Self-Styled Godmen

It has become almost customary in Indian mainstream media to refer to Hindu Gurus as ‘Self Styled Godmen’. Look up any dictionary, and you shall see that the term Godman is listed as a derogatory one. The question that arises then is, why does Indian media consistently use a derogatory term to refer to Hindu Gurus? Is this some sort of inherent bias…? Is it due to their Macaulayan education…? Is it on account of their leftist bent of mind…? Or is it part of a larger conspiracy to discredit Hindusim?

Next, let us look at the term “self-styled”. Online dictionaries state the meaning of “self-styled” as follows: “called or considered by oneself as specified”, or “as characterized by oneself, often without right or justification”. Simply put, the term “self-styled” is used to conjure up a picture in the readers’ minds, of a charlatan who has conferred a spiritual title upon himself / herself. Now, if we assume that some such Gurus are indeed “self-styled”, then what would be an example of a Guru who is not self-styled? One who is canonized? That’s funny, because there exists no process/authority to attest/certify Hindu Gurus in this manner. The concept of ‘canonization’ is alien to Dharmic traditions. Therefore, by definition, all Hindu Gurus are fundamentally “self-styled”.

This is not to be construed to mean, however, that there is no system at all and anyone can randomly become a Guru. One of the most fundamental building block of Hinduism is the Guru-Shishya parampara or the Guru-Disciple lineage. The Disciple gets initiated into spiritual practice by his Guru through a process called Guru-Diksha and thus commences the Disciple’s spiritual journey. However, enlightened Indian journalists do not give much credence to this lineage; it is immaterial to them.

The question that arises then is, what is the intention of these Indian journalists who use the term self-styled so liberally, and in fact, quite consistently to label Hindu Gurus? Are they trying to imply that anyone who is not canonized by the Vatican is self-styled and therefore not a bonafide spiritual leader? Or is the intent to malign these Gurus as part of larger conspiracy?

With the extent of such abuse prevalent in the media, it is necessary that the Government publish clear guidelines on reporting on Hindu Gurus. For example, the guidelines could call upon journalists to eschew use of the term GODMAN because it is derogatory in nature. The terms GURU or SPIRITUAL LEADER may be used instead. The guidelines could also call upon journalists to eschew the use of the adjective self-styled because it is irrelevant in the context of Hinduism. And finally, and most importantly, the guidelines should call upon journalists to strictly adhere to the “Norms of Journalistic Conduct” published by the Press Council of India, when reporting on Hindu Gurus.

The Norms of Journalistic Conduct clearly articulate principles and ethics applicable to journalism. Worthy of mention are 1. Accuracy and Fairness, 2. Pre-publication Verification, 3. Caution Against Defamatory Writings, 13. Corrections, 14. Right of Reply, 41 (A) Trial by Media and 42. Norms for Photo Journalism. Unfortunately, these apply only to the print media; TV channels are not covered. But even for print media, these are not enforced and on any given day, one can spot several violations in newspapers.

Impeccable Journalism and Charlatan Babas

This is in response to an article titled “Babas and their blind believers”: http://www.tehelka.com/babas-and-their-blind-believers/

Have you seen Bollywood movies or television series where the villain wears saffron robes or Rudraksha beads?  I am sure you’d be able to recount several!  For long, Indians have been continuously fed with media, via Bollywood films, television soaps and news stories, the impression that Hindu Sadhus are largely “dhongi”s or charlatans.  Villainous characters dressed in saffron robes and wearing Rudraksha beads have been cast to the extent of creating stereotypes. At a more subtle level, we have seen devious mothers-in-law devoutly performing Pooja and Japa, even as they plot heinous conspiracies.  On the other hand, have you ever seen a Christian priest in a negative role?  Ever? Without exception, priests are always portrayed as kind hearted, pure hearted men of God, ever ready to help the needy.  These images, systematically fed to the Indian psyche over decades, are designed to create a deep mistrust in the mind of Hindus against their own Gurus.

Bollywood

This article titled “Babas and…” builds on the same scheme of designs. It seeks to establish two things. First, that all “babas” are charlatans and second, that their following comprises of gullible, blind fools who are drawn to them because of stress and depression, and are then brain washed into becoming life-long followers. Let us logically examine these claims.

 All babas are charlatans

The article seeks to classify babas into (a) those who claim to cure secret illnesses and the like, (b) those that offer miracles, and (c) those who “deceive thousands of people for years by captivating their mind”.  Any logical classification needs to be made on a common parameter. If the parameter is what these babas claim to offer as their USP, then the description of the third category should be “those who claim to offer spiritual knowledge”.

Next, a question that comes up is:  are quacks who advertise cures for piles and secret diseases, even remotely comparable to those who offer spiritual knowledge?  Does it make any sense discussing the two together in a common article? Unless the intent is to paint all of them with one brush, and declare Spiritual Gurus as charlatans too!

