I can understand we need God, a higher power, a supernatural force to believe in, find succor in, to take refuge in, to be able to take that leap of faith, to blame our miseries on, to thank for the ‘providential escapes’ and last but not least to attribute the myriad and many-splendored ‘miracles’ that we witness during the course of our lives.
What I simply cannot understand though is why we need a human being to represent God or be a conduit between the ‘Almighty’ and us! Is this person an agent of God like we have agents for insurance companies ? Do we really require a human being to sell us the product called religion, read the word of god to us periodically like the periodic mails we receive reminding us of the terms and conditions of our insurance policies (the word of god though is revised by God’s agents often and as expedient), collect the insurance premiums i.e. the several offerings in cash and kind in the name of God and finally help us with escalating our ‘claims’ back to God as and when we feel we need to be reimbursed for misfortunes that betide us. A crass analogy perhaps but an extremely pertinent one you would agree.
We have seen the emergence of many of these Godmen and Godwomen in recent memory and have also seen them metamorphose into thriving personality cults with multi-millon dollar turnovers, sprawling compounds and palatial ashrams, millions of maniacal followers and most importantly and worryingly a secretive code of silence that turns these cults into a state within a state; a black hole of sorts with scant regard for the laws of the land.
These cults have become dangerously powerful owing to several factors. The first one being their legal status of a charitable trust in the books of the taxman. What this means is that these cults or religious entities register themselves as “Charitable Trusts” and then proceed to put out the disclaimer that any offerings both in the form of bullion and cash from anonymous donors (which is the majority of cases in India) cannot be traced back to their donors and therefore doesn’t constitute ‘income’ and hence will be exempt from taxation (owing to this tax loophole that we currently have). The other tax loophole that these cults use is a rather clever and imaginative ploy. They place ‘collection’ boxes outside shops or other business establishments which are in areas that see maximum footfall. The ‘anonymous’ cash that is collected in these ‘hundis’ is then collected by the business owner/shop proprietor and then they in turn write out a cheque to the Charitable trust of the Cult. This is a win-win for both! The shopkeeper is practically the single donor of all this anonymously donated money to the ‘Trust’ and this is then taxed under his/her business’s PAN and consequently the total tax burden for the business owner is drastically reduced by virtue of this substantial ‘charitable donation’. On the other hand, the charitable trust doesn’t pay a single penny in tax to the state exchequer. What a mega-scam!! Just imagine the sheer magnitude of this institutionalized tax evasion considering there are millions of such “trusts” and the odious ‘cults’ who run these fraudulent fronts. We need to reform our tax code with great urgency to eliminate these loopholes that allow such entities to bring in funding and thereby give these ‘dhongis’ the latitude to survive and grow.
Back to the people behind these personality cults. What extra do these god men and women provide to their followers that mainstream religion doesn’t and that which is so appealing initially and captivating ultimately? The mass hysteria observed in many instances simply defies belief and logic where the loyal followers transform into militias and pick up arms to take on rival cults in a battle for supremacy or are ready to risk their lives to try and stop the arrest of their leaders when the law enforcement agencies come knocking without even a scintilla of hesitation and scant regard for the safety of family and self. They treat their ‘gurus’ not as God’s messengers but as Gods themselves (immortals perhaps) who are vested in their opinion with ‘divine powers’. These powers include but are not limited to the ‘divine’ healing touch that doesn’t require the intervention of medical science for curing even terminal diseases like cancer and the ultra-potent ‘aashirwaad’ that never fails to usher in prosperity (samriddhi), reverses all misfortunes in the blink of an eye (sankatmochan) and other ‘supernatural’ boons that can even impregnate women especially ones with fully blocked fallopian tubes or better still ones without an uterus! (santan prapti) And all of this merely by ingesting some holy ash (vibhuti) or some ‘blessed’ fruit (prasad) conjured up by the ‘holy leader’ in plain sight!! Chamatkar!!!! All of these ‘so-called’ benefits (alleged miracles) don’t obviously come without any strings attached. The followers in most cases make hefty cash donations to the front “trusts” of these organizations and on other occasions provide gifts in kind and most importantly pledge their complete loyalty, life and property away to these ‘men and women of God’.
Name them and shame them
Chandraswami who was perhaps India’s top political power broker was also a complicit party in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination and made payments worth millions of dollars to arms dealers. ‘Sant’ Rampal allegedly for whom 12 followers (including women and children) tried self-immolation and some of his supporters opened fire on villagers resulting in casualties. Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh who allegedly had raped a woman and molested some of his women followers also earned his infamy as much for his extravagant lifestyle funded by devotee donations. Asaram Bapu who in jail now for the alleged rape of a girl in his ‘ashram’ as well as the exploitation of two other women by his son and him. Swami Nityananda who was allegedly caught engaging in sexual acts with an actress on video as well as allegations by a former follower of rape and then absconding from the law.
The common threads that tie these ‘Godmen’ together are the obscene pelf they have amassed by pulling the wool over the eyes of their followers, the secretly prodigal and hedonistic lives they lead, the sprawling ashrams which are quagmires of crime and exploitation, the depraved acts they engaged in ranging from molestation to rape and from incitement of the followers to self-annihilate to fanning the fires of hatred and subsequent violence against rival cults, the police and society at large. The list of the transgressions and improprieties is endless and all this resulted in the desecration of many souls and the destruction of many innocent lives and property.
Cleanse thee and thy neighbor
These above are only a few of the vermins that infest, vitiate and sicken our society. There are countless more of these noxious lowlifes out there plying their devious trade in every nook and cranny of India. They breed with such ferocity and flourish with such fervor because a large section of our citizenry with their desire for instant gratification create a fertile breeding ground for the next Asaram or Radhe Maa. We have to wake up from our miracle seeking trance and realize that no ‘sant’ or ‘baba’ or ‘swami’ or ‘Maa’ can provide us deliverance from poverty, infirmity, aging, impotency, physical or mental handicaps, disease, unhappiness etc. They are human beings just like us all flesh, bone, muscle and blood who have just used their brains to come up with machinations to prey upon our insecurities, inadequacies, feebleness of resolve and most importantly our pursuit of instant gratification and divine miracles.
Therefore, it is time we understood that nothing in life comes easy and that the result for any endeavor in life is directly proportional to the effort we put in and that miracles do happen but miracles are usually self-made and not divine.