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India: Akhara ’certified’ Babas? Go for a law against Superstition at the National Level

by Subhash Gatade, 17 September

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These are really ’bure din’ [bad days] for the spiritual gurus of India.

While the likes of Ram Rahim, Asaram Bapus and Rampal are cooling their heels behind bars for their not so spiritual acts, Sant Swami Bhimanand Ji Maharaj Chitrakoot Wale who is also known as "Ichadaari Baba" among his followers has also joined them for running a high profile sex racket.

It was unprecedented in recent history that Odisha had witnessed mass movements targeting many such Babas/spiritual gurus which had compelled the state government to arrest few of them. In fact the judiciary had also expressed grave concern over such Babas masquerading as spiritual leaders, robbing innocent followers of money and leading a "licentious life".(https://www.telegraphindia.com/1160528/jsp/odisha/story_88018.jsp)

With increasing instances of the blurring of boundaries between spiritual and criminal where the legitimacy of the whole fraternity is under scanner, the list of 14 fake babas brought out by Akhil Bharatiya Akhara Parishad - apex organisation of Sants and Sadhus - comprising of 14 Akharas, seems to be an afterthought. The Akhara also plans to put in place a mechanism to award the title of Sant because it has suddenly realised that it is being "increasingly misused’’.

A cursory glance at the list makes interesting reading. At least half among the list are either behind bars or have come out on bail only recently and rest of them are facing different types of cases in courts for their various acts of omission and commission. A layperson could also say that the list is merely a rehash of few old cases which have been under public glare recently and this sudden declaration also puts a spotlight on the functioning of the apex body itself. In fact, the Akhara Parishad has invited lot of ridicule for the inclusion of one Sacchdanand Giri - who was earlier a beer bar owner and real estate baron- and who is prominently on the list, as he was anointed as a "Mahamandaleshwar" in July 2015 in Allahabad by the same body. People are curious to know what transpired between these two years that the apex body declared him fake.

And it is not for the first time that such a controversy has arisen. Few years back Radhe Maa, was herself declared Mahamandaleshwar by Juna Akhara, a major Shaiva militant ascetic order, which led a situation of implosion in the group itself and there were , "[s]trong allegations that huge amounts of cash had changed hands."(https://scroll.in/article/747302/three-years-on-radhe-maas-anointment-as-high-priest-continues-to-roil-key-order-of-sadhus).

The adhocism in preparing the list is evident but that would not save Akhara Parishad from scrutiny and it will have to tell the basis for inclusion in the list. For example the ápex body’ will have to explain whether delivering hate speeches which creates disaffection between communities which is prosecutable under law has also been considered a criterion for declaring someone fake. This query is important as of late we have been witness to rise in such speeches by Sadhus who enjoy amiable relationship with the ruling establishment.

The Akhara has announced that it would bring out another list in ’next few months’, but absence of many other ’notables’ in the very first list do raise question marks about any such future exercise. Take the case of Shankaracharya Dayanand - a godman who had established his peetham in Jammu - who has been behind bars for his alleged role in the Malegaon bomb blast where recordings on his own laptop had provided important clues to the designs of the Hindutva terror module. If Swami Assemanand, an accused in many such blasts - who is on bail these days - has been included, what stopped the Akhara from including this self-proclaimed Shankaracharya in the list. Or what stopped the Akhara from including the spiritual group - especially its founder - from Western India which formally talks of ’spiritual salvation’ and ’awareness of righteousness’, but where ’destruction of evildoers’ is an integral part of ’spiritual practice’ and to facilitate this ’Dharm Kranti’ (religious revolution) the seekers are also provided with training in arms - rifles, trishuls, lathis and other weapons. Remeber its activists have also been found to be involved in various types of terror acts including killing of rationalists.

Believe me there could be a variety of such examples.

It also appears that the Akhara has based its efforts on media reports or public perception than doing any groundwork and fixing any criterion. For example it has not taken care to refer to already widely available material in public domain where other exploits of these Godmen/Conmen are visible where they were found to be sheltering fugitives from the law, laundering money, ’arranging’ for government contracts, solving your financial woes or even bumbing off a pesky blackmailer. ’Tehelka’ had done a story (http://www.tehelka.com/2013/11/the-guns-godmen-of-ayodhya-2/) few years back titled ’The Guns and Godmen of Ayodhya’ telling how ’"[m]ost of the 7,000 mutts temples and maths in Ayodhya have become centres of crime’" and now over the last few years more than 250 Sadhus have been booked for crimes including murders and some have been even killed in encounters.

Within last few years leading TV channels of the country have also provided an inside view of this fraternity - thanks to the sting operations done by their confidants, - which have further exposed not so bright side of these spiritual gurus. The programme aired on TV under the title ’Hey Ram’ had brought forth interesting commonality between the likes of Asaram Bapu and four others from the fraternity. (’Godmen’s unholy link with criminals, Mailtoday, 11 Sep 2010). This particular sting operation was preceded by an expose done by CNN-IBN and Cobrapost jointly which had showed godmen laundering money, in the name of God, all for a commission ( (CNN-IBN Posted Sunday , May 06, 2007 at 20:30 Updated Monday , May 07, 2007 at 02 ; CNN-IBN Posted Monday , May 07, 2007 at 08:11). A leading light among these godmen/women , who was proactive in the early nineties movement of majoritarian consolidation had even even shared a secret with the interviewer that he has formed a separate trust to facilitate his work of converting black money to white money for a commission.

There are other problems as well in the modus operandi adopted by the ápex body’.

Naturally the question of locus standi of the self-appointed apex body, whose proximity to Vishwa Hindu Parishad is an open secret, is also gaining prominence. Voices are also being raised about the deep slumber in which the body found itself when the news of depradations of these Sadhus and Sants was openly discussed in the media. Remember exploits of Ram Rahim were discussed in the media since 2002 only, the killing of brave journalist Ramchandra Chhatrapati allegedly at the hands of followers of the sect had occured in the year 2003 only or unnatural deaths of children in the Ashram run by Asaram Bapu or his other not so spiritual deeds were freely reported in the media for years together. And it is not for the first time that Ïcchadhari Baba has been apprehended but the apex body preferred to remain silent, rather busy in settling internecine battles or gaining proximity to the ruling establishment of the day.

Perhaps the best way to move forward is not to leave the task of identifying the ’fakes’ to the fraternity itself and think of something like anti superstition law at the national level, a law for which Dr Narendra Dabholkar fought for more than eighteen years and was assassinated by right-wing fundamentalists for his tireless efforts in this direction only. The bill was hastily passed merely four days after he was shot dead in August 2013 by two bike-borne assailants near his home in Pune.

A report which appeared in ’Mint’ (http://www.livemint.com Sundayapp /2gPnf7FvB0O2b8x2PCAsDK /The-false-godmen-of-Maharashtra.html) tells how "..In the three and a half years since Maharashtra passed this law against such practices, there have been hundreds of cases against fraudulent godmen who thrived on the superstition and fears of many". An advocate told the reporter that of the 400 cases registered under the anti-superstition act in the state so far, seven cases have been brought to trial and six witnessed convictions.

It was only last month that the capital witnessed a programme organised under the auspices of Maharashtra Andhashradha Nirmulan Samity (MANS, http://antisuperstition.org) wherein Avinash Patil, executive president of MANS, stated that in his 30-odd years of working on the issue, the organization has busted over 5,000 dishonest gurus across the state.

Not a small figure definitely.

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