Further, if we leave aside the first two categories and take the third category i.e. those who offer spiritual knowledge, the next question that arises is:  how does one decide which of these Gurus offers genuine knowledge and which do not?  Who will sit in judgment and basis what qualification?  It is important to reflect here on the fact that Vedic spirituality, especially the profound depth of Vedant, is certainly not easy to understand. Even more so for the uninitiated i.e. those who have not commenced their spiritual journey.  Is it right then for journalists to sit in judgment on such matters? The article offers nothing by way of the author’s credentials. Neither does it attempt any analysis of the subject matter of these Guru’s teachings. Instead, the article conveniently hinges on the opinion of a couple of psychologists.  I would say that in matters spiritual, one of the least reliable opinions is that of psychologists / psychiatric practitioners because the discomfort that these practitioners have had with spirituality is a very old one. Think about it – if people start following spirituality and its practices such as mantra-jaap and dhyaan in large numbers, what do you think would happen to the number of people who seek psychiatric help?

The reality is that anyone who wishes to reach any conclusion on such matters needs to deeply study the teachings of these Gurus and the transformational impact it has had on their followers. For a spiritual aspirant who seeks a Guru, this is an extremely delicate and personal decision and even our scriptures state that the aspirant must do every due diligence before accepting a revered one as his/her Guru. The scriptures describe the qualities of a Guru and these can serve as a guide.

In case of Asaramji Bapu, for those who wish to know about his teachings, innumerable videos of his discourses are available on YouTube. Videos that have been described as “tatvik” give the viewer a taste of some of the really deep subjects. Secondly, one may also reach out to any of his disciples to understand the transformation in their lives.

They attract people who are stressed, troubled and unable to think clearly

Our esteemed psychologists have presented a hypothesis that people are drawn to Gurus when they are in trouble or under stress or as a result of social and economic insecurities.  To give them due credit, yes, it is possible that such factors are triggers for some people.  But there is absolutely nothing wrong in that.  From time immemorial, people have been drawn to spirituality due to a sense of disillusionment with the material world. Profound disillusionment leads to dispassion. This is also called Vairagya.

According to Shri Yog Vasisht Maha Ramayan, even Lord Shri Ram had experienced this. He was very silent upon His return from a tour of the country, much to the concern of His father King Dasharath. Sage Vasisht assured the King that Ram’s dispassion (vairagya) is a sign that the Prince is now ready for spiritual enlightenment. He told King Dasharath that Ram has begun understanding profound spiritual truths, and this is the cause of His confusion; He needs confirmation. Sage Vasistha then advised Lord Ram and this advice forms the entire scripture that is Yog Vasisht.

There are also many who come to the spiritual path not because they are under stress or have problems, but purely because of what is called as “Jigyaasa” or the quest for spiritual knowledge. Irrespective of what prompted them to come to the spiritual path, if you ask any of Asaramji Bapu’s followers what they wish to achieve, or what is the objective of their continued association, the answer would invariably be around attaining the “Supreme Knowledge”, “Ishwar-Praapti” or “Brahm-Gyaan”.

All followers are blind gullible fools

Of late, the term blind faith has been bandied about quite liberally.  May I suggest that the reader reflect on the meaning of the term “blind faith”? Is the term blind faith to suggest that there is a type of faith that is not blind? What distinguishes the two? And who is to decide which is blind and which is not?

The article mentions millions of devotees. And yet the author does not hesitate to nonchalantly paint them all as gullible fools.  If one reflects on the state of their minds, one would realize that such persons have made an inherent assumption that they have been gifted with a higher level of intellect or greater power of discretion than those millions of ‘blind’ devotees. Such an attitude could likely be an outcome of Macaulay’s education. In the words of distinguished journalist, author and politician, Shri. Arun Shourie, “The core of our tradition was the spiritual quest; the core of this spiritual quest was Hindu; the way in which this core manifested itself in the life of our people was the religious. To the western educated Indian the spiritual was just mumbo-jumbo, religion was just opium to entrap the masses, and Hinduism just a particularly pernicious form of that opium. That which was the very essence of our nationhood was thereby denounced.”

One key distinguishing character of Dharmic religions vs. others needs to be clearly understood – Dharmic religions are experiential in nature. They do not require the seeker to follow/accept something based merely on what the leader or scriptures say. Instead the seeker can follow a prescribed path and experience for himself / herself. Faith is required only for the proverbial initial “leap”.  It is possible that many are not even aware of this distinctive characteristic of Dharmic traditions and therefore assume followers to be “blind”.

Non practicing Hindus, or Indians who have imbibed the western gaze of looking down on Dharmic traditions, (and unfortunately, these represent a vast majority today), are usually unfamiliar with even the basic fundamentals of Vedic Spirituality. In general, such individuals may not be in a position to understand India’s  spiritual heritage at all. Read more about the concept of “practicing Hindus” here: https://gurudas108.wordpress.com/2013/08/25/the-concept-of-practicing-hindus-and-its-relevance-today/

Interestingly, one of the psychologists quoted in the article is Vice President of Maharashtra’s Committee for Eradication of Blind Faith (CEBF). The founder of this Committee was Mr. Narendra Dhabolkar.  Here is an interesting audio where Shri Rajiv Dixit describes his discussions with Mr. Dhabolkar. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EKjd60OGpZQ

