Religion is probably the most complex human phenomenon. From Centuries philosophers have tried to understand and define it. Different commentators have emphasized on its many facets. Probably one of its most comprehensive understanding of this phenomenon has been put forward by Karl Marx, when he writes “Man makes Religion…This state, this society produce religion, a reversed World consciousness, because they are a reversed World…Religion is the reversed theory of the World, its encyclopedic compendium, its logic in a popular form…religion is the sigh of oppressed creature, the heart of heartless World, just as it is the spirit of spiritless situation. It is opium of the people.”
From its last sentence phrase, ‘opium of the people’ has become very popular, but it does not give the total picture. The richness of this formulation has remained untapped particularly its ‘sigh of oppressed creature’ has not been explored much. All this comes to one’s mind when one is witnessing the intervention of religion in an aggressive form in most spheres of life. On one hand we see that the politics to control oil resources comes up in the name of ‘Islamic terrorism’, nationalism has been mixed up with religion, there is intensification of blind faith and at yet another level we have proliferation of Godmen, a phenomenon just a few decades old, becoming stronger in last three decades in particular.
While religion did have multiple roles all through, the major one had been that of the clergy on one hand and Saints on the other. Clergy was with those in power (King-Pope, Raja-Rajguru and Nawab-Shahi Imam) and saints like the Bhakti and Sufi in India stood with the average people talking-practicing humanism and opposing the social inequality. The present phenomenon of Godmen is unique in more ways than one. In the changed political scenario their role is not exactly of the clergy of previous centuries. They have support base in rich and not so rich both. While they talk of moral and spiritual language most of them do have an underbelly where lot of suspicious activities can be discerned very clearly.
Taking the process of trying to dodge law for their illegal activities has been the norm with many of them. We see a new process in Swami Nityanand. He was born A. Raja Sekharan and adorned the saffron robes to become Nityanad. Has large following within and outside India. He was involved in rape and murder cases like many other of his ilk. Unlike others who first tried to avoid the arms of law, he chose another path, founding a new country. Nityanand bought an Island, near Trinidad and Tobago, from Equador, on the West Coast of South America and declared it to be ‘Hindu Nation’ and named it Kailassa, a place where persecuted Hindus can buy citizenship with heavy fees and will be able to practice the Hindu religion.
It already has made its national flag, national languages and other symbols with web site in toe. It has named its Prime Minster and a Cabinet which will take the decisions about the affairs of this Hindu nation. One is not much aware of Godmen like tendencies in Islam or Christianity barring the likes of Benny Hinn while politics in the name of Islam, Islamic Fundamentalism, and Christian Fundamentalism and Buddhist fundamentalism are flourishing particularly in the World, more so in West and South Asia.
Prior to Nityanand we had seen how first Asaram Bapu and then Gurmeet Ram Rahim Insaan were arrested with great difficulty. Hundreds died when Ram Rahim was arrested. One journalist of courage, Chatrapti Ramchandra was murdered as he was bringing out the happenings of Dera Sacha Sauda, the empire of Ram Rahim Singh Insaan. Gurmeet was given lakhs in donation by Haryana BJP Government, and the whole Cabinet of the previous ministry visited Dera to seek his blessings. In Asaram’s Ashram also there was a beeline of political heavy weights including our present Prime Minster.
Swami Nityanand has the backing of powerful money bags, many from Gujarat. Apart from the affluent followers the average people also follow these paddlers of faith. Those who died while protesting against the arrest of their Guru were average people. Recently while on way to Panipat, from the road my escort told me that just a small distance from the road, is the jail where Gurmeet is lodged. His devotees while travelling; stop on the spot near the jail; pay their respect before proceeding to their further journey. More than other things what shook me was the brutal murder of brave journalist Ramchandra, who despite threats to his life carried on with what a journalist should do, reveal the truth about Gurmeet.
Sexual escapades of these Godmen can fill volumes and their victims, have painful tales to tell. There are others in this groups who specialize in different tricks. We had Satya sai baba, sitting over and empire of hundreds of crores, we have seen the Yoga Guru Ramdev making a transition from Yoga to Patanjali enterprise and being counted among the rich entrepreneurs of the country. The Godwomen are few but they are very much there, Mata Amritanand Mayee, Radhe Maa being two such, who have made headlines on occasions.
Surely social scientists do need to burn the midnight oil to tell us what this new phenomenon means for the society. While those named here are the leading biggies, surely there are hundreds of them flourishing in their business right under the patronage of the state and the affluent of the society, which is mostly looking away. The political parties ignore their violations with an eye on the vote bank. All this is happening in the name of faith, religion. Critiquing them does not gel well with the powers that be or the large sections of society, which are in the awe of the powers apparently spiritual, but more then that the social powers, which insulate them despite their illegal and immoral deeds.
Ram Puniyani was a professor in biomedical engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, and took voluntary retirement in December 2004 to work full time for communal harmony in India. He is involved with human rights activities from last two decades.He is associated with various secular and democratic initiatives like All India Secular Forum, Center for Study of Society and Secularism and ANHAD. Response only to firstname.lastname@example.org