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Millennium Post

Sex, lies and spirituality

There’s something in what self-styled godman Asaram had said in the aftermath of the 16 December gang rape of a 23-year-old in the national capital. While I won’t want to dwell too much on the chauvinistic and regressive admonition that ‘the victim should have addressed the accused as brother and begged them to stop’, the part about ‘can one hand clap’ (and thus pinning a share of the blame on the victim), misplaced logic there, holds true for men like himself and those who allow themselves to be taken in by them.

As debates have raged in the national media over the latest scandal involving Asaram, he has been accused of sexually assaulting a minor at his ashram in Rajasthan, I haven’t been able to shake off the feeling that the minor’s parents are as much to be blamed for her ordeal (if true), as the so-called godman.

People who allow parasites like Asaram to feed on their faith and feelings and drag their teenaged daughter to him to be treated for supposed ‘possession by evil spirits’, are the first ones in need of medical help and legal action.

Last heard, Asaram has been traced to Indore. After the godman failed to meet the Friday deadline to appear before Rajasthan police for interrogation and demanded that he be given more time, in view of his ill health and certain family problems, Rajasthan police had said it will form a team to go and interrogate him. Narendra Modi has asked party members to not defend Asaram, a hitherto silent Congress has demanded an apology from Asaram after the self-acclaimed godman blamed political conspiracy behind the scandal, hinting at Sonia and Rahul Gandhi’s involvement, and the father of the minor, whom Asaram’s son has termed ‘mentally unstable’, has gone on fast demanding Asaram’s arrest.

How the situation is handled by the police, administration and political parties will make for an interesting watch, in a country as religiously charged as India.
Controversies surrounding so-called godmen are not new. Swami Premananda of Tiruchirapally ashram in Tamil Nadu had been accused of raping 13 women and killing a Sri Lankan man, who had been residing in his ashram. Premananda was arrested and imprisoned in November 1994 after medical tests of the women confirmed rape. One of the victims had become pregnant and a DNA test had established Premananda to be the father.

The body of the murdered Sri Lankan had also been found buried in the ashram. He had been sentenced to two consecutive life terms by the courts. Premananda died in 2011 following illness. The 69th Shankaracharya of the Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham, Jayendra Saraswathi Swamigal, had been arrested in November 2004 on the charge of being a conspirator in the murder of a temple manager, Sankararaman. There have been many such cases involving money, sex, deceit, disproportionate assets reported against so-called spiritual leaders.
Each time the saffron cover slips from the unholy acts of these holy men, the nation goes into crisis mode, with people crying themselves hoarse either in support of or against the spiritual leader. The situation is no different now with Asaram Bapu.

As national media and a section of society are steadfast in their demand for probe against Asaram and punishment if found guilty, supporters of the ‘guru’ are up in arms against such non-believers. However, with assembly polls in the national capital and general election in the country coming up, maintaining political correctness becomes crucial for parties, who must carefully re-identify their votebanks and decide whether they stand to lose more by maintaining silence on the issue or raising cries for Asaram’s head.

Inopportune though the time is for this scandal to have started, our political leaders have one thing to be thankful for, that the spiritual leader in question is Hindu. Imagine how worse it would have been in a society as divided as India, with a tendency to tiptoe around touchy minority issues, had it been a case of sexual abuse by a Church member, something the Vatican is only just mustering courage to openly speak against, or even something as minor as a hot-headed comment by some Islamic head.
Poulomi Banerjee is senior assistant editor at Millennium Post
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