The harsh truth about India’s charlatans
(Partial quote - article deserves to be read in full)
Dera members a(Rahim Singh's followers)are overwhelmingly Sikhs.
A key message of Sikhism — equality among the faithful — has in the past inspired people from the lower Hindu castes to convert. But so deep is the prejudice in Indian society that many converted Sikhs found that their new co-religionists of higher castes, who dominate the faith’s official religious bodies, treated them no better than Hindus had.Faced with an entrenched status quo, many Sikhs of less privileged backgrounds became disillusioned. Their feelings of anger and helplessness, compounded by poor education and soaring unemployment, often drove them toward alcohol and drugs.
For these desperate people, the Dera Sachha Sauda and its charismatic leader — not to mention the several other, mostly smaller Deras dotting Punjab and Haryana — emerged as saviors. The Dera offered free education to its members and their children and free food for the hungry. It kept the faithful off drugs and provided employment in its enterprises, offering not only a livelihood, but also a sense of meaning and purpose. It thus delivered to its followers that most precious and intangible of human needs: A sense of worth and belonging.
Politicians played along with the Deras, which helped to maintain social peace, tamp down discontent and channel frustrations toward constructive activity. The Deras helped reduce addiction, replaced anomie with community, and redirected despair to spirituality. So, rather than repudiate them as dangerous cults, successive governments rushed to embrace them.
The loyalty the Deras inspire among their members should not be underestimated. There is, of course, the religious fervor that accompanies affiliation with a spiritual guru. But at the heart of a Dera’s appeal is social and economic security, the ability to fulfill people’s basic needs. In Singh’s case, where government and civil society failed, an apparent charlatan succeeded.
That success mattered far more than Singh’s flaws. People who were willing to lend their wives and daughters to their guru, for the sake of the security he offered, could not understand why the same “blessing,” extended to the two girls, should land him in jail. As a commenter put it on Facebook: “A lost man does not care if a rapist gives him direction. A hungry man will take food from a murderer’s hand.”
Many Indians lament that such blind religious devotion should thrive in their country in the second decade of the 21st century, but it raises far more troubling questions than that.
The episode shows that India’s much-touted economic development has shallow roots, as it has failed to deliver caste equality and social justice to the underclasses.
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