India is a plural society comprising people belonging to different cultures, regions, religions and ethnicities. It has a rich history of inclusive character evident through its accommodation as well assimilation of religions and cultures arising outside its own territory. In spite of such an array of plurality, India has stood out as one of the successful democracies in the world. The conceptual resources referring to the presence of values like tolerance, justice, compassion form an important aspect of the cultural traditions of India. One of these concepts is the existence of Guru- Shishya relationship. Almost every religion in India has some concept of presence of a teacher acting as a guide towards knowledge of the Supreme Being. In Hinduism, the Vedas and Upanishads (religious texts of Hindus) do refer to the role of Guru to impart spiritual and literary knowledge to his disciples. A Guru not only guides his disciple to the fulfillment of his spiritual journey but also guides him in the day to day course of his life. The Gurus claiming to have acquired mystic knowledge also proclaim to be having the status of Godmen, helping their disciples not only to obtain spiritual knowledge but also play a major role in resolving their day to day problems. Sudhir Kakkar, a psychoanalyst and author writes, “Godmen are not uniquely Indian though India seems to be their natural habitat. A major reason for the existence of the Godman is the belief in his power as a healer, of emotional suffering as much as bodily affliction.” In the history of India, while many such Gurus through their sheer dint of hard work, meditation and service have played an important part in the betterment of society (especially Bhakti and Sufi saints), some of self proclaimed Godmen as well as Godwomen have tried to appropriate their selfish gains by misleading large number of people.

The recent conviction of Gurmeet Ram Rahim of the Dera Sacha Sauda for sexual violence not only depicts the exploitation of religious sentiments of the people but also a disservice to the efforts of saints who have actually worked for the progress of the society. It was more surprising to witness his follower’s refusal to accept court’s verdict who in the wake of anger took resort to violence by destroying public property. Therefore, the real question to be asked is why these fake Godmen are able to garner huge following by the people and why is it difficult for people to accept the unmasked cunning image of these thugs? The answer is more difficult that it seems. Religion in India forms an important aspect of people’s day to day life. The idea of a supreme entity much higher than this materialistic world forms the main concept whereby a constant effort to connect with that Supreme Being forms an important aspect of people’s life. These Godmen therefore act as mediators in the attainment of aforementioned being. They also claim to guide people in a way that would help minimizing people’s day to day struggles and problems. The problems arising out of poverty, unemployment, strained familial and social bonds, casteism, inequality, communalism are some of the social realities in India that have not only added misery to the people’s life, but have also resulted in the emergence of these Gurus to be the problem solvers. Unable to deal with the sufferings of life, people find no way but to adhere to the spaces offered by these Godmen as a hope of some respite. In such a scenario, it is difficult for people to accept the tainted character of these Gurus whom they have been revering for long. Such a blind devotion acquired by these Godmen has not only helped them in becoming famous personalities, but has also helped them in making material gains to a large extent.

The other aspect of such phenomenon is the emergence of women as victims inside the ashrams of these Godmen. Distressed by the realities of life, women consider such places as means of finding solace. Service (seva) in such places not only helps them to acquire bread and butter but also acts as safer zones for them to lead less coercive lives. Secondly, their presence in such spaces does not contradict with the societal norms whereby service in such sacred places does not incur any social stigmatization. The sexual exploitation of women as a possible outcome gets eschewed in the wake of blind and irrational devotion. The idealization of Guru as the extraordinary being whose orders ought to be abided by not only victimize women but also create a culture of silence whereby women continue to bear their exploitation within these perceived safer places. However, the case of Gurmeet Ram Rahim or for that matter, Asaram Bapu and others have created an awakening for women to voice out their victimization within spaces known for spiritual knowledge.

India has been a land of saints that have not only made efforts for dispelling wrong myths of the society but have also done a great service by criticizing social evils that are major rudiments in the progress of the nation. However, some people claiming to be Godmen for the sake of self service exploit people’s faith to a great extent. The result is not only the exploitation of people and victimization of women but also a great deal of negation of the efforts of Saints in the service of humanity. One of the major hurdles is also the political support these impostors are able to acquire. Such a support creates a sense of invincibility amongst these Gurus to carry on their exploitative activities. Government must enquire more about such incidences and spaces. At last, the judicial system of India must be applauded in playing a major role in upholding gender justice.

Prety Bhagat is Research Scholar, Jawaharlal Nehru University

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