Questionable sections of the article

“The devotees present are convinced that the media has conspired against Asaram Bapu and thus, it is their arch enemy”: Is this surprising considering the level of misreporting that has happened in this case? With the media openly spreading blatant lies, what other conclusion can one reach? Please see this link to get an idea of the level of misreporting: http://asarambapu-realstory.blogspot.in/. Here are a couple of videos in Hindi: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LzTTMq2Opd8, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IeMIghdegMQ

“One must meet a devotee in private. Dilip, a 40-year-old resident of Shahdara, Delhi, has just returned after having spent a night in jail. He has been an Asaram devotee for the past ten years”:  We noted earlier how it is ridiculous to ever remotely draw a comparison of quacks with Spiritual Gurus. For the same reason, it is highly unlikely that you would find a spiritual aspirant, a follower of a Spiritual Guru, going to a quack who claims to heal secret diseases. I think this character is either fictional or an extremely rare exception among crores.

“When TEHELKA tried to contact this woman using the email address cited at the end of the anecdote, it turned out to be a fake address. Other such accounts were also found to be submitted from fake email addresses. Publicising these presumably self-written ‘spiritual experiences’, Asaram managed to accumulate a large fan-following”:  Wow! Such investigative journalism deserves an ovation. However, to hear experiences of followers, anyone can simply go to YouTube and search for “Asaram Bapu experiences”.  Will TEHELKA now suggest that the people in those videos are all paid actors?  Hilarious!

“When TEHELKA contacted Dr. Tapadia regarding the photograph, he said, “I am ashamed that I clicked the picture of such a man. They distorted my words and misquoted me. Eight to ten years ago, when Asaram visited me, I clicked his photograph. But there are other people who have a larger magnetic field around them than Asaram does. Any person who is healthy and hearty has a large magnetic field. If someone delivers impressive speeches, people are bound to get influenced. This is what Asaram also does; there is nothing divine about it.””:  I am personally unaware of this technology or its veracity, but here is the video of Dr Tapadia where he speaks at length on Asaram Bapu’s aura: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eirYU8vbbYk  He says in the video that he has captured the aura of 7 lakh people, with at least 1,000 of them being prominent persons, including great saints, sadhus, and sadhvis. Of all these, he says that Asaramji Bapu’s aura uniquely displayed the ability to give power as opposed to other prominent auras which could only suck negativity. He also mentions that it is very surprising to see the Sahasrara Chakra fully active at 100% potency – he has never seen this in case of anyone else.  It is for the reader to judge after seeing this video if the claim of distorting words and misquoting can be true.

In summary 

In summary, I believe that rather than bringing out the reality of babas and blind believers, to the discerning reader, this article exposes the sad state of journalism in India.  I am posting this article with the humble expectation that perhaps this will open the eyes of the reader to the vicious defamation campaigns run by some sections of the media against popular Hindu spiritual leaders, and with the hope that perhaps some day Indian Media will mend its ways and rise to truly be what is expected of it as the “fourth pillar” of democracy.

When zeal overshadows reason

This is in response to an article titled “Gandhi to Asaram: Who Empowers the Sex Crimes of ‘Gurus?’” http://genderbytes.wordpress.com/2013/09/04/gandhi-to-asaram-who-empowers-the-sex-crimes-of-gurus/

Text in Italics is the original text from the article

>>>> “Both Gandhi and Asaram regarded sex as and sexual desire as “sins,” and any expression of sexuality as ‘dirty’ imports from the west that needed to be shunned because they ruin India’s youth and culture.  Both preached abstinence to their followers and the control of sexual desire as a form of self-‘purification.’” <<<<

Sorry if it disappoints you, but Brahmacharya has always been an integral part of mainstream spiritual practice in India since time immemorial. Several scriptural references are available on this, and I would be happy to share some of these with anyone who is interested. Take also the example of other revered saints. Swami Vivekanand – When a disciple expressed astonishment at Swamiji’s extraordinary learning ability, he replied, “Do you see, simply by the observance of strict Brahmacharya all learning can be mastered in a very short time. It is owing to this want of Brahmacharya that everything is on the brink of ruin in our country”

SwamiVivekanand

It is not surprising though, that today many find the concept of Brahmacharya strange, perhaps even ridiculous. Non practicing Hindus, or Indians who have imbibed the western gaze of looking down on Dharmic traditions, (and unfortunately, these represent a vast majority today), are usually unfamiliar with even the basic fundamentals of Vedic Spirituality. In general, such individuals may not be in a position to understand our spiritual heritage at all. Read more about the concept of “practicing Hindus” here: https://gurudas108.wordpress.com/2013/08/25/the-concept-of-practicing-hindus-and-its-relevance-today/

Also, note that not all preachers associated with Dharmic traditions, speak explicitly on the subject of Brahmacharya in their discourses. Many of them ‘sugar-coat’ their discourses to suit the taste of their modern, western-educated audience. Similarly they skirt certain core issues that our Nation and Dharma is faced with (such as the menace of proselytization) because (a) they wish to avoid controversy (b) they fear backlash from the powers that are the causal forces behind these issues. In a way, these leaders play to the gallery. In another sense, it is a marriage of convenience, where they do not challenge those powers and the powers let them and their followers be. On the contrary, spiritual leaders with depth, speak straight from the atman, and speak for the larger good. They do not mince words. They are not bothered about the repercussions and potential backlash, because they have long conquered fear! Asaram Bapu is one such spiritual leader. He has faced this backslash in the form of a continuous string of conspiracies for the last 4.5 years. Personally, I would most definitely prefer a spiritual leader whose teachings represent the same undiluted set of practices that has been passed down from time immemorial.

