June 06, 2016

India:: Of godmen, conmen and violent cults (excerpt from a report in The Times of India)

The world of godmen: Sublime and the ridiculous
TNN | Jun 6, 2016, 03.24 AM IST

There are godmen, and there are godmen. While notoriety gains the media's and people's immediate attention, the quiet ones continue with their work with zeal, and in good faith, with no expectation of 'coverage'.

Swadheen Bharat Vidhik Satyagrah in UP's Mathura district, whose followers fatally clashed with the police last week, is just one of the many such controversial cults in the country with massive assets and a purblind supporters, with their heads facing allegations ranging from land grab to fraud, and from rape to murder.

The unbridled violence and lawlessness brought back images of violence in Haryana's Hisar district in 2014 when the police arrested a former state government employee calling himself a man of faith, Rampal, after a two-week tense stand-off. Six people were killed in the violence then, with the godman's "commando force" waging the final battle to "protect" their chief from cops.

Rampal, who had defied court summons in a murder case, was later with slapped with sedition charges. Authorities evacuated more than 10,000 people from the ashram, many of whom said they were held against their wishes -- they were hostage to a bizarre, cinematic or surreal villain in some C grade Bollywood fixture.

Asaram is another godman who wielded huge influence and power until the law caught up with him -- he's in jail since 2013 on rape charges. Several people who deposed against him have been attacked, and some killed. His empire includes 400 ashrams in the country and abroad, where he organised "spiritual discourses" and became famous for his colourful headgear and sprightly dancing.

Then, Nirmaljeet Singh Narula alias Nirmal Baba, who repeatedly failed as a businessman in Jharkhand, drew dubious publicity with his durbars and gatherings that were astonishingly telecast by three dozen Indian and foreign channels. At these events, Nirmal Baba gave solutions like eating chutney to solve financial problems. He faces allegations of fraudulent activities.

Last Friday in Odisha, that has a strong temple heritage and many cults, officials razed an illegal complex on 20 acres of forest land near Konark sun temple by one Bana baba. He is absconding. People also set fire to one Sura Baba's ashram for land grab. He too was arrested. The ashram of one Anand Atma was also ransacked after a half-burnt body of a local youth was found.
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