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Asaram devotees plough lonely furrow at Jantar Mantar

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New Delhi: Self-styled Godman Asaram has been lodged in a Jodhpur jail since September 1, 2013 for allegedly sexually assaulting a 16-year-old girl in his ashram. There is little chance that he would be released anytime soon. However, his supporters camped at Jantar Mantar – the officially designated protest site in the national capital – see a ray of hope in actor Salman Khan’s acquittal in the hit-and-run case.

Kishan Murari, a saint from Ayodhya, has been camping out at Jantar Mantar – along with a dozen other devotees – so as to press his demand for Asaram’s release. He has also been counting the days his Bapu has been incarcerated.

“838 days,” Murari points out towards the number scribed on a white board, as he hands over a booklet to me in defense of Asaram and excoriates the media for working on an “agenda” against the latter.

Asaram was arrested from his ashram at Indore in Madhya Pradesh and brought to Jodhpur on September 1, 2013 on a complaint by a 16-year-old girl, accusing him of sexually assaulting her at his ashram near Jodhpur.

Image: Sapan Kapoor/NewsGram
Image: Sapan Kapoor/NewsGram

In her complaint, she alleged that Asaram’s aides sent her to his Jodhpur ashram on the pretext that she was under the influence of an “evil spirit” and he could perform an exorcism. The Godman has been in jail since then, and hearing of rape case is going on a day to day basis.

“Look at these hundreds of people who have been hungry for the past three days demanding Cooch Behar. Yet nobody from the media has bothered to report on them. All you journalists are crooks. Tum sab bikey hue ho (You all are sold out)”, the Asaram devotee thunders, as he asks me to read the booklet and work towards securing Bapu’s release.

“But isn’t it the prerogative of courts? How can we secure his freedom? It’s ultimately the judiciary that will decide his fate,” I try to educate him.

“The judiciary is corrupt; the government is corrupt; you are a crook too. You’re not even an Indian. All you media persons want is nothing but money. If we threw money at you, you’ll start dancing on our tunes as well,” he says in an angry vein.

The charges against the septuagenarian saint are serious and need to be investigated. However, he is innocent until proven guilty, I try to assure him.

“Where’s the country’s judiciary? In the police complaint filed by the girl, there’s no mention of rape. It’s not mentioned in the FIR and the medical report. As per the medical report her virginity was intact. No marks of injuries were found on her body. Yet, a conspiracy has been hatched against an innocent saint like Asaram and in a well-planned manner he has been incriminated by the media. An actor like Salman Khan can be acquitted of serious charges like murder but not Bapu,” Murari rues as he waves his fists in the air.

“Is there anything you want to add?”

“No, you may leave now. It’s time for our evening prayer in which we shall pray for Bapu’s release. Only God can help us now.”

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Cryptic And Unparalleled Influence Of Religious Babas In India

A fine line has to be drawn for such religious Babas in India. Although it is hard to change the people’s mindset about their faith and religion to which they have bound themselves. And hence, the ‘Baba Culture’ goes on.

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The religious babas in India are said to alleviate the sufferings of people and worked for the betterment of society.
The religious babas in India are said to alleviate the sufferings of people and worked for the betterment of society. Wikimedia Commons
  • Today, numerous godmen can be found across the length and breadth of India
  • On the bright side, these religious babas propagate the message of oneness and peace
  • As long as ignorance and superstition continue to exist in India, the trade of these fake babas will continue to flourish

Indian mythology, as well as history, list numerous instances where noble souls have guided people on the path of religiousness. Saints such as Kabir, Guru Nanak and others gave a meaning to the lives of people through their teachings. The religious babas in India are said to alleviate the sufferings of people and worked for the betterment of society.

Today, numerous godmen can be found across the length and breadth of India. But just a few of them have any desire to serve humanity. These godmen live in glamorous ashrams, have influential political connections and millions of followers who pay thousands of rupees just to hear their Godmen sermons. But underneath all this talk of spirituality lies a sinister world where dirty dealings, rapes, land grabbing, murders and other such nefarious activities reign take place. Yet, for their blind followers, these Godmen are saintly figures who can do no wrong.

