Interesting side note: I’ve been getting tons of negative commentary from Asaram supporters on my Facebook page for posting this article. Like most devotees of these conman gurus, they are rabidly invested in trying to prove their masters are innocent of all crimes and, in fact, are God realized saints living on earth. These people have invested so much, including their hearts, minds, souls, and money, to these fake gurus. They cannot accept the fact that they made a monumental mistake. As a result, obsessed devotee fans of these conmen are a huge part of the problem, because they help the gurus commit the crimes—knowingly or unknowingly.
Asaram was arrested after my two ex-gurus had been arrested—and one of them convicted of child molestation in Texas USA. Kripalu, who got off of his rape charges in Trinidad & Tobago (under questionable circumstances — think: huge payoffs), returned to India a free man. However, he was never again free in his mind. From then until he died (at the hand of his own followers, who were sick of him and the threat he posed to the rest of them), he was obsessed with two things: the fear of being arrested and the need to make more money to pay off as many people as possible to stay out of jail.
And, it isn’t that religious leaders don’t speak out. They are an articulate set of people who weigh on a host of other topics such as population explosion, terrorism, divorce laws, cow-slaughter, beef-eating, "love jihad", girls doing yoga, whether girls should wear jeans, secularism, role of women in society, eating chowmein, influence of western culture, mobile usage by girls, Pakistan, whether Padmavati was assaulted by Allauddin Khilji, and whether Babur destroyed a Ram temple to build a mosque, to name a few.
These holy men and women of piety, who command the devotion of millions belonging to every cross-section of our polity, are perhaps the largest set of influencers in India. And they are not limited by technology either as they have been long present in every village and neighbourhood of the country.On a daily basis, we allow them to guide us owing to their almost irreplaceable position as interface between god and godliness, and us. And yet, these influencers — from an ordinary pandit or a maulvi with a handful of followers of him or his place of worship — to the largest temples, mosques, ashrams and madrasas, choose to sit silent on issues that directly affect the overall development of Indian society.
Why is it that we don’t hear them or see them say or do anything substantial about malnutrition, child marriage, caste-based violence, male preference, or, the culture of violence against women, which at present is dominating the public discourse in the country?
Another leading Hindu saint who has not broken her silence is Mata Amritanandamayi, also known as the "hugging saint".
Like many others of her ilk, she regularly donates to disaster-relief, and other philanthropic causes but, despite her national reach and acceptance, she has not been able to utter a single word in public denouncing the toxic masculinity that underlies the culture of violence against women.
If you have an excess of power in a situation, you’re at risk of becoming an asshole. One thing I’ve learned is that great differences in power bring out the worst in us.
‘Many people who possess information against Amma are terrified to come forward’
When Australian writer Gail Tredwell’s book Holy Hell: A Memoir of Faith, Devotion and Pure Madness was published last November, it sent shockwaves among the devotees of Mata Amritanandamayi, popularly known as the ‘hugging saint’. Based on her 20-year experience at Amma’s ashram, Tredwell’s book exposed some ugly truths about physical abuse and embezzlement of funds. The book triggered a chain of reactions, which resulted in the Kerala Police filing cases against some Facebook users for allegedly “posting and sharing defamatory materials against Amma”. In a candid chat with Jeemon Jacob, Tredwell talks about her tell-all book.
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.
All Indians, whether Christian, Muslim, Parsi, Buddhist, Jain or Hindu, carry some vestiges of the caste system in them. Caste and casteism have been carried to every corner of the globe to which the Indian diaspora migrated. Our caste prejudices manifest themselves most clearly in the matrimonial newspaper columns, where prospective brides and grooms of all religions are sought for traditional marriage alliances. Caste and skin colour are the most important criteria for admitting a strange woman into that most intimate circle, the home and the family. The woman who will bring forth children to perpetuate the line must almost always be fair-skinned and of the same caste. The exceptions to this rule are very rare.
A conspicuous aspect of the cult of the guru, which was evident during the satsang was the global reach and international character of the guru himself. […] A lady follower also claimed that Gurusaab was very fond of wearing designer shoes and clothes, and encouraged his followers to be well-dressed and spend their money ‘well’. […] The guru wished them to live well and aim for a better material life as well. His followers, therefore, are able to occupy both spaces of spirituality and materiality, charity and extravagance, without having to choose between the two; a form of teaching which is certainly conducive and appealing to their elite lifeworlds.
To then witness such a ritual, especially amongst the super-rich of Delhi who are known for their privacy and exclusivity, was exciting, perplexing, and revealing. […] To me, this demonstrated a deep sense of trust and bond with each other, a sort of shared class culture or habitus regarding the affections that mark elite lives, for they knew that each elite family sitting in that space had similar struggles and anxieties relating to business, marriage alliances, and desiring for male heirs.
In this sense, this religious or spiritual practice reiterated class and therefore exclusionary boundaries for it cultivated a space of expression of similar class position related anxieties and the unsaid rule of keeping it all within themselves, that is, their particular class fraction.