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Ram Rahim is in prison but the troubles of cultic violence are not over

~Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr

The convulsion and commotion among the followers that preceded and followed the conviction of Ram Rahim of Dera Sacha Sauda, a populist religious congregation will die down. The convicted religious head will sink into oblivion inside the prison. And the thousands who were his followers will find another religious mentor, who could turn out to be a fake and a criminal as well. The religious pursuit of people and their lookout for a spiritual mentor is not going to end. They will move from one guru to another, and most of them will turn out to be false.

The reaction of the metropolitan India in the social media as well as the mainstream outlets of television news channels and newspapers seem to be harping on the theme as to how irrational and superstitious people are to believe in a faux-demigod like Ram Rahim and his comic-criminal antics. The educated elite are baffled by the irrational behaviour of the people, in this case the followers of this cult-man.

But before we come up against another case of a guru turning out to be a scoundrel and once again express our bewilderment, it might be useful to find out as to why cults like that of Dera Sacha Sauda thrive and individuals like Ram Rahim are able to sway the people. It has been noticed earlier too when the Dera was in the news for the wrong reasons that most of the cult followers are the poor and of the marginalised and oppressed castes. The mainstream and dominant Sikh and Hindu religions seem to keep these people out of the social-religious mainframe, and they flock to places like the Dera and individuals like its chief.

It is a known fact that the Akali and the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC) politics have alienated the marginalised sections of the larger Sikh community. Even the reformist-minded Arya Samaj purveyors of Hinduism have not been able to provide any spiritual solace. It would be a folly to deny the fact that people look for religious and emotional succour however irrational it might appear to cosmopolitan Indians.

It has also to be understood that people in Haryana and Punjab are experiencing extreme economic and social stress, a fact which eludes the government, politicians and policy-makers. It is the anxiety and uncertainty about their livelihoods and survival that compels people to turn even to charlatans. It is beyond the competence and remit of governments, politicians and policy-makers to cater to the emotional and religious cravings of the people. But they do have to consider ways of ensuring social and economic stability by creating access to education and by generating employment. Affluence will not make people rational and enlightened. They would still seek out the so-called godmen and godwomen. But the social tensions that could arise from their religious preferences would be more subdued.

The existence of gurus like Ram Rahim, and there are countless such people living like wolves in sheep’s clothing moving, is a sign for any intelligent observer that something is terribly wrong with the social and economic set up, and something needs to be done to address it. If there is a drift towards economic and social ennui and anomie, it will lead to explosions like the one seen in Panchkula on Friday. It is a clear sign that politics in Haryana and Punjab have reached rotten state. There is need for sharp criticism of the kind of politics being practised by the Akalis, the SGPC, the Congress and the BJP, along with other smaller political parties. It is the irresponsible politics of the established players that gives rise to irrational religious groups like that of the Dera Sacha Sauda.

The intelligentsia in India will have to pay greater attention to the belief systems of the people, which includes religions and culture, to make sense of which way the society and the country are moving. It would be smugness of the foul kind to turn our backs on the phenomenon of Dera Sacha Sauda and Ram Rahim now that Ram Rahim is in prison and the angry crowd has been dispersed. Religion, culture and politics are deeply intertwined in any society, and it is only in India that the modernists falsely believe that we have left behind religion and culture. Governments and policymakers have  to deal with them, and perhaps be prepared to deal with the fallout of cults like that of Dera Sacha Sauda.

It is necessary but not sufficient to point out the incompetence of the BJP government in Haryana led by Chief Minister Manohar Khattar, a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) acolyte. It exposes the incapability of those who use religion in politics to deal with the complexity of religious trends in a society.

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