>>>>> “And both Gandhi and Asaram in hypocritical violations of their own preaching, indulged in sexual gratification of one kind or another, even when it resulted in the sexual abuse of girls and women in their flock. Details that continue to emerge about Asaram’s past indicate that he not only sexually abused and raped other women, but that he regarded the women in his ashram as his sexual ‘toys.’” <<<<<<<

The article makes very serious allegations here. “Not only sexually abused and raped, but regarded as sexual toys” the article states. One would expect that the author would have some basis for making this allegation, in the form of perhaps some verifiable evidence that she is privy to, or some personal research… but the article does not offer any explanation other than some references to media reports.  (And the main link to ‘details that continue to emerge’ does not even work!)

From a person who has branded herself as a gender activist and a crusader for women’s rights, one would expect some respect for the law of the land and for an individual’s right to his/her reputation until and unless such allegations are proven. To malign someone, based merely on unproven allegations, and especially when the matter is under investigation / subjudice, is unacceptable to say the least.  Especially when that someone is regarded with great reverence by more than 4 crore Indians.

Anyone with a fair degree of common sense would be able to see how the mainstream media has been running a vilification campaign against Asaram Bapu for the last two weeks or more. They have been so obsessed with Asaram Bapu that they have ignored several other key issues of national significance.  That someone should take those media reports to be the “gospel truth” and reason enough to malign another… makes one wonder if this is merely an instance of blindly believing media reports, or a case of zeal overshadowing reason, or if there is more to this than meets the eye.

And what if these allegations are not true? Of the 4 crore followers, approximately half are women. If one has seen pictures of recent protests, one would have noticed that many of the protestors are women. Isn’t saying that “the women in his ashram were regarded as sexual toys” an affront to all these women? So much for gender activism!

It is my humble submission that the truth will eventually come out, but until then, we should hold our horses and refrain from assuming the role of amateur prosecutors.

>>>> “So actually it is the masses that follow blindly that have the power to give immunity to gurus and godheads. After all, religion or belief in any organized form lends itself well to this kind of cult mentality and blind following” <<<<<

Of late, the term blind faith has been bandied about quite liberally.  May I suggest that the reader reflect on the meaning of the term “blind faith”? Is the term blind faith to suggest that there is a type of faith that is not blind? What distinguishes the two? And who is to decide which is blind and which is not?

Secondly, a key distinguishing character of Dharmic religions vs. others is that the former are experiential in nature. Dharmic traditions do not require the seeker to follow/accept something based merely on what the leader or scriptures say. Instead the seeker can follow a prescribed path and experience for himself / herself. Faith is required only for the proverbial initial “leap”.  It is possible that many are not even aware of this distinctive characteristic of Dharmic traditions and therefore assume followers to be “blind”.

Also, if one reflects on the state of their minds, one would realize that such persons have made an inherent assumption that they have been gifted with a higher level of intellect or greater power of discretion than those ‘blind’ others. In this case for instance, they are unflinching in their belief that those 4+ crore followers are all gullible fools!  Such an attitude could likely be an outcome of Macaulay’s education. In the words of distinguished journalist, author and politician, Shri. Arun Shourie, “The core of our tradition was the spiritual quest; the core of this spiritual quest was Hindu; the way in which this core manifested itself in the life of our people was the religious. To the western educated Indian the spiritual was just mumbo-jumbo, religion was just opium to entrap the masses, and Hinduism just a particularly pernicious form of that opium. That which was the very essence of our nationhood was thereby denounced.”

Mahila Utthan Ashram and its activities

MahilaUtthanMandal

Finally, I would suggest that rather than forming opinions based on media reports, one should visit the Mahila Utthan Ashram, speak to the residents, or visit its website and decide for themselves.  The Mahila Utthan Ashram undertakes various activities such as Divya Shishu Sanskar, Daridra Narayan Seva, Gau Sewa, Ojaswi Yuvati Shivir, Garbhpaat (awareness against female feticide), Vriksha Ropan, Prisoner Upliftment, Sewa at Hospitals etc.  As an example, please see the video below of a mobile dispensary for women run by a team from the Mahila Ashram. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pRW4Q4woqbg.

Garbhpaat

The issue of female feticide has also been close to Asaram Bapu’s heart since long. I remember a campaign that Asaram Bapu’s Ashrams had run in the past to create awareness about the female feticide issue. One of the most touching aspect of the campaign was a poem that imagined what an unborn girl child would say to its mother if it could write a letter.

Satyameva Jayate!

