Regressive phenomenon of cults
Political correctness in the West necessitates the term “New Religious Movements” (NRM) instead of “cults” to define movements that are rooted in beliefs that are contrary or foreign to the prevailing codes of culture.
Swadhin Bharat Vidhik Satyagrah (Free India Legal Struggle), the Mathura-based cult which propounded the abolition of the post of President and Prime Minister, replacement of the Indian Rupee with Azad Hind Bank currency and a host of economic illogicalities, was a mumbo-jumbo movement that mandated strict adherence to the diktats of faith (though, not necessarily religious).
Indian subcontinent contributed the English term, “Thugs” – the genealogical parentage of “Thugees” (Sanskrit for concealment). This cult was, arguably, the first form of professional assassins, a fanatical group that undertook ritualistic killings, ostensibly to appease Goddess Kali. For nearly six centuries (13th to 19th) this group had codified rituals and superstitions that defined their language, rules, and conduct.
Societal faultlines, extreme poverty, and illiteracy are a potent combination to indoctrinate the vulnerable masses into a socio-spiritual-economic nirvana that invariably comes through “enlightenment” (read, blind adherence) and often, a salvation-motivated apocalyptic end.
The fact that these cults have unwavering members running into millions, these become hot-currency politically, as they have the ability to decide electoral results – hence, overtly and covertly they are tolerated and encouraged for electoral gratification.
Even the cults gleefully slip into the political domain to establish their space and relevance – as Prabhat Ranjan Sarkar (or “Anandamurti” of the freakish Ananda Marg) noted that Religion encompasses politics, since the state of “Ananda” or bliss would require a corresponding government system supporting the faith – hence, given in its core area of Bihar and West Bengal regions, the political spiel was understandably anti-Marxist and anti-capitalist.
The patterns are eerily similar, globally – usually a “camp” of believers is led by a leader who defines the contours of the day-to-day living and the belief system. The faith requirements soon translate into actions that put it at automatic variance with the laws of the land and then a violent confrontation ensues between the believers and the state apparatus.
The Branch Davidian Seventh-Day Adventist in Waco Texas, the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God in Uganda and the Aum Shinrikyo in Japan are symptomatic of the doomsday cults with “salvation” as an integral promise.
The Mathura confrontation which led to 27 deaths (including an SP and an SHO) was reminiscent of the earlier Satlok Ashram infamy at Hisar (of self-styled “Godman” Rampal) who pitted his private army of “commandos” (termed, Rashtriya Samaj Sewa Samiti), armed with guns, walkie-talkies, and crude bombs against the state machinery.
At Mathura too, the police recovered 47 pistols, 184 cartridges, 178 hand grenades and 1,000 LPG cylinders in the preparation of taking on the police. In both the cases, the infrastructure of terror was slowly but surely built up, the area around the compound was booby-trapped and the training professional enough to cause the resultant casualties and mayhem.
Another feature of these cults and sects is the bloody end which may or may not be completely voluntary for many adherents –The Waco stand-up between the Federal agents and the Davidians resulted in a devastating fire from within the camp that led to 80 deaths, the “salvation” promised on the “Judgement Day” at Uganda led to self-immolation and poisoning of nearly 1000 followers.
Post the Mathura and Hisar clearing raids, a lot of adherents subsequently complained of being confined to the premises by the aides and reported of multiple abuse and coercions to comply. More than 20,000 security personnel were deployed to force their way into the ashram in Hisar, and at Mathura, the police remarked, "….we did not expect such a violent reception".
It is estimated that there are nearly 10,000 deras in the state of Punjab itself – a lot of them are implicitly peaceful, pacifist, and conform to the laws of the land. However, a few have agendas and beliefs that posit them at crossroads with the prevailing societal equilibrium, thus evolving into strident positions and electoral clusters – an attractive opportunity for political parties of all hues to pander and perpetuate the cult’s idiosyncrasies. With the impending state elections in 2017, a beeline for blessings in favour of a particular party or candidate is priceless.
Therefore, the cults and its blind followers are often brazen and oblivious to the laws, smug in the ostensible “goodness to society” that they propound, that automatically elevates them in their own eyes and hearts to pedestals beyond societal concern or reproach from the mainstream or the statutes. The extremes, disgruntled elements and the fringes of all races and religions are prone to such occult and groupings that are inherently regressive and revanchist.
While the Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and expression (Article 19, 20, 21, and 22), it is not absolute and caveats against the misuse of the same when there are risks to the security of state, public order, incitement to offence, and contempt of court. The acts of the cults like occupying governmental lands illegally, procuring arms and with questionable acts of decency and morality (not to mention, sovereignty and integrity of the state and its apparatus e.g. police and court judgements) tantamount to violation of the Constitutional spirit and expected public conduct – the court of law cannot be subservient to any other recourse or faith.
Inordinate delays that facilitate explosive situations like Mathura raise questions of political complicity. The Indian state has to stay visibly and perceptibly clear and agnostic to state benevolence or promotion, of the mushrooming phenomenon of the myriad empires of the Godmen/Gurus/Clergies and Cults, in strict observance of the 42nd amendment of the Constitution of India (enacted in 1976), wherein the Preamble to the Constitution asserts India’s secularism. The tinkering or liberties with the same lead to deadly procrastination and fatal tolerance that ultimately manifest in the avoidable Mathura-like situations.
Lt. General Bhopinder Singh (Retd) is former Lieutenant
Governor of Andaman & Nicobar Islands and Puducherry. Views expressed are strictly personal.