Will India get over its obsession with godmen?

October 13, 2017 12:00 am | Updated 03:42 am IST

They are here to stay, until social consciousness undergoes a qualitative change

The recent revelations about the ‘divine preoccupations’ of godmen in the sacred precincts of their ashrams have been appalling, not because they were bereft of such qualities in the past. From the time of the Maharaj libel case (1862) through the intrigues of Chandraswami and Dhirendra Brahmachari, to the contemporary saga of Dera Sacha Sauda and Asaram Bapu, the list is unending. But this time the incidents of sex, murder and mayhem, which were reportedly enacted in their ashrams, are lurid and startling. That the godmen were able to pursue their interests for years without attracting the attention of the state is perhaps not surprising, given the nexus between political power and religious establishments, but it is reprehensible.

The unflinching faith of the followers in the divinity of godmen is the latter’s main capital, which is assiduously constructed over time. Under coercion or consent, the devotees appear to submit to the extortion or exploitation of godmen. Contemporary India looks like a modern country with scientific establishments, and high-speed trains and expansive highways, but set in a social situation reeking of medievalism, caste discrimination, religious obscurantism, gender inequality and superstitions.

Modernity and irrationality

The coexistence of modernity with irrationality and obscurantism, which has often been dismissed as a passing phase of a society in transition, has been the hallmark of independent India. The ruling elite pinned their hopes on economic development to overcome this impediment, but economic development has not been all-embracing. Facing the crisis thus generated by the apparently elite character of development, it was not surprising that a large segment of the population succumbed to the temptations of an unreal world which godmen proffered.

Yet another constituency of the godmen were the members of the burgeoning middle class of the post-Independence era. The hallmark of this class was the intense cultural and social crisis for which they sought a solution in other-worldliness advocated by the godmen. They were led to an island of liberation where all social inhibitions could be shed, and peace and salvation promised, through the medium of the godmen. The mindless support godmen thus elicit from their unsuspecting followers is used to garner social, political and economic power.

In recent times, the increasing number of godmen (and women) are spotted in State governments and corporate board meetings, educational institutions, and all other important places. They are not spiritual men but ambitious con artists who purvey deception, falsehood and religiosity in the name of god.

Education not enough

Rationalists and liberals looked upon education which promoted scientific temper and rational thinking as the antidote to what they conceived as a result of cultural and social backwardness. But education has not adequately fulfilled this role. After all, the substantial following that godmen command is not from the illiterate masses, but from the pretty well-educated middle class that tends to celebrate the irrational in the name of culture.

Popular media, either consciously or unconsciously, promotes and reinforces irrationality and superstition. The reading material available in almost all Indian languages is replete with accounts of the charismatic personae and spiritual qualities of godmen. Not only religious channels, but some secular channels too telecast programmes eulogising their qualities and achievements. From these popular representations, and patronage they seem to enjoy from the state, they derive considerable legitimacy.

The godmen are here to stay, until social consciousness undergoes a qualitative change.

Top News Today


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.