Asaram Bapu's conviction rips off 'divine' mask, but babagiri will continue till govt regulates it like business

How does a rapist like Asaram (Asumal Sirumalani) get revered as ‘Bapu’ for decades? How can we be so gullible and naive to immediately and unquestionably accept anybody as our ‘Bapu’ or ‘Maa’? What is it about our psyche that allows these illegitimate mai-baap to thrive in the bazaar of bhakti?

Asaram Bapus conviction rips off divine mask, but babagiri will continue till govt regulates it like business

The self styled 'godman' Asaram Bapu. PTI

There are many explanations. But the simplest answer is that we are conditioned to be influenced by anyone who wears flowing robes and preaches from the pulpit. For us, saffron/white is sacred and pravachan (preaching), even if just gibberish, is gospel. Once we spot somebody in sacred colours with a posse of followers, our critical faculties disappear and we turn into fools being led by Pied Pipers in a vicious trap.

One of our oldest epics reminds us that evil often comes in the garb of a saint. In the Ramayana, Sita gets abducted by Ravana, who comes dressed like a sadhu and begs for alms. Her thinking blinkered by Ravana’s guise, Sita crosses her Lakshman Rekha and pays a heavy price for her credulity. Most of us have heard this tale many times, yet we fail to learn the moral of the story.

So many 'Babas' have fallen over the past few years. So many of them have had their masks of divinity ripped off. Yet, dozens still continue to thrive in India; several more are ready to ply their immoral trade in the name of moralising the masses. We don’t learn from Asaram, Ram Rahim, Rampal, Radhey, and Osho and continue to give legitimacy to illegitimate ‘Maa’ and ‘Bapu’ of gullible Indians.

The sad part about this fraud in the name of bhakti is that it isn’t just the uneducated, the illiterate and the poor who get sucked into their trap. Most of these fake godmen/women have celebrities, politicians and the rich and the influential following them, endorsing their sainthood. I have witnessed the pathetic spectacle of retired bureaucrats, university professors and police officials creating a stampede to sip water used by a baba to wash his feet, and eat leftovers from his plate. Credulity is a pan-India epidemic.

Sometimes it gets worse. In a shocking revelation, one of Osho’s disciples, Anand Sheela, revealed in her memoirs that some of his followers turned into prostitutes just to be in his ashram and earn enough to cover their expenses.

How does one control this epidemic? The answer is India needs strict laws to ensure these fake godmen and sanyasins are not able to run their Ponzi schemes — one follower gets another and the multi-level chain keeps growing — in the marketplace of bhakti. Just as there are laws to punish quacks, impersonators and cheats, we need laws to prevent these godmen from cheating the public.

It is not as difficult as it seems. Preachers and babas deal with masses. In return, most of them make money, and amass wealth. So, it would be a good idea to treat babagiri as a business or any other profession and introduce laws and regulations. First, it should be made mandatory for every 'Baba' to get a license to ply their trade. Only after thorough background check, character assessment, psychological evaluation and meeting the requisite criteria should they be allowed to teach, preach and enlist followers. Anybody operating outside the ambit of the law should be sent to jail, just like a quack.

Consider Asumal Sirumalani’s case. Even before he was arrested for raping a minor, there were several questions about his past, including rumours of dalliance with crime. Before he became ‘Bapu’, his image was given a makeover by erasing entire chapters of his life, and wiping his history clean. Had somebody checked his background, Asumal would have been found to be a threat to the public. But, even with a hazy past he was allowed to turn into ‘Bapu’ and ruin lives with a dangerous cocktail of bhakti, business and blackmail.

Conditions in India are tailor-made for fake babas and matas to thrive. There is illiteracy and absence of critical thinking in spite of education; there is superstition, blind faith; there is greed, insecurity and tough competition. We are taught from childhood that our sins can be washed by propitiating gods, going on pilgrimage. There are many crooks and criminals willing to take advantage of all this, sell themselves as agents of God, launderers of our sins, performers of miracles and solvers of our problems.

Only strict laws can help us avoid the trap of falling for every Satan that comes to us in the guise of a saint. To protect Indians from more 'Bapus' and 'Maas', the government needs to draw a Lakshman Rekha with strict laws, punishment and penalties.​

Follow live coverage of the Asaram Bapu verdict here

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Updated Date: Apr 25, 2018 15:08:47 IST

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