Death of two students of Gurukul (traditional schools run by Hindu Gurus) of Asaram Bapu's Ashram (July 2008) has raised multiple questions. The children staying in the Ashram were missing for some time before being found dead near the river. The post mortem showed that some of their organs were missing. The parents of the children accused the Ashram residents for practicing black magic and removing children's organs. Asaram in reply said that the residents of his ashram hear Bhagvat and other holy books, how they can be involved in such an act and that they won't even kill a dog. Later two related events took place. One, when Asaram had to travel by air and as a part of security drill he was frisked second time, a random check applied some times, his followers created ruckus. The listeners of Bhagvat etc. rampaged and expressed their anger for the Holy man being subjected to the mundane rules. Also the same ashramites attacked the journalists, severely beating up a woman journalist, who had to be hospitalised. So much for the Bhagvat induced tolerant attitude!
This holy man has lot of other incidents to his account. In Jhabua area his female Sadhvis beat up the nuns in the Christian mission school when a 13 year old girl was raped and killed by an outsider, who had nothing to do with the school. The same Holy seer sat on protest dharana when Shankaracharya was arrested on the charges, which were far from divine. An act of solidarity indeed! An FIR has also been filed against him for grabbing one and a half acre of land in Patna. He has a vast network of devotees and followers, even his disciples are giving pravachans (holy discourse), keeping his photo in the backdrop. He is in the race for the most popular Godman, along with Sri Sri Ravishaker, Baba Ramdeo, amongst others.
His is not an isolated case. While these three top godmen are very visible, they are not the only ones. This phenomenon is sprawling and one can see them mushrooming every where with ever increasing following. Recently in Kerala one godman created scene when arrested by police. Shakarachraya's Ashram also showed lot of muck in its cupboard. Surely this is the most proliferating phenomenon in recent times marching parallel with increase in the religiosity and might of RSS at social and political level.
There are types and types of godmen but still one can say that majority of them are politically close to the RSS/VHP/BJP combine. Asaram Bapu sat on dharana along with Vajpayee et al and recently. Sri Sri Ravishanker and Baba Ramdeo were all praises for Advani while releasing his autobiography, which justifies the politics of Hate and his own role in that. They subtly spread the message that minorities are violent as they consume meat etc. forgetting that the most violent person of all the time Hitler was a vegetarian. And the followers of these godmen are mercurial in their temper and aggressive in their stance. Another such 'Holy man, Narendra Mahraj's followers also created trouble when he was not permitted to carry his holy staff in the aeroplane. They were also involved in the attack on nuns in Alibaug, these nuns were doing the AIDS awareness work and that was presented as 'conversion' a pretext enough to beat them up.
When these godmen are giving such peaceful sermons and eating satvik food, (food creating peaceful tendencies as per them), how are they so violent? According to traditional system of medicine type of food determines the nature of man. So Muslims the meat eaters are violent and the vegetarian Hindu are tolerant, that's how the social common sense says here. This has been the part of demonisation of Muslims. Violence is due to the ideas and underlying premises of the teachings they imbibe. They listen to the exclusionary discourse, Hindus are under threat is part of the preaching of many of these and some of them are deliberately planted in Adivasi areas to scare the Christian missionaries away. Lakkhanand in Orissa and Aseemanand in Dangs, Gujarat are two examples of that. They have been attacking the missionary work in the area of education and health. Incidentally in these areas around Christmas time, attacks are organised against churches and priests.
Along with the adverse effects of globalisation the rise of these Holy men can clearly be seen. One was surprised to note that some of these Babas, (holy men) claiming to renounce the worldly goods are extremely prosperous themselves and have such a rich clientele that they can undertake an expensive month long luxury cruise along with these holy people and listen to the divine discourse in the midst of sea waves. Also there is a very impressive self designed dress code for them. While one need understand this phenomenon at deeper level what can be said off hand is that their ashrams and activities should be within the parameters of law, subject to the usual checks and balances of a civic society. In case of Brinda Karat raising questions about the composition of medicines being produced by his factory, Baba' followers were aghast as to how can ordinary mortal raise such question about the Baba. To assert that the laws of the land should not be applied to them cannot be acceptable in society and polity. To reduce the fraud which is seeping in many of these Ashrams, it will be worth its while to inculcate voluntary social audit, based on ethical values and laws of Indian society. All those involved in the death of these children and beating up of journalists must be subjected to the punishment due to them.
One has seen many a types of saints. During medieval period the Bhakti and Sufi saints stood for reform of society, emphasised on moral values of religion and included all in the fold of their community. They talked against blind faith and emphasised on the unity of all human beings. That's why we see that people cutting across religions flocked them. Today it seems that a large genre of those wearing holy robes are revivalists, pushing back the social values and exclusionary in their approach to the society. Their main focus is on giving calm and tranquility to the affluent, to be close to those with money and power. They are mute against the evil practices of untouchability, bride burning and manifest caste system.
Their association with politics of RSS combine clearly gives an indication as to how they prepare the ground for their societal agenda. We do need to emphasise on reform of the society, to look at dogmas and blind faith critically and to ensure that society develops in a humane direction. Some of them dish out the RSS ideology in a more sophisticated way, with the halo of divine sermon. While one appreciates their social welfare work, one will like that transparency is brought into their operations and medicines they produce should be regulated by the laws of the land. Can one expect that the tragic incidents of Asaram's Ashram will open our eyes to be more vigilant about their deeds?