The Dark Side Of Indian Media

This article is a counter to an article published by the Open Magazine with the title “The Dark Side of Asaram Bapu” dated 9th February 2013 (http://www.openthemagazine.com/article/nation/the-dark-side-of-asaram-bapu). When I read the article, I was shocked to see the omissions and misrepresentations it contained. These suggested that this article may have been written with the malafide intent of defaming Asaramji Bapu. I have presented some facts here to counter the misrepresentations in the article.

I am posting this article with the humble expectation that perhaps this will open the eyes of the reader to the vicious defamation campaigns run by some sections of the media against popular Hindu spiritual leaders, and with the hope that perhaps some day Indian Media will mend its ways and rise to truly be what is expected of it as the “fourth pillar” of democracy.

Text in Italics is the original text from the article

>>>> “Less than 35 kilometres from the centre of Ahmedabad lies the dusty town of Motera, now made famous by one of India’s best known spiritual gurus, self-styled philosopher and friend to the rich and the powerful. Nearly 42 years ago, a developing friendship with the powers that be in Gujarat earned Asaram Harpalani, the son a coal and wood seller, 10 acres of fertile agricultural land. The land did not come to him all at once, it accumulated over the years as friendships strengthened. Harpalani, who was born in 1941 in Berami village of Pakistan’s Sindh province, set up a small ashram on the land, the first of over 400 ashrams that exist today across the world. Soon enough, this self-styled religious preacher dropped his tongue twister of a surname and began calling himself Asaram Bapu.” <<<<<

Asaramji Bapu was born Asumal Sirumalani. Asharam was a name given to him by his Guru, Lilashahji. And it is a common practice in Gujrat to address spiritual preachers as “Bapu”. The statement “began calling himself Asaram Bapu” and other phrases such as “self-styled” and “friend to the rich and powerful” are intended to influence the reader’s line of though at the outset and set the stage for the sinister stories that follow.

The author then makes an unsubstantiated claim that land for the Ahmedabad Ashram was acquired as a result of “developing friendship with powers that be”. This is just the beginning of this imaginative work of fiction. Please also note the use of the adjectives “fertile agricultural” land. The truth is far from it.

>>>>> “His controversial intervention in the Delhi rape case—when he said “galati ek taraf se nahin hoti hai,” suggesting the victim of the sexual assault was equally responsible for the crime—has recently brought unwanted national attention to the man, but in Gujarat, Asaram and his Motera ashram have been in the eye of a storm since July 2008. The controversy involves the deaths of two ten-year-old cousins, Abhishek and Dipesh Vaghela, at the ashram’s Bal Kendra, on 3 July, a month after they were admitted there as students. On 23 January this year, seven disciples of Asaram accused in the Vaghela case were summoned by an Ahmedabad court.” <<<<<

As you read on, notice how the author weaves a story…

>>>> “In the aftermath of the disappearance of the Vaghela brothers from the heavily guarded Bal Kendra, the ashram administration, including Asaram and Darshan Sai, had initially played down the seriousness of the incident. The parents of the children were told that they had run away home, a fact vociferously contested by them. “My brother Shantibhai and I enrolled our children at the Motera ashram for education,” said Praful Vaghela, father of Dipesh.

“We paid Rs 15,000 each but were not given pucca receipts. It was just a handwritten receipt. The children were given yellow T-shirts and white pajamas as uniform in the ashram. In that month, we visited them at least six to eight times. On 28 June, when we visited the ashram, their hair was tonsured and both had sandalwood tikas on their foreheads. I was uncomfortable with this,” said Vaghela. According to him, the children told him that the tonsuring was done in the presence of Asaram.” <<<<<

For the reader’s information, these Gurukuls are like any other school for the most part. There is obviously no practice of tonsuring heads. These allegations are presented to start building an impression in the reader’s mind that there must be something strange going on in these Gurukuls. Note also the use of the phrase “heavily guarded”. One may view pictures from the Gurukuls here: http://www.gurukul.ashram.org/VirtualTour/Gallery.aspx and the excellent exam results achieved by the students here: http://www.gurukul.ashram.org/ArticleView/tabid/1564/ArticleId/1815/Results-2012-2013.aspx

Gurukul1

Gurukul2

>>>>> “On the afternoon of 3 July, Shantibhai met the children at the ashram. At 9 pm the same day, Praful Vaghela received a call from the ashram administration inquiring if the children had come home. The Vaghelas went to the ashram and looked for the children. At the end of their futile search, Pankaj Saksena, the administrator of the gurukul told them to go around a peepal tree 11 times and ask for the children. They did so but “nothing happened”. The family, Vaghela claimed, wanted to file a police complaint, but the Ashram administration did not allow them to do so. The family waited out the night and proceeded to the Chandkeda police station the next morning. Two office bearers of the ashram—Vikas Khemcha and Ajay Shah—were already there at the police station. “They went in and spoke to the police. Then they came out and told us to go inside. The police got angry with us when we demanded that a complaint be filed. They did not let us file one,” says the distressed father.

