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HindustanTimes Wed,20 Aug 2014

In godmen, we don't trust
Hindustan Times
New Delhi, January 08, 2013
First Published: 22:58 IST(8/1/2013)
Last Updated: 23:02 IST(8/1/2013)

Many people, especially those in positions of influence, seem to have developed an unstoppable urge to comment on the heinous gangrape of a girl in Delhi by savage drunks on a bus. Now, if they had something useful to contribute to the debate on rape and ways of redressal and prevention, their comments would be welcome. But when so-called godmen like Asaram Bapu come out with absurd and insulting remarks that the poor victim should have taken the name of god, begged for mercy and called the assailants her brothers in order to prevent the rape, they are not only diminishing the girl's heroic struggle but also cocking a snook at the law. A rapist, as all experience shows, is not moved by appeals to a higher entity or susceptible to brotherly feelings. The alarming part of Asaram Bapu's revolting statements is that he has a cult following of millions for whom his word is almost carved in stone. It then becomes incumbent on such a person to speak on such sensitive issues responsibly and with caution.

The godman is not new to controversy. In 2008, two young boys were found dead, many suspect murdered, in his ashram in Ahmedabad. The matter was not taken up in any seriousness and we are no clearer today as to what actually happened to those two boys. Godmen like this also preside over vast wealthy empires in a manner that is almost unaccountable to the law of the land. They have been known to use their followers to act as a shield between them and the law as Asaram Bapu did in the case of the two boys. Under the cloak of spirituality, they seem above the laws which sta-te that you should declare the source of your wealth, all of which, most of them claim, are showered on them by the faithful. Many of them dispense with dangerous advice on health and codes of conduct in public forums, yet the law seems remarkably reluctant to bring them to book.

One reason could be that they are shielded by powerful followers. In the West, too, there are cult leaders who prescribe all sorts of absurd tenets. But they do not enjoy any immunity from the law as seems to be the case here. Asaram Bapu made his name first by his mastery over the Hindu scriptures though we are hard put to find any part in these works which seeks the sort of actions that he has prescribed in order to prevent rape. Anyone propagating this sort of ridiculous and harmful notions about women ought to be brought to book. An investigation into the workings of these ashrams and other organisations purportedly dispensing spiritual advice would at least make these self-styled gurus accountable. These insensitive remarks could serve as a starting point in this exercise. If nothing else, it would dampen the urge on the part of people like Asaram Bapu to contribute their ugly remarks on issues that deal with women's rights.


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