God men or fraud men?

Early in my career, I considered it my good fortune to have been disillusioned by god men and gurus floating around the country. I along with a female colleague from another newspaper, were on an assignment and had boarded a train from a provincial town to Bombay.

We were in the first class compartment of those days and as the train halted at the station, we discovered that our names were wrongly registered under `Mr’ rather than `Ms’.

When we boarded the train and found our compartment both of us got another shock – as did the other two occupants of that seats who seemed more blown out of their wits than us.

For the duo were saffron robed sadhus from a well known sect and they gave a wide berth to women (pun unintended). They sprang to their feet as we entered the compartment and raised a royal cry of outrage.

The ticket checker came running and was faced with a peculiar problem on his hands – he did not know what to say to the god men and was also faced with the dilemma that we were single women traveling on our own, he did not know how to throw us off the train either. There were two other coupes in that coach but both had couples, whoe were on honeymoon and he did not know how to separate them and accommodate their wives with us.

He decided to bluster it out by charging us with fraud and misrepresentation – because we had allegedly registered as men rather than women.

My colleague though was up for a trick. She shooed him off in cold rage. “We have clearly and obviously female names. Why ever would we want to pass ourselves off as men? You cannot hold us responsible for something that is the railway’s fault? And we have no problem with the sadhus.”

“Oh but they have a problem with women!” said the harried TC. “I really do not know how to sort this out.”

Somehow the honeymooning couples came to our aid – the men generously gave up their berths to us and moved in with the sadhus for the overnight journey. The sadhus did not even look at us the next morning, their faces still turned away resentfully as we got down, one of them jumping a mile away as we collided for a brief second on the platform while picking up our bags and making our respective ways home.

Imagine our shock and horror when we discovered that one of these sadhus — who had even then looked to us somewhat like Russel Crowe (he was saffron robed but clean shaven) – was picked up by the police some months later for sexual abuse, of not just one, but a couple of young girls at their ashram.

We could hardly believe it was the same person who had kicked up such a row at having to spend a few hours on a moving train with two human beings of the female sex while all the time he had been a sinner than a saint.

When we had confirmed the facts to our satisfaction, we could only recall Shakespeare – that the gentleman had protested too much and so we should have been rightly suspicious right from the beginning.

I have never been able to get over the fact that various god men and gurus from all religions hide their sins behind white or saffron robes – I recall a Jain muni some years ago who was ‘robed’ by his community (the equivalent of a priest being defrocked in the Catholic faith) for having sexually abused nuns in his own ashram.

Many mullahs are upto no good either and many of them have the same thing in common – the cover of religious sanction and the fear of their devotees of speaking up against their shenanigans.

Now I believe Asaram Bapu falls into a similar category – he seems to be protesting too much and his excuses are not even amusing. I wonder if the girl who has now accused him of sexual misconduct would have been spared had she fallen at his feet and professed him to be her grandfather, as he had advised the Delhi rape victim.

He had said that the Delhi rape victim should have requested to prevent her attackers from violating her – even then I was appalled that he said she should have begged for her life by referring to them as her brothers.

In the course of a long career I have come across many such fraud men covering up their petty crimes or even murders and dacoities with saffron robes — even Ayodhya’s ashrams are full of such charlatans who commit crimes in various parts of the country and then seek refuge in temples and ashrams knowing very well that even the police might find it difficult to take action against a man dressed in saffron.

I remember the mother of a friend warning me years ago, never to let in a particular sadhu who came begging to the doors for food and water, particularly when one was alone at home. “I did the other day. And ever since some of my jewellery that I had left lying on the table is missing. I do not know when he robbed them, perhaps when I had gone to the kitchen to fetch him some water.”

So I have a very healthy suspicion of all such fraudmen that many of my family who believe in various gurus are not able to understand. They think I am either very mentally strong and thus don’t need a guru or that I am unduly disrespectful to even the established names in the business.

But then Asaram is an established name, isn’t he? And rape is not all that he is accused of. Ask the fathers of those two young cousins at his Gujarat ashram who were found dead under a tree wih all their internal organs missing. But then how far does a bootlegger go before he is finally caught and exposed? So much the pity for all his supporters!

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