Opinion Op Ed 03 Sep 2017 By invitation: Of my ...
The writer is a leading social scientist, historian, writer and is a Visiting Professor, Centre for Contemporary Studies, IISc

By invitation: Of mystics, mountebanks and a muddled middle-class

Published Sep 3, 2017, 3:16 am IST
Updated Sep 3, 2017, 3:16 am IST
One factor that provides immense relief in this lop-sided middleclass-run country, is the powerful juridical system.
Security forces patrol a street in Sirsa, Haryana after the pronouncement of Gurmeet Ram Rahim's sentence earlier this week. (Photo: AP)
 Security forces patrol a street in Sirsa, Haryana after the pronouncement of Gurmeet Ram Rahim's sentence earlier this week. (Photo: AP)

Many self-styled superpower babas, who made grandiose claims of invincibility, found themselves behind bars. Balak Brahmachari was booked for various crimes, Baba Rampal Das was accused of sexually explointing a minor, Swami Nithyananda was charged for  raping a female devotee, Chandraswami was punished for financial corruption, Swami Sadachari, punished for a variety of misdeeds; Swami Premananda was castigated with life imprisonment for raping a girl child, Swami Bhimanand was held for sex trade – the list is endless. Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh is the latest to join this fellowship off fallen angels, for he has been exposed, before the millions of devotees who flocked to his side.

Still, even in the face of overwhelming evidence, we allow ourselves to be taken in, time and time again. This begs the question: Have we learned nothing from our mistakes? What causes this unshakeable naivety as far as godmen / godwomen are concerned? Strangely, the faith of the devotees remains unshaken. At the most, they shift from one god-man or god-woman to another. Why is this faith so deeply entrenched, incapacitating the people from seeing the truth that’s right before their eyes, even when erstwhile devotees speak up as victims?   

 

The phenomenon is, perhaps, something historically and culturally contingent, which sustains a vulnerable psyche among the large majority of people in the country, irrespective of their religious differences. People are so susceptible that they dare not raise the question ‘why’. They hesitate to question their faith even when their god incarnate has been exposed as an abominable creature. Even the well-educated lot is not altogether out of this self-debilitating trap. Despite several movements, old and new, based on rationalist, materialist thinking in the country, obscurantism gained precedence over skeptical, empiricist worldviews. Intellectual formation, though immensely profound, has always been under the fetters of historically contingent and culturally celebrated irrationality.

 

In another manifestation of exasperating irony, the implicitly materialistic and atheistic concepts of Advaida and Sankhya Yoga were misrepresented by the uninitiated and ill-informed, a list that included several European Indologists. The nation today owes its trashy-Sage image to the false consciousness of these people. Both Swami Vivekananda and Aurobindo had little patience for this hollow sage-image, which was consequent to historical distortions being imposed on Indian culture. It is this alleged, historically deviant sage-image that we shamelessly celebrate as a cultural trait, enabling criminals to don it as a legitimate cultural mask. In the intellectual domain, this entrenched a general belief that knowledge production in traditional India had no methodological pre-occupation in the Western sense, because the scholars associated with it were seen as sages of extra-sensory perception.

 

This perspective has been recurring in all spheres of our academic practices. Science is no exception to this, because education, has, at all levels, perpetuated it. The average educated Indian is uncritical and apolitical. How much more is to be said, then, of the illiterate masses, who are easily moved by the toxic pull of narrow sentiments and dangerous notions of identity. These kill democracy and secularism in a country defined by both. The critical consciousness of people is indispensable in a healthy, democratic and secular country. People should be conscious of social reality and remain committed to social justice. This alone can ensure the making of good citizens capable of public policy debates and collective operations seeking social transformation. If the more literate among us have proved so gullible, little can be gained from pointing fingers at the rest. Critical thought alone can help people understand the inner world of India’s Sant/Baba business and its exploitation of the superstitious among them. How to make them critical is the question.

 

Education and mass media clearly have not been effective enough in their methods to reach out to the people. The masses are simply unable to understand – or accept – that the Baba / Sant business is an integral cog in the political wheel. It is important to note that the victims of this exploitation are the middle classes. The section is notorious for straining at the leash as they aspire to live beyond their means by venturing into and holding on to unaffordable enterprises. In short, they are the most ambitious lot, united by a common dream of making big bucks overnight. It is natural that they constitute the most speculative and extensively futuristic people. Therefore, they are the worst-hit section, fated in these trying times to acute anxiety and stress. Reviewing their drawbacks and analyzing their failures and an obsession with past mistakes has made them a fairly depressed lot. Naturally, they fall prey to the magic of Sants and Babas. They subsidize the Baba industry.

 

The poor, contrary to popular assumption, are far less affected by the strategies of godmen, in large part because the cannot afford to entertain them. The godmen in turn show little interest in them. When people are miserably bereft of choices apart from the unceasing struggle for survival, from which they are alleviated only in death, few seek the Gods, let alone our bevy of godmen. Such people constitute the political society of the country in contra-distinction with the constitutionally ordained civil society, replete with the subscribers of magical practices and beliefs. It is the middle class, civil society with its irrepressible greed which zealously sustains the ecosystem for the creation and entrenchment of godmen.

 

One factor that provides immense relief in this lop-sided middleclass-run country, is the powerful juridical system, without which the systematic exposing of godmen (patronized and deified by top level politicians) would not have been possible at all. It has been and continues to remain the main Xavier of the country’s rational conscience. It underscores the fact that the false consciousness of the people helps clever crooks become fabulously wealthy godmen who use their extraordinary power to fuel their corrupt ways.

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