The Decade of Unholy Godmen

Wild Wild West, the Netflix show that chronicled the sordid truths about Osho’s life, predictably created a big stir. National embarrassment for us, yes, but who doesn’t like a story of the fall of a self-styled godman? Then this November, the world’s leading streaming platform decided to tell another grizzly story — Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator — a documentary on the Indian-born American yoga teacher and founder of Hot Yoga, Bikram Choudhury, exposing the celeb guru’s many misdeeds.
And just when you thought you’d seen the worst, it turned out that another ‘godman’, Nithyananda, had established an entirely new country. If the Kailaasa website is to be believed, this is the place every Hindutvavadi’s dream can come true. Sure, we’ve all laughed at this latest spectacle, sure Ecuador and the Indian Ministry of External Affairs have both denied the existence of such a ‘nation’, but the sheer audacity invites slow claps. Only an Indian ‘godman’ could be accused of abduction and rape, be a fugitive from the law, and still make statements like: “No stupid court can prosecute me for revealing the truth.” When the truth of his crimes finally catches up with him, he will have to join his infamous cohorts in prison.
The average Indian’s ‘faith’ and gullibility have enabled Nithyananda and his ilk for long. But if crime statistics in the last decade are anything to go by, the tide seems to be turning. Or is it?

Wholly unholy
Nithyananda can be counted among the top three falls from grace in the last 10 years — the other two being Asaram and Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh. Following their arrests, there were violent standoffs between their supporters and the police, triggering curfews, injuries and deaths, before the convicted were finally put behind bars.
Asaram and Singh enjoyed fabulously privileged lives, with millions of followers, tremendous social influence, and colossal material wealth that could put the country’s top industrialists to shame. Beneath their deceptively simplistic ideologies, personal charisma and so-called social causes, bubbled an underworld of corruption, sexual exploitation and murder.
That Singh’s conviction took 15 years to come through (the first allegations of rape surfaced in 2002), and that at least three eyewitnesses in Asaram’s case were killed, shows the extent of the power of such ‘godmen’. And these are just the high profile cases. Some others include Rampal Singh Jatin a.k.a. ‘Sant’ RampalJi, who was convicted in 2018 on similar charges of confinement and murder, and Jyotigiri who absconded after videos of him surfaced in August amid allegations of sexual abuse of minor girls and women.
Being shady
The judiciary has lifted the lid on many such criminals in the last decade. Media accounts also tell us of other ‘lesser’ cases like that of Vijay Kumar a.k.a. KalkiBhagwan and Nirmal Baba, who were convicted for tax evasion in 2019 and 2014 respectively; and Gurinder Singh Dhillon of the RadhaSoami sect who was recently embroiled in the Ranbaxy shares scandal.
These cases of fraud and embezzlement also remind one of Sathya Sai Baba, whose death at the start of this decade was followed by the discovery of unprecedented sums of hoarded wealth. The bushy-haired godman escaped public shaming, but it left millions of his followers confused, betrayed and heartbroken. A lot of the donated money they thought had been used for charity was sitting in their guru’s private chamber all this time.
New guru on the block?
The greatest outrage by such ‘gurus’ has invariably been for their alleged sexual crimes. It’s invariably the vow of abstinence from sex that seems to give the Hindu ascetic an unbeatable ‘moral edge’, so when charges of sexual assault and depravity come to light, it becomes the worst kind of breach of trust.
Curiously, the domino-like fall of many spiritual leaders has occurred mostly under BJP’s watch. Did the skeletons in these collective closets get too numerous to hide? Or perhaps the global #metoo movement shook the conscience of a few good men in the judiciary, who finally took action against these unholy men.
Or perhaps it’s a case of mass transference of faith. Now that the leader of the nation is styled as an ascetic himself, someone who is charismatic, a great orator, who does ‘boulder yoga’ on World Yoga Day, ‘meditates’ in a cave in Kedarnath (so what if there is a cameraman along?), under whose reign the Supreme Court has ensured that mandir wahin banega, and one who promises to magically solve the nation’s problems, why do we need anyone else to direct our bhakti towards? Sure, we still have the Sri Sris and the Ramdevs and the Jaggi Vasudevs to go to for breathing exercises or soap opera or gyaan, but we all know who the big boss is.
Perhaps the new decade will prove some of us sceptics wrong; perhaps it will make saffron the new black.\

Courtesy: The Hindu