The ugly truth about India’s godmen
A special court on Wednesday sentenced disgraced “godman” Asaram to life imprisonment till death for raping a teenage girl studying at his ashram, with the judge saying, “In my humble opinion, Asaram not only broke the faith of the complainant but also spoiled the image of saints among common men.”
Contemporary India, to most of us seems like a modern country with successful entrepreneurs, scientific establishments and a future filled with technological possibilities.
Why are so many Indians still vulnerable to the temptations of an unreal world that godmen create then?
1. The fact that economic development has not been all-embracing could be one of the answers. India being home to the world’s largest illiterate population and a sizeable number of them being below the poverty line doesn’t help either.
2. Having said that, there also exists a parallel India where not just the illiterate masses, but even the well-educated middle class celebrates the irrational in the name of culture. The herd mentality of people not wishing to be left behind in the race to ‘heaven’ makes matters worse.
3. We are a generation brought up on a heavy dose of religion and spirituality but told not to ask questions and accept what has been passed down to us as the ultimate truth. Add some of the superstitious beliefs passed down in the process to a deep need to find hope and happiness and we find ourselves attracted to these peddlers of faith.
4. We are also living in times where pretty much everyone is in a rush, with a deadline to meet in their lives. Our relationships are failing and we are often worried that we are not yet in the place that we want, in the job that we want, or with the person that we want. None of us wants to endure the slow and painful process of one’s becoming. We are frantically looking for someone to hang our faiths on so we find answers to our meaning and purpose.
5. The breakdown of joint families and a desperate need for anchors when in despair is one of the other reasons why we run to a godman as soon as we hear someone praising their qualities and achievements.
As I say this, a childhood memory comes to my mind.
God, Gurus and Godmen
As children, the highlight of our summer vacations would often be the annual visit to our grandparents’ house in Kerala. Our evenings were always peppered with grandma’s stories from mythology. As I would hear her stories, I had started getting a sense that there was great reverence attached to gods and the sages.
Doordarshan shortly thereafter brought the Hindu epic Mahabharat into our homes. The epic often showed stories where sages would curse, sometimes for seemingly very trivial reasons. I was getting thoroughly confused with the mixed messages! Unable to take it anymore, I once asked my grandmother what made these sages so great if they were equally prone to anger as any of us humans.
“That’s what makes God different from a guru,” she said to me. “Wisdom, tolerance and nirvana from human emotions doesn’t come easy even to a sage who is a guru and not God himself,” she said. This is why she explained every curse would destroy years and years of the sage’s accumulated good of penance and meditation. “A guru like any good teacher you admire in school is on the path of learning himself,” she said. “If at any point he claims to be God himself by asking you to blindly believe in him, remember that he’s cultivating dependency in the disguise of empowerment.”
How true, I now realise! Makes me wish we could turn back to more grandmothers in the country than these wretched godmen.
Divya Nair Hinge
(From the Editorial Desk)