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MD's Note May 2013
Arpita Bansal

India is a country where ‘godmen’ are glorified. Their authority and verdict is held in absolute assent by a large size of the population. What was initially revered as a direction of life for those willing to embrace sacrifice, work for betterment, or to achieve nirvana, has increasingly become a commercial circus today.

I do not mean to offend anyone, but I am speaking out of a recent personal experience in this matter. I had attended one of these very such events – popularly known as satsang in the north of the country. Amidst all the teachings of true values, what left me most baffled was the manner in which attendees were ready to shell out amounts ranging from Rs 20,000 to many lakhs at a moment’s prompt from the godman. Not just individuals, entire communities were ready to put up money upfront, and it would be safe to presume that there are never any audits done on such donations or at such events.

When an entire country grappled by inflation is struggling with poverty, and when you have a myriad number of NGOs that are in urgent need of assistance, why would individuals or communities make a choice of donating to religious figures instead? And if you are in sync with news and television, there is no need for me to mention here that these self-declared godmen are leading extremely comfortable lives surrounded by imported cars, all sorts of technologies, and mammoth bank accounts, while millions have to fight for
two decent meals a day. Not just the willing donations, what I witnessed was a form of coercion – when your name is announced amongst a gathering of 500, you cannot help but shell out the amount to save face.

What is it that drives the nation to believe in this self-initiated supremacy? What sort of grip do these babas, pujaris and acharyas have on the nation, so as to be able to even influence politics both regional and national as per their convenience? How does one even begin to comprehend the largesse depleted on these men who are regularly enveloped in controversies ranging from sexual abuse to money laundering?

The problem I think is deep-rooted. It lies in blind faith, superstition and unfortunately poverty, which leads to desperation for quick-fix cures. But as long as we allow these godmen to take advantage, we as a nation are only further entrenching ourselves in the vicious cycle of debilitating belief and disempowerment. We need to keep our minds open before we close our eyes in prayer.
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