September 26, 2017   
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Game Changing Verdicts

SPRITUALITY,  SEX &  scam

By Poonam I Kaushish 

Phew! Three momentous judgments in a short week! All game changers which will have rippling effects for times to come. One, the practice of triple talaq was struck down as “void and illegal” by Supreme Court because it was against the basic tenets of Quran. Two, it upheld privacy as a Fundamental Right and last but not least, a CBI court convicted a Godman for rape. Three cheers for the judiciary!

Undoubtedly, the 3:2 verdict declaring talaq-e-bidat as “unconstitutional” by a Bench headed by Chief Justice Kehar will unshackle 21 Century Muslim women trapped in archaic medieval Personal Laws. Thereby, not only giving a leg up to equality before law and protection against discrimination on the basis of her gender but also underscoring Islamic feminism as modern.

Indeed path-breaking was the unanimous nine-judge Bench 547-page ruling upholding the right to privacy as a Fundamental Right overruling its earlier judgments of 1954 and 1962. The Court observed that privacy is intrinsic to freedom of life and personal liberty guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution. Recall 92-year-old ex Justice K S Puttaswamy had challenged the Centre’s move to make Aadhaar mandatory to benefit from social and welfare schemes.

Undeniably, this judgment will have bearing in matters relating to decriminalization of homosexuality, a person’s choice to practice religion, eat, how to dress, whom to associate with in their personal, social or political life as also right to dissent, criticize and tolerance.  The Government could place limited restrictions on grounds of national security, sovereignty and public order.

But it is the third verdict which has brought three States to a grinding halt. When a CBI special trial court in Panchkula held Dera Sacha Sauda Chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim guilty of raping two female followers in 2002. And all hell broke loose with lakhs of followers turning violent, creating mayhem leaving over 30 dead, 200 injured and counting. Consequently Punjab and Haryana cancelled trains, schools and colleges shut, internet and cable TV disconnected with pleas for peace falling on deaf ears.

Notably, the Dera Chief is no regular Godman.  He glides through the air dressed in pink robes in his promotional videos and in real life rides powerful souped up bikes to congregations, travels in a 200-car ‘Love Charger’s convoy the persona as flashy as the vehicle itself.  This ‘Baba of Bling’ is a curious amalgam of reel and real God and superstar and has starred in two movies, Messenger of God (MSG) and its sequel, MSG2.

Arguably, what is it about self-styled Godmen whom people blindly worship in the belief they have magical healing powers that will cure them of illness, drive out evil spirits, solve problems with tantra-mantra and lead to redemption. Sans logic and rationale masses are lured with sermons,  jagrans and succors for miracles wherein Guruji connects them to a ‘hotline’ that they believe will take them to God and find instant solutions. Faith in the unreasonable and irrational remains firm.

This art of performing chamatkars has propelled the Baba business to an endemic cultic industry flourishing across villages, towns and metros wherein radio and TV channels are paid to telecast their sermons and assemblies. Millions are in thrall of these smooth-talking “Godmen” who have built vast empires preying on their gullibility

Exploitation is the name of the game whereby Swamis are rarely held accountable by their devotees. Consequently, modern Babas have been found to harbour a fondness for money, outright sexual abuse and fame. While some love to wield the political axe others have corporate connections.

Alas, despite his arrest and fall from grace the 50-year old Dera Chief is not the first to be embroiled in a rape case. His compatriot Asaram Bapu who has 425 ashrams and over 50 gurukuls languishes in Jodhpur jai for raping a minor girl in 2013. Sant Rampal a rags-to-riches junior engineer who owns a fleet of luxury cars, wealth and a private militia outfit is followed by over 25 lakhs in the Hindu heartland. Even post his arrest for sedition in 2014 his Facebook and You Tube page is overflowing.

Remember how self-styled Guru Swami Nityanand’s  got caught in a sexual escapade with an actress which went viral on social media opening floodgates of sexual exploitation by female followers. A search of his ashram led to seisure of condoms and ganja.

Ditto cases of Bhubaneshwar’s Sarthi  Baba and Nirmal Baba arrested for fraud, cheating and blackmailing young women with their nude photos taken from hidden cameras in their ashram. What to speak of the 23-year-old law student in Kerala who took revenge on a Godman who had sexually abused her for years by cutting off his penis.

Then there is controversial Godman-tantric Chandraswami who was an influential powerbroker during ex-Prime Minister Narasimha Rao rein and the “spiritual Guru” of former British Premier Margaret Thatcher, Elizabeth Taylor and underworld don Dawood Ibrahim. He fell from grace when his name cropped up in Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination case.  Arrested in 1996 for duping a London bussinessman he died in May.

‘Bhagwan’, Sathya Sai Baba was revered by many Presidents, Prime Ministers and powerful in his long list of devotees. When he died in 2011 his wealth was estimated at over Rs 40,000 crores.  True, he built multi-specialty hospitals provided free treatment and schools but his life was marked by serious controversies, faking ‘miracles’, sexual abuse and even pedophilia. Who can forget “Sex Guru” Rajneesh who discouraged marriage and children and saw families as prone to dysfunction.

Of course, Baba Ramdev and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar are the current hot favourites of the ruling BJP dispensation and Opposition alike.The former is known for popularising yoga boastfully claiming to cure cancer, has a vast business empire encompassing ayurvedic medicines, toiletries etc and has been very vocal about political issues.

Politicians love and flock to Godmen. Not only as the soothsayer of their fortunes and fame but also because his captive followers provide committed vote-banks whereby the become power centres of changing events. An example: Modi’s anti-corruption crusade drew in Baba Ramdev and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, both played influential roles. Said  Ravi Shankar , “We cannot sit back ..we have to take action…play role of reformers, not rulers.

As the Dera Chief incident underscores the chickens have come home to roost for our leaders. Scandalously,  he was provided with Z+security.Why? And both the Punjab and Haryana Administration looked the other way his devotees continued to flock. Recall, prior to the 2014 elections even Prime Minister Modi and his ardent Sangh followers made a beeline to Sirsa to solicit is blessings and votes. Worse, three Ministers of the Khattar Government have donated Rs 51 laks each from their discretionary funds.

What next? Clearly this social malaise must be identified and addressed. True, swamidom is clearly a massive emotional, spiritual lever and vote leveler. Our nets must desist from succumbing to them which makes entire Governments beholden and vulnerable to such exploiters emboldening them to think they are above the law.

It is doubtful whether the ubiquitous Guru will scale down his influence and step off the elevator to Heaven which everyone is scrambling to get on. People need to realize that they are worshipping false gods who are as vulnerable and fallible as any one. In the end what counts is not how bad the Godman is. Time to get rid of them.—- INFA

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)