The “New India” mirage amidst the Deras!!!

It’s just been over 2 weeks since the Prime Minister, from the ramparts of the Red fort, in his Independence Day speech, talked about taking the country forward with a pledge to build a New India. Among other things, he essentially meant that the India of tomorrow must shake itself off from the past, leave aside past prejudices, let go its insecurities and have its priority singularly on development. For a country with demographics by its side, this made ample sense.  The youth of today are more concerned about their aspirations and dreams and less attached to worldly emotional issues which plagued India in the past. Or so it appeared till a couple of days ago.

On the 25th of August, when most of India was celebrating Ganesh Chaturthi with great fervour, by evening, parts of Haryana and Punjab were on boil. By now, it appears that over 36 people have lost their lives. Hundreds have been injured. Public and private property worth millions have been ransacked. Normal life in this part of the country has come to a standstill. Neighbouring and related areas have been on high alert. All this due to mob violence unleashed by supporters of a self-proclaimed Godman by name Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh of the Dera Sacha Sauda sect, following his conviction on nothing less but rape charges. And I hear that in preparation for tomorrow’s judgement day, schools and colleges will be shut, Internet services have been suspended and curfew is to be continued throughout the day!

My first brush with Dera Sacha Sauda and its head Gurmeet Singh was in June 2009. It was a Friday and I was getting back home from work late in the evening. As I was nearing Mulund, a north eastern suburb of Mumbai where I live, it resembled a riot hit town. Armed police were in the streets in full strength and I could see groups of Sikhs huddled together engaged in animated conversations. This was a first for me in Mulund, usually a peaceful suburb where a mix of people including Gujaratis, South Indians, Maharashtrians, Christians, Sindhis and Sikhs live in harmony. As I waded through the tense streets and reached home, I came to know of the genesis of that situation. That evening Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh had visited Mulund and was seen shopping in the Nirmal Lifestyle Mall. The choice of Mulund was not by chance, as I could sense later. Mulund had a decent Sikh population who settled after partition in Govt. established settlements. So were Sindhis. A group of Sikhs who spotted him there immediately gathered a few of their brethren and started shouting slogans against Gurmeet Singh. Singh has been a target of Sikh ire back home in Punjab after he dressed up as Guru Govind Singh, the last Sikh Guru to which the orthodox Sikhs took strong exception. When crowd started swelling up and they attempted to block the way of the Gurmeet Singh, his body guards opened fire in which one Sikh businessman got badly injured. He succumbed to the injuries in the hospital soon. As this news spread, mobs spilled into the streets demanding action against Gurmeet Singh.

The next day – Saturday saw a more organized protest with more and more Sikhs, brandishing swords and lathis, blocking trains, buses and other vehicles demanding action against Singh and his body guards. Gurmeet Singh’s cavalcade was intercepted in Navi Mumbai and his body guards were taken to custody. It took a few days for the situation in Mulund to return to normal.  Here was a man whose body guards could just open fire and kill people at free will that too, in an alien city in broad day light for showing dissent. Ironically, all the 14 accused (basically body guards of Gurmeet Singh accused for firing at a mob and killing one person) were acquitted by the court in 2011 for lack of evidence!!! This was when my antenna went up first, about this self-styled Godman Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, as one who ticked all the boxes for an emerging power centre who could bend things at his will.  He, by then had won over even the orthodox Sikhs as well and of course political parties.

Coming back to the events of the past 2 days, all the arson, violence and the mindless protests by thousands of people were actually against the law taking its course.  And that too for a crime as heinous as rape of young girls (not one or two but many) within the premises of the Dera.  The fact that many news reports of the shady happenings inside the Dera for so many years didn’t stop the public from continuing to follow and support this so called Baba is startling in itself! What is of course not is, political parties rubbing shoulders with these Godmen from time to time. Any individual who appear to have some influence on few thousands of people, become a natural ally of choice for political parties. In this, no party has been an exception.

In India, this story of Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh is not alone. We have had similar exploitative tales of Sant Rampal in the north, Swami Nithyananda in the south, Asaram Bapu in the west and so on. What explains this mindless following by people of these so called Godmen, even after seeing them exposed in the past?  While at the outset one could come up with different reasons like faith, belief, upbringing and so on, I guess in the core of this, is “Insecurity”. Insecurity among people of all hue – literate/illiterate, Rich/Poor, Urban/Rural, Upper Class/Lower class, Young/Old, and Men/Women.  Insecurity about their future. Insecurity about their position. Insecurity about their existence. It is this insecurity that these conniving Godmen tap into, quite successfully over a period of time.  So, at the centre of the rise of a Baba lies the insecurities of We, the people!

Till such time, we don’t shrug of these insecurities which, I feel is tied to India emerging as an undisputed developed nation and continuing to stay so for a few decades, enough to cleanse the minds of a couple of generations, New India will remain a mirage where Deras will continue to hold sway. Just as one did a few days ago.

Pic credit: Bollywoodlife.com

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