How Godmen run parallel governments in India

Last Updated: Mon, Sep 11, 2017 10:36 hrs
Followers outside the 'Dera Sacha Sauda' ashram of Ram Rahim who was convicted in a rape case

(Followers outside the 'Dera Sacha Sauda' ashram of Ram Rahim who was convicted in a rape case)

There is a popular meme doing the rounds these days…it shows that Indians leave their footwear and brains outside the door when they go meet ‘babas’ aka ‘Godmen’. It forces one to think: Why does a society behave like this?

One common view is that Indians are a gullible lot. We get taken in by perceived ‘miracles’, by the promise of a good life and the assurance of somebody always looking out for us. We want to hand over the decision making authority of our lives to someone else…whether it is God or Godmen.

Given that God cannot be seen, Godmen quickly appropriate the role of God’s representative or in some cases, God himself. It is far easier to abdicate responsibility of our lives to others and then go through life, thanking or blaming our destiny as the case may be.

While this is true, there appears to be a larger underlying need in the blind faith that people have towards these Godmen – the need for social belonging and connectedness. ‘Man is a social animal’ is an oft repeated statement. However if we look beyond the cliches, it is true that all human beings – man, woman and child…have the need for social belonging and connectedness. Even a child does not feel settled in a new school until he/she doesn’t form his/her own group of friends.

However there has been a section of society that has been always been at the fringes of society. These were the economically backward lower classes of the society – often at the receiving end of the wrath of the landed, the learned and the rich. Usually exploited and excluded from the mainstream, they tended to live in their lives in the shadows of the more privileged lot.

As India moved towards liberalization, many of its citizens benefited from the resulting free market economy. People moved up the income ladder to become part of the burgeoning middle class. But the society forgot about a section of people in its race towards a better future. These people continued living on the fringes of development. They saw others leading lives of luxury and entitlement yet struggled to get recognition as individuals with needs, wants and desires.

Every time the government and its institutions fail to address the needs and desires of these people, a lacuna is formed. We all know that nature abhors a vacuum. Vacuum does not exist naturally on Earth. Air always rushes in to fill the empty space. The same is true of human nature and its interactions with the world …if there is a vacuum created in any sphere of our lives, we subconsciously search for a way to fill it in. This is the core premise on which the Godmen operate.

Every time the state and its machinery fails a section of the population , whether it is in terms of providing jobs, good and affordable healthcare, affordable quality education and means to legal redress, a lacuna is formed. In step the godmen. They provide employment, run healthcare centres and educational institutions and serve as a quasi-justice dispensing body. Often these Godmen become power centres and run a parallel government of their own in their immediate sphere of influence. Of course, all of this is funded from monies got from different (and not always legal) sources.

While the privileged among us may question their source of income and the legality of their methods, the services provided by these Godmen often cannot be over-emphasised. A simple example to illustrate the same is the Dera Sacha Sauda (which has been in the news recently over the sentencing of its head). As per information in the public domain, the Dera runs multiple drug de-addiction centres in Punjab. It is estimated that close to 73% of Punjab’s youth is addicted to drugs with per capita drug consumption in the state being three times the national average. For all those parents who are seeing their sons and daughters squander their lives away and engaging in crime in to fund their addiction…anybody who can wean their kids off drugs is a messiah, a God. Ideally the State machinery should be setting up and running functional, effective de-addiction centres. But if, as is alleged, part of the state machinery is itself involved in the drug cartel, then whom do these hapless parents turn to? They turn to the Dera-run de-addiction centres where the child is weaned off drugs. A rehabilitated child paves the way for these parents to become devotees of the Dera and worship its head as God.

The same is true for jobs, healthcare services, and educational services. With an overburdened judicial system leading to decades before cases get resolved, the people turn to the influential Godmen. With their speedy justice, they pronounce verdicts and get closure fast. In effect, the Godmen run a parallel government.

The elected Government, on the other hand, is happy to look the other way and abdicate its role completely. This is exactly what happened in the case of the Dera Sacha Sauda too. The Dera stepped in where the state Governments failed to deliver. For every youngster who was weaned off drugs, for every girl saved from the drug cartel, for every successful surgery done free of cost, for every man employed by the Dera…there is a grateful family…a family that will believe whatever the Dera says and will go to all lengths to protect their ‘saviour’.

Had the successive Governments (over the decades) performed their job even with a modicum of sincerity and efficiency, the Godmen culture would never have become so pervasive. The widespread success of these Godmen is a proof of the inefficiency and ineptitude of elected Governments.

Godmen flourish, not because people are fools. Godmen flourish because they provide a very basic human need. They listen to the voiceless, they see the ignored, and they make the downtrodden and the marginalized feel wanted – ideally the jobs that an elected Government should have done.

More Columns by Aditi Kumaria Hingu:

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The murder of Umar Fayaz: When a son dies too young

Let the Armed Forces do their job

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