(The controversy surrounding Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh and the mayhem caused by his conviction for rape seems only the proverbial tip of the ice-berg!)
For quite some time India was known in the west as the land of snake charmers and naked sadhus. Well, the Sadhus are considered to be the holy men who have been associated with India from the earliest times. The Himalaya, the greatest mountain chain in the world has been called the “Abode of Gods”! Traditionally, most of the holy men have been going up in the mountains to meditate. However, the real spiritual beings about whom one reads in history books have been totally non-materialistic. They, in fact, have always renounced the material world in preference to the spiritual world. However, with the modern progress and development, the spiritual and the holy men too have progressed from the spiritual to the material world. India is home to dozens of these holy men quite a number of whom have been indulging in un-holy things!
In 2014, the rediff.com carried a detailed article about these holy men under the title, “India’s 10 most controversial Gurus”! It would be interesting to give excerpts from the article. The first one is Sant Rampal, an Engineer who after coming into contact with a seer set up Satlok Ashram in 1999.He owns a fleet of luxury cars and lives in a 12 acre sprawling farm in Barwala, Haryana. He has 25 lakh followers! He has his own Facebook and YouTube page. After a clash with the followers of Swami Dayanand Saraswati he faces charges of murder, attempted murder and contempt of court cases.
Next is AsaRam Bapu. Born in undivided Sindh, he has 425 Ashrams and more than 50 gurukuls and tremendous following in India and abroad. He is accused of raping a 16 year old girl in his Ashram at Jodhpur even as the mother of the girl waited outside. He is also allegedly accused in a 700 acre land grabbing case. He and his son are also accused of death of two boys whose bodies were recovered near from Sabarmati near his ashram.
Another Guru is Swami Nityananda. Popular for his spiritual discourses and meditation programmes, Swami Nithyananda was named as one of the 100 most spiritually influential living people in the world by Watkins ‘Mind Body Spirit magazine. He claims to be the most-watched spiritual teacher on YouTube.com with more than 14 million views, and the author of more than 300 books published in 27 languages. He landed in controversy after video footage showing him in a compromising position was telecast by some tv channels. He was also accused of rape by Indian born American citizen, Arthi Rao in June, 2012. Rao went on Indian television accusing him of raping her for several years. He denied the allegations!
Then comes Baba Ramdev known for popularising Yoga. He has been very vocal about many political issues in the country. Tehelka Magazine has reported many irregularities and tax evasion by his trust. Brinda Karat, the senior communist leader has accused Divya Pharmacy of using human and animal bones in their medicine. He has been claiming cure for many diseases including Aids through Yoga.
Next is Swami Agnivesh. He is Arya Samaj Scholar and activist and is former member of Haryana Legislative assembly. He has many controversies associated with him. Agnivesh, during a trip to Jammu, had allegedly said that he “does not understand why people go” for Amarnath yatra and such pilgrimages and had termed the “Shivlingam” that forms inside the Amarnath cave shrine a geographical phenomenon. The Supreme Court condemned Agnivesh for hurting the sentiments of Hindus. “You cannot take sentiments of the people for granted,” the bench said, noting that a large number of people go on Amarnath yatra every year.
One of the most controversial spiritual leaders is Rajnesh or Osho. He is considered to be the most controversial spiritual leaders of 20th Century to have emerged from India. He has been outspoken in his criticism of socialism, Mahatma Gandhi and institutionalised religion. He advocated a more open attitude towards sexuality which earned him the sobriquet of the “Sex Guru”! He has been accused of giving drugs to Sannyasins. Due to controversies in India he fled to USA. However, in Oregon his commune was accused of many violations and he was deported.
Another Guru is Chandraswami, the tantric who was close to Prime Minister Narasimha Rao. He has been accused of many financial irregularities . In 1996 he was arrested for defrauding a London businessman of $ 100, 000. CBI has also been investigating him for involvement in Rajiv Gandhi murder case as a financier!
Next is Jayendra Saraswati who is the sixty-ninth Shankaracharya of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham. Kanchi seer Jayendra Saraswati and his junior Vijayendra are the prime accused in the murder of Sankararaman, the manager of the Varadarajaperumal temple at Kanchipuram, in September 3, 2004.
One of the most famous God Men is the world famous Sathya Sai Baba of Puttaparthi. He was the most famous Guru with millioms of followers in 126 countries. Often regarded as ‘Bhagwan’, Sathya Sai Baba, who passed away in 2011, ruled the hearts of his devotees through many social service endeavours like building multi-specialty hospitals providing free treatment, schools and colleges among others.However, his life and times were also marked by several serious controversies involving allegations of faking ‘miracles’, sexual abuse and even paedophilia — all of them vociferously refuted by his followers.There also have been allegations of misappropriation of funds in the name of donations in running the Rs 40,000 crore Sathya Sai Baba trust. Moreover, even after the Baba’s demise, trustees found cash of Rs 11.5 crore, 98 kg of gold and silver articles weighing 307 kilograms from his private room, which again raised eyebrows. The money and valuables took 36 hours to be counted.
Finally, we come to the present Guru whose conviction for rape created havoc in Haryana and some other places. Leader of the Dera Sacha Sauda, a socio-spiritual orgnisation, Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh has led his organisation to several Guinness World Records.The spiritual leader and preacher has, in association with the American Society of Echocardiography, created a world record for most cardiac echo tests. He had been found guilty of raping two woman followers and has been sentenced to 10 years in prison. Following this, his followers went on rampage in Haryana and Army had to be called out. He wept in the court and asked for forgiveness!
Apart from these well-known “holy” men, there are numerous others all over the country. It will take a book to describe all of them. The main reason for the phenomenal growth of these pseudo-Gurus is political patronage and the lack of true faith in the ultimate being among the masses. They get taken in by these Gurus who claim to be nearer to God. One does not need a lawyer to plead before the Almighty. Basically all religions preach approaching the Highest Being directly. These Gurus exploit the weakness of the masses. In fact, the followers of these Gurus are massive vote banks! There is urgent need to investigate all the Ashrams, Trusts and other organisations claiming to be closer to God Almighty through the National Investigation Agency. Many skeletons may fall from the cupboard! In the meantime, the innocent masses will continue to be exploited by these (un-) holy men!
Mohammad Ashraf, I.A.S. (Retired), Former Director General Tourism, Jammu & Kashmir