As a further thought, I have never been able to fathom how much my seemingly True-Believing family actually buys whole-heartedly into the cult belief systems and how much is purely fear-driven cowardice.
I have not been able to fathom that because although intelligent, my family members are scrupulous about not examining the issue, the denial is absolute. This is obviously a result of fear of the consequences should they allow the denial to crack.
Having suffered the consequences, I have some understanding of why they take this view. I also don't consider that I lack that fear-driven cowardice, it was purely a personal survival issue for me so there was no real choice--the danger of staying being greater to me than that of fleeing. I was subject to the same fears and cowardice as my family members but as my circumstances were different, was forced into coming to a different conclusion.
Though the common misconception is that only crazy, unstable, or weird people join cults, a paper published in the Cultic Studies Journal* by Janja Lalich has shown that most cult members are of above-average intelligence, come from stable backgrounds, and do not have a history of psychological illness.
“Cult leaders and cult recruiters tend to capture the hearts, minds, and souls of the best and brightest in our society,” the research says.
“But I was so sure,” she says. “I felt so strongly about joining a spiritual group to spread happiness and peace through meditation and spirituality.” Soon, she became part of a select group of people who worked closely with the godman and looked after the running of his empire.
It was a big privilege to touch his belongings. One day, I was told that I could clean his room. From then on, I would clean his room every day. During one such occasion, he was there in the room. He hugged me. Not in a way a guru would, but just as a man would hug a woman he was interested in.
A terrified Veena ran out. But she was summoned again, and the guru ‘explained’ to her that mere mortals like her saw ‘human bodies’, while he only saw the soul.
He told me that every avatar of god would find another soul who needed to be elevated. Like Krishna found Radha and blessed her soul. I was his Radha, he said. Normally, after a session, he would hug a few chosen disciples. This included children, young, middle-aged and old people. We were constantly told that he was only touching our soul.
For months, what Veena went through was mental conditioning. She was told that the guru’s touch was only for a select lucky few who were very spiritual souls. The hug had soon progressed to sex and Veena was coerced to believe that it was a path to salvation. She was given the guru’s special blessing whenever he desired it.
“Though he would hug a few of us, he told me not to tell others about our relationship. I was the special one, the only one who was blessed to be his soul mate (have intercourse with him),” she says.
The state of affairs went on for several years. As a young educated woman, why did Veena not walk away from there? Can this be considered sexual assault or rape? Over the years, many have asked her this.
This is how a cult works; this is how power structures work. It was ingrained into us that the guru was supreme and worldly pleasures meant nothing to him. Every time the abuse happened, he would tell me that my soul had become a bit more elevated and I was almost at the next level.
The Bhagavatham and other revered Hindu scriptures were constantly quoted to her. “I was told that though I was a special soul, I was not discovered by a guru in my previous births.”
Wiping Out Evidence
The guru, however, was a clever man, who ensured that there was no trace of evidence. In many cases in India and throughout the world, it has been well documented how such gurus wipe out evidence.
Premananda Swamy convicted in 2005 would facilitate abortions. Aravindan Balakrishnan (a Maoist cult leader) established himself as someone who could control nature and it was proved in a court in UK that he would first isolate victims from families so that they never betrayed his secrets. He was convicted of six counts of indecent assaults and four counts of rape in 2015.