During this period Asaram sent a message to the parents that they should go to a char rasta (crossroad), pick up seven stones, put the stones in hot water along with the children’s clothes and then take out the wet clothes inside out and hang them to dry in the children’s room. The children would return within four hours. “The ashram people told us to wait for the mandatory four hours as directed by Asaram. Nothing happened,” said Vaghela. On the third day of the search, the ashram administration told the Vaghelas another bizarre story—the thumbnail of a 10-year-old gurukul resident had indicated that the missing children were at Kallol. Not surprisingly, that was not where the children were found. Their bodies were finally recovered from a dried-up riverbed close to the ashram.

Vaghela can still vividly recall the harrowing sight—his son Dipesh’s arms were missing from the shoulder down. All the internal organs were missing, only the hollowed out ribcage remained. His left leg appeared to be cut off at the ankle, the right leg seemed burnt. His nephew Abhishek’s body was half burnt as well. Instead of helping the family, the policemen harassed them and refused to register complaints against Asaram and the ashram. “When I said the guilty should be arrested, we were told the consequences could be dire. Then we saw a tempo full of ashram inmates coming to the place where the bodies were recovered, armed with weapons and sticks. We ran away,” said Vaghela. Till this point, Asaram had always enjoyed a cosy relationship with the media. But when the media started reporting on the Vaghela case, many other skeletons started tumbling out of the ashram closets. The media, including several women reporters, were targeted and mercilessly beaten up. Kuldeep Singh Kalair, a reporter with Divya Bhaskar, was locked up in a room in the ashram and beaten by sadhaks. He had to be rescued by the police.

The incident served to lend credence to the allegations of tantric practices by Asaram and his followers. The rumours had been around for a while, but before the deaths of these boys these were mere whispers.” <<<<<<<

I shall not go into the veracity of the story narrated above, since the matter is sub judice, I shall focus rather on the charge of black magic. Asaramji Bapu’s satsangs are based on Vedanta and the objective of self-realization. An allegation that black magic is practiced in his Ashrams is preposterous. However, law must take its course. Let us see what happened to the black magic charges that were made in 2008.

In 2010: The Gujarat CID told the High Court in a report that they have found no evidence of black magic in the Ashram. “Places (in the ashram) were thoroughly searched and photographed as well as videography was done during the visit, but no material suggesting practice of black magic has been found,” the report said.  Here are links to related news reports:

From DNA: http://www.dnaindia.com/india/1368832/report-no-evidence-of-black-magic-practice-in-asaram-ashram-cid

From Indian Express: http://www.indianexpress.com/news/cid-finds-no-proof-of-black-magic-in-asaram-ashram/601871/

In 2011, 2012: In a judgment in 2011, the Gujarat High Court ordered the CID to quash the charges of culpable homicide against the seven accused and register the offence under section 304(A) of the IPC (causing death by negligence). This order was challenged, but was upheld by the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court also dismissed a plea by the family members of the deceased and refused to order a CBI probe into the matter.

From Times of India: http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2013-01-22/india/36483288_1_minketan-patra-narayan-sai-kaushik-vani, http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2012-11-09/india/35015331_1_cbi-probe-cbi-enquiry-death-of-two-boys

In 2013: In January 2013, the lawyer of the family members of the deceased admitted before the DK Trivedi Commission that there is no evidence in the case that suggests that black magic was practiced on the two boys. He also said that the matter of black magic is not relevant to the case and he was not relying on it for his case.

From Indian Express: http://www.indianexpress.com/news/deaths-in-ashram-no-evidence-of-black-magic-says-lawyer/1062387/

Now, an important question that comes up is, if in April 2010 the CID reported that they found no evidence of black magic, and if in January 2013 the lawyer of family members of the deceased himself admitted before the Inquiry Commission that there exists no evidence of black magic and that the subject of black magic is not relevant to the case, then how come the author writes such an article on 9th Feb 2013? Does this not suggest malafide intent?

>>>> “Meanwhile, in the Chhind- wara town of Madhya Pradesh, two other children were found dead in the residential institution run by Asaram. The students—Ramakrishna Yadav (a nursery student) and Vedant Moraya (Class 1 student)—were found in the hostel toilet on 31 July 2008. Here too, angry residents protested and demanded the closure of the ashram.” <<<<<<

Just like in the Ahmedabad Gurukul case, sections of the media went hysterical with the Chhindwara case too, jumping to conclusions, and running a despicable smear campaign around ‘black magic’ being practised in the Gurukuls. The author does not feel it necessary to mention here that the local law enforcing authorities solved the Chhindwara case within a week. A ninth grade student confessed to both the murders and this was corroborated by forensic evidence. Here are links to news reports on the outcome of the investigation:

From Indian Express: http://www.indianexpress.com/news/14yearold-killed-gurukul-students-cops/344322/

From the Hindu: http://www.hindu.com/2008/08/05/stories/2008080557630500.htm

So, what are we to conclude about the author – selective memory, or malafide intent to slander?

>>>> “Vaghela continues to maintain that Asaram and his son are involved in black magic and tantric practices, a claim he has made in his deposition before the Justice (retired) DK Trivedi Commission of Inquiry.

