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No quantum of solace

It would make more sense if spiritual leaders were to use their platforms to urge their followers to respect women. Chanakya writes.

columns Updated: Jan 12, 2013 21:49 IST

Do not insult a snake if you want no harm to come your way. You must think I am being flip this Sunday but this is a piece of advice given out by one of our popular godmen to misty-eyed devotees recently. Now, it is unlikely that many of us will encounter a snake in our daily peregrinations, let alone insult it if one were to come across a reptile. But these homilies are taken as gospel truth by the faithful.

Our attachment to godmen and women is nothing new. Many of us who fancy ourselves as the ultimate rationalists have a guru tucked away somewhere. These spiritual psychologists tell us what we already know, but we feel a whole lot better for having heard it from a being we consider more evolved than our faulty, sinful selves. But, I am sure there is not one among you who has not been shocked and revolted to the core by the statements made by uber guru Asaram Bapu. The heroic victim who died after a horrific gang rape in Delhi could have avoided her fate, he said, if she had fallen at the feet of the rapists, invoked the appropriate mantras and called them brothers. If it was not so tragic, it would be laughable.

Here is a man who is considered almost divine by millions of followers. Here is a man who got away with no explanation as to why two young boys died in mysterious circumstances in his Ahmedabad ashram. Here is a man who the rich and powerful flock to for spiritual solace. Yet, when this enormously powerful man makes a statement that is so gross and insulting, he is given a very long rope by the law. He should, simply put, be thrown in the clink if a proper case can be made out against him.

We have seen for far too long that our godmen and women consider their 'divine' status as giving them immunity from the law. There is no doubt that many of them have done much good for the psychological and social well-being of society. The late Sathya Sai Baba built schools, hospitals and ashrams as well as provided drinking water to an entire district. But there was a darker side to his conduct which involved sexually deviant behaviour allegedly perpetrated on those who came to him for succour. This has been well documented. Yet, he seemed to float above the fray as far as the law was concerned. Piles of cash and gold were found lying around his ashram but we don't know from where all this came and what indeed happened to it. There has been at least one unexplained death in the ashram, but no one seemed prepared to enter the hallowed portals and find out what really happened.

Mind you, this is not to diminish the good works that many of them do and the solace they offer even if some of it happens to be mumbo-jumbo. I can't quite see a hug from a portly spiritual godwoman squ-eezing all your woes away but if it works for some people, why not? Or whether free and unbridled sex is the path to salvation? But none of this is really harmful to society or a pernicious influence on the minds of people. Often, some sort of health mantra like yoga is the hookline after which the converted are subjected to the thoughts if you can call them that of the godman or woman. But there is a vast difference between a sudarshan kriya and yogic breathing and propagating illiterate and unacceptable advice on how to stop rape.

It would make a whole lot more sense if these spiritual leaders were to use their platforms to urge their followers to respect women. It would also help if they were a little more accountable about their vast empires and how they came into all this wealth and what they were doing with it. The excuse that religious or other sentiments will be hurt if we treat these godpersons like any other common and garden citizen is rubbish. Instead of being allowed to grandstand after his ugly remarks, Asaram Bapu should have been arrested for promoting violence against women.

We have earlier had the spectacle of a yoga guru joining a civil society movement and demanding accountability from the government. Nothing wrong with that. But we would also like a little more transparency about his meteoric rise from ordinary preacher to owner of private jets and islands abroad.

The Asaram Bapu issue will be a test case. The law must act and act decisively. No one can hide behind religious or other sentiments. I would have expected his followers, or at least the women among them, to rise in revolt and shun him. But since that has not happened and is not likely to, the law must bring him to account. The message should be quite clear - in god we certainly trust unless you happen to be an atheist. But we certainly don't have to swallow the twaddle dished out by the so-called intermediaries on earth. And for god sake, don't try a diet of gulab jamuns as the same godman who forbade insults to snakes prescribed. It may do no damage to your immortal soul but will certainly land your mortal body in hospital.