Not to forget, last year only, the whole of Punjab and Haryana and Punjab was on fire when the head of ‘Dera Sacha Sauda,’ Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh was found guilty by the court on the charges of rape by his own followers only. Just as the verdict came out his followers went on a rampage in Haryana and some parts of Delhi.

Also Read: Indian Gurus: Preaching Spiritualism or Business?

On the bright side, these religious babas propagate the message of oneness and peace. Many of them have helped open schools and hospitals. Majority of them widely practice and propagate meditation, yoga and different breathing techniques which often helps in coping with a plethora of physical, mental and emotional problems. But none of these reasons are good enough to elevate normal human beings to the position of gods.

These godmen live in glamorous ashrams, have influential political connections and millions of followers who pay thousands of rupees just to hear their Godmen sermons.
These godmen live in glamorous ashrams, have influential political connections and millions of followers who pay thousands of rupees just to hear their Godmen sermons. Wikimedia Commons

Over the past few years, quite a few scandals were dug up in and around the ashrams of some of the renowned spiritual leaders, proving them to be as human as any of us. But this does not cause their followers from losing faith in their “swami”. They all remain as loyal as ever. In a country where so many religions, cultures and languages coexist, it is quite heartening and unbelievable to see so much unity.

A fine line has to be drawn for such religious Babas in India. Although it is hard to change the people’s mindset about their faith and religion to which they have bound themselves. And hence, the ‘Baba Culture’ goes on.

Also Read: Criminal Babas in India- Rapist Ram Rahim and Rapist Asaram: Why Delay in Justice of these Godmen?

Why do people continue to believe in babas even after their conviction?

Such fake Babas are not only deceptive talks but they are also competent enough to trick anyone. People always get charmed by those who have the craft to perform miracles. These godmen, who are apt at performing tricks, are able to influence innocent people.

People usually come to these religious babas to seek solace and are in turn obliged by the Godmen who perform tricks. If something good happens, the people feel that it is due to the blessing of their religious Baba. People who are socially and economically insecure also fall prey to the charm of babas who in turn take advantage.

As long as ignorance and superstition continue to exist in India, the trade of these fake babas will continue to flourish.

Also Read: Baba Ramdev’s Yoga: Insulting the art of living by doing more harm than good to health

Here is a list of ‘fake Babas’ who have indulged in unlawful activities and still have a huge blind following:

Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh

Among the many Godman’s who have been convicted over the years for wrongdoings, Ram Rahim tops the chart. Ram Rahim has been the chief of Dera Sacha Sauda since 1990. The self-styled Godman has been embroiled in various criminal cases. On August 25, 2017, he was convicted by a CBI court for raping a female follower in 2002.

Gurmeet Ram Rahim has been the chief of Dera Sacha Sauda since 1990.
Gurmeet Ram Rahim has been the chief of Dera Sacha Sauda since 1990. Wikimedia Commons

In the same year, charges were also levelled against Ram Rahim for the murder of a journalist Ram Chander Chhatrapati, and Ranjit Singh, the manager of Dera Sacha Sauda. Following the August 25 verdict, his followers resorted to violent protests in which over 30 people were killed and around 80 injured.

Asaram Bapu

Born in 1941, Asaram Bapu today has more than 400 ashrams in India as well as abroad and a large number of followers. Asaram Bapu is a highly controversial figure and is embroiled in many cases. In 2013, a 16-year-old girl accused Asaram of sexually assaulting her. Asaram, along with his son, is also accused of killing two boys in 2008.

Asaram is a highly controversial figure and is embroiled in many cases.
Asaram is a highly controversial figure and is embroiled in many cases. Wikimedia Commons

Asaram Bapu is also involved in a land grabbing case. His controversial statements regarding the 2012 Delhi rape case were widely condemned. He has commented that the girl was also responsible for her plight and suggested that she should have called the attacker’s brothers and pleaded them to stop.

Nirmal Baba

Nirmal Baba is well known across India for his highly popular public discourses. His sermons are carried out by various channels in India and many other countries have helped him to get a numerous following.

