the middle classes feel unhappy and experience emptiness in their lives, they make a beeline for these spiritual gurus, who soothe frazzled nerves with their recondite spiritual gibberish and apply verbal poultice to our defrayed emotions. Most times, the followers end up imbuing these gurus with an undeserved halo of godliness.
'Agents' of god
As a result, many of these spiritual preachers really start seeing themselves as an agent and messenger of God, infallible and, above suspicion, like Caesar’s wife. There are numerous instances of lecherous babas and godmen physically exploiting young girls and women on the pretext of curing them of some ailment or the other. It becomes possible only when mentally these devotees are away with the fairies and surrender themselves to the hypnotic spell of these gurus, at the expense of rationality and sound judgment. The human brain is genetically programmed to believe in esoteric and religious mumbo-jumbo.
Our self-styled and spiritual gurus live in palatial bungalows, with a fleet of luxury cars at their disposal, not to speak of ashrams spread over different cities. They enjoy a lavish and hedonistic lifestyle and own properties valued in crores. Always ensconced in the amniotic fluid of patronage by politicians and businessmen, one can see these high-profile spiritual babas and swamis hobnobbing with the high and mighty, attending marriages and other social functions of business tycoons, politicians and fil stars. They can be seen interacting with the media. In sooth, they are treated as some sort of celebrity. One major reason why these spiritual gurus are much sought after is because politicians of all stripes are ready to throw their weight behind these babas as the latter can tilt the political fortunes of a party by asking their devotees to vote for a certain political outfit.
Proximity to politicians
There have been instances of spiritual gurus who were very close to politicians. Former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was linked to Swami Dhirendra Brahmachari, PV Narasimha Rao to Chandraswami. The Beatles were very much in thrall to transcendental spiritual guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Sunil Gavaskar was a devotee of Satya Sai Baba.
Religious discourses are the barometer for gauging the popularity of a spiritual guru and speaker. These are organised every month, which draw devotees in lakhs. From young men, women and auto drivers to senior citizens and businessmen, all throng the venue. Before the day of the discourse, a massive publicity blitzkrieg is launched through hoardings and advertisements on TV channels. It is never difficult to attract sponsors for such occasions. Pravachans have become big business now as these gurus have strapped religion into the Procrustean folding bed of their commerce.
The reason why these spiritual babas are desperate for the patronage of politicians is because it helps them carry out their nefarious activities without the fear of being caught or put behind bars. They are not spiritual men but con artists who purvey deception and religiosity in the name of god. Cases in point - the religious hypocrisy and criminal instincts of charlatans like Baba Ram Rahim and Asaram Bapu who pulled the wool over their devotees’ eyes for so many years.
Both these much feted and popular spiritual gurus not only enjoyed massive political patronage but also commanded a huge following from the well-educated middle classes. But their arrest opened a can of worms. When police raided their ashrams, they stumbled upon evidence pointing towards sex and murder there. That the godmen managed to pursue their interests for years without attracting the attention of the state is not unexpected, given the nexus between political power and religious establishments. After Asaram Bapu’s arrest in Jodhpur rape case, his daughter is now running 400 ashrams across the country.
The flamboyant rockstar Baba Ram Rahim masqueraded as a spiritual guru from Punjab. He had a fetish for casting himself as a larger-than-life hero in movies of his own production house. In these movies, he was shown invested with a divine halo, as a saviour of the common man. It soon turned out that this spiritual guru was nothing but a swindler and arms dealer, not to mention a sexual predator who took advantage of vulnerable young girls staying in his ashram. His luck finally ran out and the law caught up with him, despite his high political connections.
However, there are exceptions to this tribe of dubious godmen as well. The late Bhaiyyu Maharaj was one of them. A few years ago, the chief minister of a state had been dangling the carrot of a party post in front of him for quite some time, which he strictly turned down. This godman was happy with his philanthropic activities like adopting villages and reviving water bodies. His death remains steeped in mystery.
There are lakhs of ashrams in nooks and corners of the country. Some of these ashrams serve the needy by distributing food and clothes for free.
But the problem arises when spiritual gurus of the ashrams, lacking moral fibre, engage in unlawful activities and play fast and loose with the trust of the gullible masses. The unflinching faith of devotees in religious gurus is another reason why it becomes easy for some of these boorish conmen to illegally amass wealth and properties, and then in due course, suck up to politicians to gain more legitimacy.
There is a need to treat these godmen as normal human beings which the majority of devotees are not able to do. We should ask ourselves why we are so dependent on them. Let’s not make these spiritual gurus part of our lives. Perhaps, we are better off without them.
The writer is a senior journalist based in Delhi