The Commission, appointed by Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi to probe the deaths following the public outcry, has already been censured by the Gujarat High Court for going soft on Asaram and his son. The high court order on a petition filed by Asaram (15637/2012), challenging the Commis- sion summons to appear before it, stated: “a picture emerges where the Commis- sion has, on its knees, with folded hands craved the convenience of the petitioner and his son to record their evidence before it and this has continued for a period of more than one and a half years”. When Asaram appeared before the Commis- sion, after being summoned on six different occasions, he was accompanied by an entourage of slogan-shouting followers. Eyewitnesses say that even as the deposition before the Commission was on, Asaram would leave the room without permission, either to drink milk or address his followers.” <<<<

A press release on the Ashram’s website clarifies that Asaramji Bapu was summoned only once. The release states that in accordance with proper legal procedure, it had been decided that Asaramji Bapu’s deposition was to happen after all other witnesses. Accordingly Bapuji deposed before the Commission on 1st December 2012. 

Link to the press note: http://www.ashram.org/Publications/ArticleView/tabid/417/ArticleId/3092/.aspx

Meanwhile the story spinning continues… “Eyewitnesses say that he would leave the room without permission, either to drink milk or address his followers”.

>>>>> “This brazenness in the face of the law is in keeping with this guru’s attitude to life. Initially, after the Motera ashram was set up, the numbers who came to listen to him were not large, but as local politicians started paying obeisance, they swelled. At the core of his attraction was an aggressive discourse that preached an ethic of ‘tit for tat’. The attitude is still visible at the sprawling Motera ashram” <<<<<

Wow! So the number of followers increased because of local politicians paying obeisance!! Crores of followers, all because polticians attend his Satsangs? “Aggressive discourse” and ethic of “tit for tat”? What is that supposed to mean?  Asaramji Bapu’s Satsangs are about finding peace and discovering one’s true self.

>>>>>> “Beyond a huge peach-coloured arch, plastered with flex banners of the white-bearded preacher in elaborate head gear, two listless guards in khaki uniform watch people enter and exit the ashram. Many prostrate themselves at the ashram entrance before entering or leaving. Asaram speaks to the people via recorded discourses heard through the ashram compound, but few who come into the ashram seem interested in listening to the recorded version. It is the white kurta-pajama-clad male disciples, spread across various age groups, who catch their attention. They are everywhere—behind the various counters, walking around, talking in groups and working. They speak rough even with each other and some even use colourful expletives to make a point.” <<<<<<

The author now makes an allegation that Ashram residents use expletives, and colourful ones at that! If this is from the author’s personal experience based on a visit to the Ahmedabad Ashram, looks like she didn’t see people chanting, doing sewa, dhyaan; she didn’t hear them greeting each other with a ‘Hari Om’, referring to each other as ‘Prabhu’, or perhaps she didn’t think it worth mentioning; she only heard them speak rough and use colourful expletives! More stories follow…

>>>>> “At the far corner of the ashram stands the heavily guarded Bal Kendra. The presence of the guards is in keeping with the fear the name of Asaram invokes among present-day and former disciples when they discuss the godman.” <<<<<<

The name of Asaramji Bapu evokes fear in his present-day disciples? I think this is stretching credulity a bit too far! Do those lakhs of disciples who throng to his satsangs and for his darshan do so out of fear?

>>>>> “Two who have shared a close rapport with Asaram—Raju Chandak, a secretary, and Amrut Prajapati, personal physician—are running scared ever since they called it quits. Both claim to be privy to numerous illegal activities at the ashram. While Chandak has been shot at and wounded by three bullets following his deposition before the Trivedi Commission, Prajapati says he has been attacked at least six times by the ashram goons. Both are scared of sting operations done by the ashram, which have been furnished as proof before investigating agencies. Speaking to Open on telephone, a scared Chandak kept demanding proof that this reporter was not a part of a sting operation. “Asaram and his goondas have ruined my family life. We are running all the time because he has threatened to eliminate me. An attempt was also made. There is sexual exploitation going on at the ashram. I am being attacked because he does not want the illegal activities made public,” said Chandak.

Prajapati spoke to Open at the Ayurveda Yog Centre in Ahmedabad’s Odav Circle. Responding to an advertisement for an ayurvedic doctor at one of Asaram’s ashrams, the BAMS-educated Prajapati met the godman for the first time in 1988. He was offered Rs 15,000 a month for a job that included food and accommodation. “I was entrusted with the job of setting up their ayurvedic formulation laboratory and allied services at the Surat ashram,” said Prajapati. As the number of disciples grew, Prajapati says Asaram insisted that they compromise on the quality of raw material used to prepare medicines. “Cow’s ghee was replaced by mixed ghee. I am also a witness to corruption and womanising. I saw these things closely when I became his personal physician. I could go to Asaram’s room at any time. One afternoon I went to his Jatikara farmhouse in Delhi. This was the day after his mother died. There was a woman in the room and it was a sight I should not have seen,” said Prajapti.

