Sultan M Hali
INDIAN socio political milieu is deeply influenced by a wide array of Gurus or godsmen as they are known as.
Some of them are genuine spiritual leaders and holy men, who spend their time in piety and good deeds while there are scores of self-proclaimed godsmen, who gain popularity, amass wealth, a large following but indulge in nefarious deeds and harm their disciples morally and physically. The list of controversial Gurus is endless: Ann Schaufuss, Asaram Bapu, Baba Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, Baba Ramdev, Balak Brahmachari, Chandraswami, Ganga Bhajan Kaur, Jayandra Saraswati, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao, Nirmal Baba, Pawan Diwan, Prabhat Ranjan Sarkar, Prakashanand Saraswati, Premananda or Trichy Sai Baba, Radhe Maa, Rampal, Sudhanshu Maharaj, Swami Bhimanand Ji, Swami Nityananda, Sai Baba (Sathya) of Puttaparthi, Sawami Sadachari, and Syed Gulzar to name a few.
The Akhil Bharatiya Akhara Parishad (All India Akhara Council) is the apex organization of Hindu Sants (saints) and Sadhus (ascetics) in India. The ABAP is composed of 14 Akharas, or organizations of Hindu sants and sadhus. One such notorious character, Asumal Sirumalani Harpalani, known as Asaram Bapu was held guilty of raping a 16 year old girl by a Jodhpur court on 25 April 2018. Asaram Bapu came in the limelight in the early 1970s; he gradually established over 400 ashrams in India and abroad and was popular with politicians, celebrities and common people for his religious discourses (pravachan). His preachings have also allegedly led to a rise in gang rape incidents, especially after his controversial but shocking statement that the 23-year-old victim of the infamous Delhi gang rape could have saved herself if she had addressed her attackers as “brothers” and chanted “Sarawai Mantra”. In 2008, two minor boys of his Ashram in Ahmadabad were found dead in the Sabarmati riverbed two days after they mysteriously went missing from the gurukul.
Asaram Bapu was denied bail as the prosecution lawyer claimed during the proceedings that Asaram suffers from pedophilia, a disease which is characterized by sexual interest towards children. In December 2013, Asaram’s son Narayan Sai was also arrested on charges of rape, after two sisters from Surat alleged that he and his father had raped them in Asaram’s ashram during the mid-2000s. The elder sister accused Asaram of repeated sexual assaults during 1997–2006 at the Motera ashram. The younger sister accused Narayan Sai of sexually assaulting her during 2002–2005 at the Surat ashram. One of the sisters also alleged that Asaram’s wife and daughter helped the two men exploit the girls. Asaram had dismissed the girl’s allegations and went on to claim impotency as an alibi, which was subsequently rejected after he passed the Potency test. He has since been in jail and has been denied bail 12 times.
On 25 April 2018, Asaram was pronounced guilty of the charges and imprisoned for life with a fine of Rs. 5 Lakh to be paid to the victim in the Jodhpur case. Two of his associates were awarded 20 years imprisonment. Readers may recall the case of Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh Insan, the head of the Indian social group Dera Sacha Sauda (DSS) since 1990. “The Indian Express” had placed Ram Rahim 96th in their list of the 100 most powerful Indians of 2015. He has released several music albums and films, which typically revolve around himself and his teachings. On 25 August 2017, Ram Rahim was convicted of rape by a special Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) court. His conviction led to widespread violence from members of the DSS , which left 38 DSS members dead from clashes with police and another 300 injured. On 28 August 2017, Ram Rahim was sentenced to 20 years in jail for rape. He has also faced prosecution for murder and ordering forced castrations.
Rajasthan’s famed ‘Falahari Baba’, charged with raping a 21-year-old law student at his ashram in Alwar, was arrested and is facing a trial. The woman, whose parents have been followers of Falahari Baba for years, has alleged that she was assaulted at his lavish ashram in Rajasthan’s Alwar on 7 August 2017. She was allegedly told that the Baba couldn’t meet anyone during an “eclipse” and asked to stay the night. The woman told the police that the Baba called her at night to his room and assaulted her. Another self-styled Godman Baba Siya Ram Das of Udaseen Akhara in Uttar Pradesh landed into police custody on charges of rape. Self-proclaimed Baba Siya Ram Das was believed to be associated with Udaseen Akhara, a prominent Akhara of Hindu sadhus and saints.
Baba Siya Ram Das is having a sprawling 250 acres Ashram in Mishrikh. He also runs a girls school. His lady disciple Mintu Singh is the principal of the school. After rape, the victim was sent to Agra Ashram where she was kept for about eight months before returning to Mishrikh Ashram again. The victim has also revealed that Baba was running a sexual racket in the Ashram through the School. Common folk in India as well as Pakistan will continue to suffer at the hands of fake spiritual leaders, who will exploit their weak beliefs and harm them bodily. Unfortunately, many political leaders in both India and Pakistan throng to such spiritual leaders, in the hope of gaining political ascendancy. Such high profile references enable the charlatans and fake spiritual leaders to enhance their image and hoodwink their disciples.
—The writer is retired PAF Group Captain and a TV talk show host.