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Rapist Ram Rahim Case: What Draws Millions of Indians towards Self Styled Godmen Even after their Conviction in Rape to Fraud and Murder Charges

There are an estimated three thousand big and small "deras" headed by gurus in the northern states of Punjab, Rajasthan and Haryana, where "godmen" are popular

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Rapist Ram Rahim
Unidentified persons sit outside the store belonging to Dera Sacha Sauda sect chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, after it was closed down by authorities near Sonipat, India, Saturday, Aug. 26, 2017. (AP Photo/Altaf Qadri)
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  • Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh was handed a 20-year prison sentence this week for raping two of his followers
  • Ram Rahim, who positioned himself as the reincarnation of “the Supreme Creator,” acquired rock star popularity
  • Although Singh is now in jail, a number of his devotees continue to believe that he has been framed

Sep 02, 2014: Quirky spiritualism? Solace? The assurance of food and healthcare? What draws millions of Indians towards gurus whose allure has not dimmed even after some high-profile “godmen” landed behind bars in recent years for crimes ranging from rape to fraud and murder?

The latest guru to be discredited is 50-year-old Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, who was handed a 20-year prison sentence this week for raping two of his followers. The judge who ruled in the case said he acted “like a wild beast.”

Asaram Bapu, a controversial spiritual guru who was arrested on Sept.1 on a rape charge filed by a teenage girl is brought to a hospital for a medical check up in Jodhpur, India, Sept. 9, 2013.
Asaram Bapu, a controversial spiritual guru who was arrested on Sept.1 on a rape charge filed by a teenage girl is brought to a hospital for a medical check up in Jodhpur, India, Sept. 9, 2013. VOA
At least two more gurus who once had big followings are in jail. Asaram Bapu is accused of raping a 16-year-old girl and Sant Rampal is accused of committing murder.

Scholars say the growing clout of Indian gurus is fueled by poverty, illiteracy and the failure of government to meet such basic needs as education and healthcare.

Also Read: Quick View on Dera Chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Case: 20 Years of Imprisonment enough for a Rapist in India? 

The power of ‘deras’

Rahim Singh’s sprawling 75-acre campus in Sirsa town did not offer itself as just a spiritual center. It ran schools, colleges, a hospital and virtually functioned as a parallel administration. The “godman” boasted of ridding thousands of drug and alcohol addiction.

“These ‘deras’ [facilities] have somehow managed to give this impression that there is a world altogether different,” said Sukhdev Singh Sohal, history professor at Guru Nanak Dev University in Punjab state.

He said they offer an escape route in a country where blind faith is part of the culture. “They go there, they see that infrastructure and they get infatuated. How they are exploited, they are not aware in the long run.”

There are an estimated three thousand big and small “deras” headed by gurus in the northern states of Punjab, Rajasthan and Haryana, where “godmen” are popular. Not all are under a cloud. Many do charitable work and offer spiritual sustenance. And in a country where traditional religion has long marginalized the lower castes, they also offer a sense of community and equality.

But increasingly many gurus are tapping into India’s illiterate millions to build a mass following, with some even offering magical powers of healing.

Komal Ghodiwal, who works as a housemaid in Gurugram, has twice traveled with her alcoholic husband to a guru in Rajasthan state. She can barely explain what he does but is convinced that his supernatural powers help her husband get rid of his addiction, at least temporarily.

“He stays away from drinking for a year, but then he starts again,” she said.

The illiterate woman, who donates about $25 at a temple where the guru presides during each visit, does not know where else to go. There are no government-run addiction centers close to where she works. She said many in her slum go to him believing he can cure sick people or help childless couples.

FILE - Sikh protesters hold a poster of Indian religious sect Dera Sacha Sauda chief Baba Ram Rahim Singh's debut film “MSG: The Messenger of God” in Jammu, India, Feb. 13, 2015.
FILE – Sikh protesters hold a poster of Indian religious sect Dera Sacha Sauda chief Baba Ram Rahim Singh’s debut film “MSG: The Messenger of God” in Jammu, India, Feb. 13, 2015. VOA

“The spiritual component of these “deras” is very wonky and people are looking for some kind of a superman who will solve their problems,” said M. Rajivlochan, history professor at Punjab University. “In the case of Baba Rahim, he posed himself as that superman, dressing weirdly, demonstrating that he could do close to everything.”

Rahim Singh, who positioned himself as the reincarnation of “the Supreme Creator,” acquired rock star popularity because he was not just a cult leader. He made films, he was a singer, he dressed flamboyantly and lived opulently. And although the rape charges against him surfaced 15 years ago, they did little to diminish the faith among his followers.

FILE - An Indian spiritual guru, who calls himself Saint Dr. Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh Ji Insan, attends the premiere of the movie 'Jattu Engineer' in New Delhi, India, May 17, 2017.
FILE – An Indian spiritual guru, who calls himself Saint Dr. Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh Ji Insan, attends the premiere of the movie ‘Jattu Engineer’ in New Delhi, India, May 17, 2017. VOA

The larger-than-life image of gurus like Rahim Singh is reinforced by political leaders cutting across party lines who pay them obeisance and sometimes make donations to these centers hoping to plug into a voter bloc during elections. Several ministers had visited Rahim Singh. Some legislators even defended him after his conviction, saying he had done good work.

The rich are not immune from the culture. Several high profile gurus count the wealthy among their followers.

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

Political clout

With their political clout, the gurus also escape close financial scrutiny, making it difficult to assess how some accumulate vast wealth.

Although Singh is now in jail, a number of his devotees continue to believe that he has been framed. Such emotions led his followers to go on a rampage after his conviction. The rioting killed 38 people as government buildings and vehicles were set on fire.

Still, his flock might slowly disperse, given the massive coverage he received on national television, the sealing of his centers, and the swirl of murky stories since his conviction. Among them, stories that he made 400 men undergo castration “to come closer to god.”

But the phenomenon of the “godman” is not about to go away. “There is no end,” said Professor Sohal. “Such tragic things would happen time and again and they [the devotees] think that God is there to rectify them.” (VOA)

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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.