By Ram Puniyani
Many a sex scandals related to Holy men have come to the surface during last few weeks (March 2010). Its not that these are the first ones to have been brought to social attention; such incidents have been coming to social notice time and over again. However, the present ones’ about Swami Nityanand and Ichhchadhari Baba (Bhimanand) have highlighted the same in a very intense fashion as these scandals are very blatant.
One recalls in recent history, many such cases have startled the media and society. The allegation of a foreign writer about Satya Sai Baba; then allegations against Gurmeet Ram Rahim, Santosh Madhavan, and happenings of the Kamkoti Peetham Shakarachrya are quite well known. From other religious traditions, one recalls the recent book by Sister Jesme (Story of a Nun) and the news that the Roman Catholic Church has sacked a priest accused of pedophilia as large number of complaints were coming forth in Germany from people who were abused as children. At another level the RSS pracharak (RSS pracharaks are to remain bachelors for political reasons) Sanjay Joshi had also to give up his political responsibility when a CD related to his sexual exploits came to surface.
In all these cases the underlying mechanisms are different. In the Catholic establishment, to remain unmarried is the norm and many cases have come to light, which have shamed the establishment. The Hindu God-men are all ‘stand alone’ systems, not an organized Church. While comparing these may not be easy, what is common in these is that within the organizations where members remain celibate to discharge their religiously or politically ordained duties, many of them do get tainted by the fall out of such acts.
What is different about the case of these God-men in particular is a deliberate misuse of their ‘spiritual attainments’ to indulge in carnal pleasures – under the guise of spirituality – to the extent of running sex rackets in association with those in power. Here is the case of gross abuse of faith to the extent of deliberately setting up a situation to exploit the women devotees. The methods used by the swamis are diverse. This should come under a serious crime, not only at legal but also at social level, to ensure that such gross abuse of faith is brought under serious scanner.
As such, the concept of celibacy in many a religious orders had a spiritual base in the noble idea of renunciations and transcending of the physical pleasures to attain the higher spiritual platform. The religious Gurus have been of different types as far as celibacy is concerned. In early India there were renouncers as well as those who led a family life. Patanjali stated “swa-ang jugupsa, parai asansargah’, meaning that with increasing spiritual insights, with mind achieving higher truth, apathy for physical body comes in. This is what is supposed to have made celibacy the path to sanyas. Celibacy, Brahmcharya, has been highly respectable in sections of society.
After the 8th century, celibacy was taken to exalted levels into Hindu tradition by Shankara while he was leading the battle of Hinduism against Buddhism. To attack Buddhism, he adopted various concepts from Buddhism itself, e.g. the concept of renunciation of material wants; celibacy included. Today the idea of celibacy is prevalent mainly in Buddhism, sects of Hinduism and amongst Catholic priests. These three have bases in religious traditions. For much different reasons, mainly political one’s, organization like RSS has also brought this in for its propagators.
Patanjali’s argument is repeated by modern God-man, Sri Sri Ravishaker. According to him, as you go to higher levels, the body becomes insignificant and interest in sex is reduced to nothing. There have been dissenting notes from within the stable of God-men itself. The major such voice was that of Osho, Bhagwan Rajneesh. He argued that sex could be transcended only through experience; this was what he preached and penned down in his book, Sambhog se Samadhi (From Sex to Superconciousness).
These semi philosophical outpourings apart, the biological compulsions have always accompanied the celibates and the scandals have kept popping out from such institutions and individuals, telling us that these sexual escapades are a rule rather than an exception. It may be in the form of child abuse, same sex relationships to downright cunning methods indulged by God-men to trap the women on the pretext of their ‘spiritual’ pursuits. Different philosophical sounding arguments are dished out to the unsuspecting laity.
During these last few decades, the incidents are coming more to the surface as the phenomenon of God-men has mushroomed all around. This phenomenon is an accompaniment of the existential anxieties of the globalized world, the razor edge competitive era, where cut throat competition at the work place, heightened consumerism and moving upward in the scale of financial earning is the only index of one’s success. The need for emotional succor is leading to the rise of the industry of God-men.
The God-men belong to many categories, each having his-her own entrepreneurial skills. God-men put out their brand of spirituality, which apparently gives solace to the aggrieved middle and lower middle classes in particular amongst others. God-men have set up institutions which cater to a vastly expanding market. Meera Nanda, in her book, the ‘God Market’ , argues that there is an increased religiosity, collusion with the corporate World and the state. In India in particular, a subtle Hindusization is going on as such and this has been aided by the private sector. There is an active promotion of religious tourism. Higher education has been handed over to the private sector, some of whom use religious trust for running these institutions to impart ‘value education’. The State has been generous in giving away land at highly subsidized rates to the Gurus and God-men.
One can also see the rise of the religious Right here and in different countries during this period. RSS is having a field day in culturally Hinduizing the social space, and God-men are the major players in the game. One can say that these swamis of the ilk of Nityanad and Ichchhadhari are just the visible part of a larger phenomenon. These two cases also show the range of activities, from the spiritual façade to downright sex racket.
The broader picture of the phenomenon is much more disturbing. Last three decades have been one of the most tragic periods of human history for different reasons. It is within this period that the global political and social phenomenon have adopted the language of the religion. This language has created multiple problems. On one hand, one major religious community has been demonized, and on the other there is a big set back to rational thinking and progressive values. When the language of religion is used with great aplomb, the reason is forced on the back-foot and the suppression of human rights takes the garb of religion. Since religion is accompanied by faith, which in turn can create hysteria, the latter ensures that blind religiosity and blind faith rule the roost. The beneficiaries of these arrangements are the entrenched social, economic powers.
Globally, the US took on Russian forces by promoting the conservative versions of Islam, used the religious language to train Al Qaeda, and laced its ambitions for oil in the language of religion. Here in India, those who were opposed to social transformation of caste and gender, used Ram Temple type issues, created mass hysteria around identity issues and have tried to push back the process of social transformation. The increased social presence of God-men is an accompaniment of this process. They have a duel function. On one hand, they aid in creating conservative values, refurbished caste and gender norms from Manusmiriti are propagated, and on the other; they exploit this situation for their material enhancement, sexual exploitation included. Interestingly, the God men who talk of renunciation and going to higher levels themselves are the biggest beneficiaries of material riches. Society has to learn the lessons from the sprawling wealth and sexual exploitation done by sections of God-men and to understand that what is really taking place in the garb of holy clothes is a mere misuse of faith for crass purposes. Nityanand and Icchadhari Baba is a sort of barometer of the phenomenon which has gripped our society.