Nirmal Baba has been accused of cheating and fraud.
Nirmal Baba has been accused of cheating and fraud. Wikimedia Commons

Nirmal Baba has also been said to spread superstition and blind faith. After his TV programs were found encouraging superstition, in May 2017, the Allahabad High Court had ordered the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting to investigate the matter. In 2014, Nirmal Baba was charged with evading service tax to the tune of Rs 3.5 crore.

Rampal Das

Rampal Das, an engineer turned baba, is a self-styled Godman and the leader of Kabir Panth. According to him, Kabir is the supreme god and his sect is opposed to idol worship, adultery, untouchability etc.

Rampal Das, an engineer turned baba, is a self-styled Godman and the leader of Kabir Panth. Wikimedia Commons
Rampal Das, an engineer turned baba, is a self-styled Godman and the leader of Kabir Panth. Wikimedia Commons

Rampal Das remains to be a controversial figure and was arrested on charges of murder, sedition, attempt to murder, hoarding illegal weapons, etc in 2014. In 2006, he was involved in clashes with the followers of Arya Samaj in which one person was killed.

Swami Nithyananda

Popular for his spiritual discourses and meditation programmes, Swami Nithyananda was named as one of the 100 most spiritually influential living people in the world by Watkins’Mind Body Spirit magazine. He claims to be the most-watched spiritual teacher on YouTube with more than 14 million views and the author of more than 300 books published in 27 languages.

Nithyananda landed in a controversy after a purported video footage showing him in a compromising position with an actress was telecast by local TV channels. Nithyananda said the video was morphed and manipulated to misrepresent his personal life but did not deny his images with actress Ranjita in the film.

Swami Nithyananda was named as one of the 100 most spiritually influential living people in the world by Watkins’Mind Body Spirit magazine.
Swami Nithyananda was named as one of the 100 most spiritually influential living people in the world by Watkins’Mind Body Spirit magazine. Wikimedia Commons

The video aired on Tamil TV channels caused a furore, with some Hindu groups and others protesting against Nithyananda. The Karnataka government too promised “very strict” action against him. Lenin Karuppan, who had exposed the alleged sex scandal, was arrested after a complaint by the manager of Nithyananda’s ashram that Lenin had demanded money to keep the video secret.

Swami Agnivesh

Swami Agnivesh is a former member of legislative assembly from Haryana. He is an Arya Samaj scholar and social activist. Agnivesh has also participated as a guest in the Indian TV reality show Bigg Boss. Through it, he tried promoting and creating awareness on social issues including corruption. In August 2011, Swami Agnivesh joined ‘Team Anna Hazare’ in the anti-corruption protests. Later, he parted his way from the main group claiming that other protesters humiliated and conspired against him.

An Arya Samaj scholar and social activist, Swami Agnivesh is a former member of legislative assembly from Haryana.
An Arya Samaj scholar and social activist, Swami Agnivesh is a former member of legislative assembly from Haryana. Wikimedia Commons

Swami Agnivesh came under attack during

In August 2011, he came under attack in an anti-corruption protest over a controversial video posted on YouTube where he is telling a person alleged to be a Union minister that the government to act tough with the fasting Gandhian (Anna Hazare). Although, Agnivesh claimed the video footage was “doctored and concocted” and part of a campaign to tarnish his image. On being questioned, he denied talking to Union Minister Kapil Sibal who was involved in negotiations during the initial stages of the stand-off between Team Anna and the government.

Chandraswami

Chandraswami’s association with former Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao brought the controversial tantrik into prominence. Interestingly, the godman’s finances have fluctuated due to his political journey.

Chandraswami is aaccused of many crimes during his course as a religious Baba.
Chandraswami is accused of many crimes during his course as a religious Baba. Wikimedia Commons

Chandraswami was accused by the Supreme Court to pay a penalty in several Foreign Exchange Management Act violations.

The Enforcement Directorate imposed a penalty of Rs about 9 crores on Chandraswami in 13 cases of Foreign Exchange Regulation Act violations for acquiring foreign exchange.