“On 20 August 2005 I left the ashram after being threatened by them. I was scared. In September 2005, I was attacked by 10-15 people when I was visiting a friend in Ghaziabad. They threatened to kill me if I spoke against Asaram or the ashram. After the attacks I do not inform my patients about my schedule. I don’t even tell my family about my travel plans. This is the price I’m paying for the inability of the Gujarat police to protect me. There will never be justice. Even the Trivedi Commission will not be able to do anything to Asaram,” said Prajapati.

The death of the boys is not the only allegation of wrongdoing against Asaram and his ashram. The cases against him range from the sinister to the bizarre, from land grab (in February 2009, the Gujarat government admitted in the legislative assembly that the Asaram ashram had encroached on 67,099 sq. m of land in Ahmedabad) to this allegation by a man blinded in one eye during a discourse, who has alleged that toffees were showered from a high-speed rotating machine at those in attendance. One such toffee hit him in the eye.

Ashram spokesman Uday Sangani, an accused in the Vaghela case, dismisses the cases against Asaram and his associates as politically motivated. “It is perceived that Bapuji is close to the BJP due to his Hindutva teachings, hence the Congress has started this harassment.” He has been associated with the ashram for the past 17 years.” <<<<<<<

The author does not hesitate to quote ad verbatim, a person who was expelled from the Ashram. And she does not hesitate to quote him making the most scandalous of charges!  They are scared of sting operations done by the Ashram, the author reports. Now why would the Ashram need to resort to sting operations, and why would someone be so scared of sting operations unless he is doing something wrong/criminal? Should such questions not occur to our journalist author? Should she not make effort to find out what the sting operation revealed? And should she not mention that in her article?

For interested readers, here is a link to a video of the sting operation where Raju Chandak (alias Raju Lambu) is caught red handed hatching a conspiracy against Asaramji Bapu. He explains how he executed such conspiracies in the past too. For instance, an “Aghori” had been produced before the media. In the video, Raju says “In the evening, the Aghori told me that he wanted liquor for offering it to the Divine Mother. I provided him liquor everyday for five days and waited on him from morning till evening. He asked for the services of a prostitute also. On the sixth day, I took him to *** (name of a newspaper) and handed him over to them. Seventh day, I brought him to Delhi and gave him to the media. On the eighth day, I handed him over to *** (name of a news channel). For eight days, I have endured him continuously”

Link to the video from the sting operation: A2Z News: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GWvKqyTJ4dc

The concept of “Practicing Hindus” and its relevance today

In the context of major world religions, one often hears the term ‘practicing member’ used to describe a follower who lives by the set of rules, regulations and processes prescribed by the governing authority of that religion.  One rarely hears a term such as ‘practicing Hindu’. One of the reasons for this is that Hinduism is not a formally organized religion with one fixed, prescriptive set of practices.  This is the very nature of Dharmic religions where the truth is realized experientially, and the nuances of various paths may vary, and yet achieve the goal. (Rajiv Malhotra ji explains this very nicely in his books)

Despite these subtle differences, in my opinion, there indeed exists today a clear distinction between ‘Practicing Hindus’ and ‘Non Practicing Hindus’.  In case of a majority of Hindus today, the only religious practice they follow is the occasional visit to a temple for a quick darshan and naman, praying for well-being and fulfillment of material needs, and the occasional performance of certain popular Pujas/Yagnas, mostly also with well-being and fulfillment of material needs as an objective.  Such Hindus have yet to embark on the journey of spiritual progress or self discovery.  Now, not having embarked on the journey in itself is not a problem because it is not expected that everyone is at that stage in their lives where spirituality beckons them; in a lot of cases, for example, previous sanskaras have a significant bearing on an individual’s readiness for this journey. However, what is indeed a problem, is that many of these Hindus today do not have even a basic knowledge of the fundamentals of Dharmic traditions and the Dharmic approach to spiritual progress. It is this lack of awareness that leads such individuals to be critical of the Guru-Shishya parampara or of even fundamental spiritual practices such as Mantra-Jaap. They sometimes label these “unscientific”.

Another related concept is one called ‘Macaulay’s Children’ or ‘Macaulayism’.  According to the Wikipedia entry on Macaulayism, it is defined as “the conscious policy of liquidating indigenous culture through the planned substitution of the alien culture of a colonizing power via the education system. The term is derived from the name of British politician Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800-1859), an individual who was instrumental in the introduction of English as the medium of instruction in the higher education of India.”  In the words of distinguished journalist, author and politician, Shri. Arun Shourie, “The core of our tradition was the spiritual quest; the core of this spiritual quest was Hindu; the way in which this core manifested itself in the life of our people was the religious. To the western educated Indian the spiritual was just mumbo-jumbo, religion was just opium to entrap the masses, and Hinduism just a particularly pernicious form of that opium. That which was the very essence of our nationhood was thereby denounced.”

These non practicing Hindus, or these Indians who have imbibed the western gaze of looking down on Dharmic traditions, (and unfortunately, these represent a vast majority today), are usually unfamiliar with even the basic fundamentals of Vedic Spirituality. In general, such individuals may not be in a position to understand Hindu Saints and their views.  Detractors of Hinduism take advantage of this to malign Hindu Saints via popular media. Numerous such examples have come to light of late in recent times in the form of vicious campaigns to malign Hindu Saints.