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In Absence Of Welfare, Religious Sects Continue To Fill Void In India: Global Times

BEIJING, Sep 6 (APP): The rape scandal of Indian religious guru Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh who was sentenced to 20 years in prison last week for raping two of his followers, is just the tip of the iceberg. For years, religious gurus like Rampal Maharaj, Swami Bhimanand, Swami Nithyananda and Asharam Bapu often made the headlines over allegations of assault against wormen , corruption, murder, human trafficking, fraud and other crimes.

They gained huge influence from their large number of followers and used their power to seek personal gains under the guise of religion, according to an article published in Global Times here on Wednesday. The Indian public’s advocacy and enthusiasm for gurus is nothing new. Followers regard gurus as gods and are still loyal to them even after they are convicted of crimes. Riots triggered by the Singh scandal are the testimony of his personal influence throughout India. Psychoanalyst Sudhir Kakar once explored the psychological origins for the guru phenomenon in his book The Indians. The nuclear family has a dominant status in today’s India, but the traditional family’s psychological mechanism – loyalty to family members and compliance to authority – still prevails and has a profound influence on Indian society. Hierarchical, cooperative and cohesive family relationships are the epitome of Indian social relations. People need to seek their sense of identity and belonging in the community, and leaders are idealized and blindly worshipped in the collective interest.

India’s caste system may have been abolished in 1950, but it still permeates modern Indian society. Singh’s proposal for equality has attracted a large number of Dalit (members of the lowest caste) from Haryana and Punjab, the main regions of Singh’s reported 60 million followers. Singh’s Dera Sacha Sauda sect “granted” his followers, who are usually discriminated against and suppressed in Indian society, equality and dignity. Many of his followers use Insan – “human” in Indian – as their surname. This vividly reflects their eagerness for equal rights and dignity in India’s hierarchic society where religious tensions are often intertwined with caste problems. Some Indian grassroots people’s reliance on religious cults is also a result of the charitable campaigns and free services that the religious groups offer. Dera Sacha Sauda claims itself as a non-profit social welfare and spiritual organization. It provides sound education for children at low cost, functions as a shelter for prostitutes, widows, abandoned babies and other disadvantaged groups, offers medical assistance to villagers, helps to enhance the living standards of the poor, and urges people to boycott drugs and alcohol. The cult offers material and spiritual assistance to its followers, which ought to be governmental responsibilities. India has been imposing neoliberal economic policies since the 1990s, privatizing state-owned enterprises to cut expenditure on public welfare. M. Rajivlochan, a professor from Panjab University, wrote in The Indian Express that “Dignity, social support, medical help, and food security… These are precisely the things that the modern Indian state – at least in its Haryana/Punjab version – refuses to offer to the people.” No wonder followers still regard Singh as a parental figure despite his detention. The Indian Express listed Singh as one of the top 100 influential Indians in 2015 given his huge political influence.

India is a secular country, but religion still carries great sway in the country’s politics. Singh, with the vote bank’s support, has established mutually beneficial relations with political parties. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi publicly applauded Singh in an attempt to win votes from the guru’s followers, and was later accused of indulging the rioters after Singh was convicted of rape. Chinese scholar Lin Yutang once praised the “guru” as the wisest person in India that deserves worship. But today some Indian gurus have descended into egotistical figures working out of personal interest at the sacrifice of social order and ethics. Just as Jagdeep Singh, special CBI court judge, said at the trial, “A religious organization [like Dera Sacha Sauda] … is bound to shatter the image of pious and sacred spiritual, social, cultural and religious institutions existing in this country since time immemorial, which in turn reflects irreparable damages … to the heritage of this ancient land.”