Law Caught Up With Ram Rahim & Asaram, but India’s ‘Godmen’ Rot Runs Deeper
The justice system is finally bringing to book babas who thought they were invincible, but it’s work half-done.
The Indians’ fascination with godmen is legendary. No matter how venal they are, the faith in their so-called divinity and magical powers is pretty much unshakeable. Even so, in some instances at least, fake gurus and charlatans who run dens of corruption in their ashrams and commit rape and murder in the name of God are getting their just desserts.
A recent case in point is Baba Ram Rahim Singh, the founder of the Dera Sacha Sauda sect, and once the darling of multiple politicians of north India. This week, a special Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) court sentenced Singh and four others to life imprisonment for the murder of a manager of the sect, who was shot dead in 2002 because he had circulated an anonymous letter accusing the Dera chief of sexually exploiting his female followers.
Ram Rahim Singh has, of course, been in jail since 2017, and is already serving a 20-year sentence for raping two women disciples.
The Wide Playing Field of Bearded Babas
Another case of a religious leader caught with his pants down is playing out in the courts now. In 2018, a 43-year-old nun in Kerala accused Father Franco Mulakkal, then Bishop of Jalandhar, of raping her several times between 2014 and 2016. The nun, a member of the Missionaries of Jesus congregation of the Roman Catholic Church in Punjab, had complained to the church authorities earlier, but to no avail.
The police dragged their feet over arresting Mulakkal, who claimed that the nun had fabricated the charge because he had found her committing financial misdemeanours. But despite strong pushback from the church and the congregation, and an obvious attempt to protect him while discrediting and vilifying the rape survivor, Mulakkal, who was subsequently stripped of his bishopric, is now being tried on charges of assault and rape.
The question is, will the wheels of justice grinding against a Baba Ram Rahim Singh or a Franco Mulakkal, or, indeed, an Asaram Bapu — once a hugely influential godman who is serving a life sentence for raping a minor girl — be enough to knock the blinkers off those who are in thrall to charming conmen masquerading as men of God?
And will it restrict the playing field of bearded ‘Babas’ who run enormous business empires and those who think nothing of committing rape and worse because they feel their acts are sanctified by the religious robes they wear?
Suave Swamis Riding on Blind Devotion
The idea of devotion to a spiritual guru — someone who is part philosopher, part religious lawgiver and part advisor — is deeply ingrained in the Indian psyche. It is not for nothing that the country is known as the land of sadhus and yogis, of mystics and margdarshaks (guides), who can lead you to a better life and a higher plane of existence.
The flip side of this terrific, mass yearning for spiritual guidance is that those who know how to offer it effectively wield phenomenal influence over their followers. And that makes this whole business ripe for exploitation by suave swamis, who, riding on the faith and devotion they inspire, are then able to build up their religious empire, their network of ashrams, and amass huge wealth and a string of mighty friends and followers. The descent to all manner of corruption and vice is only a short step from there.
In an earlier era, ‘godmen’ like Dhirendra Brahmachari and Chandraswami held sway, and thanks to their powerful friends — Indira Gandhi was an ardent disciple of Brahmachari — they became shrewd wheeler-dealers, known more for their mega business deals, fraudulent activities and king-sized lifestyle than for their so-called spirituality.
Yet, they largely went unpunished for their manifold crimes.
A Lot Remains to be Done
While it would be a stretch to say that India’s judicial system has improved significantly from the days of Dhirendra Brahmachari and Chandraswami, it is heartening to see that some Babas and religious leaders are no longer being allowed to get away with their misdeeds.
But here’s the thing: though it is laudable that rape and murder committed by these false men of god are attracting the punishment they deserve, let us not forget that swamis who build up gigantic business empires by flouting regulations and profiting from unholy political patronage are also criminally culpable.
Until the long arm of the law catches up with these wily godmen as well, the work of the state moving against unscrupulous, criminally-inclined Babas is only half-done.
(Shuma Raha is a journalist and author. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author's own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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