Godmen & politics

Sweet and Sour


As a one-time ardent watcher of TV programmes of ‘pravachans’ delivered by our godmen and godwomen, I came to the conclusion that most of them support right-wing Hindu political parties like the Hindu Vishwa Parishad and the BJP. All of them preach their own versions of Hinduism. But their right-wing leaning is less comprehensible. Some are out-spoken in their support, others subtle.

Amongst the outspoken supporters is Asa Ram Bapu, now in dire trouble — charged with amassing property and abetting murders of his detractors. I don’t know much about his past except that he is a Sindhi settled in Ahmedabad and at one time ran either a cycle repair shop — or perhaps a ‘chai’ stall. He found preaching religion and goodness more profitable. He grew a long beard, wore loose white robes and cultivated the benign image of a Bapu. He gathered a large number of admirers, mostly women, built large ashram with a temple and sponsored educational institutions. He became much respected.

I watched Asa Ram Bapu many times: huge audiences, largely females with a sprinkling of males. He could be quite amusing at times with his mimicry and gestures. There was nothing startling in what he said but his heady bright eyes pierced into watchers eyes. He occasionally broke into song in a totally unmelodious voice, but it did not seem to matter.

One time I noticed the Rajmata of Gwalior (Vasundhara’s mother) sitting in the audience listening to him in rapt attention. Another time it was Uma Bharati in the front row. At the end of Bapu’s discourse Uma stood up and said loudly in English: “Bapu, I love you.” Bapu beamed a rapturous thank-you smile. I wonder if Uma Bharati still loves Asa Ram Bapu as she did a few years ago.

Not one people yet

I often ask myself “What is a truly integrated society?” I put our own society through different tests to see if we as a secular State are also integrated.
When communal tensions are chronic and periodically break out in violence, claims to be integrated sound hollow. So do our displays of cordiality. We have non-Muslims throwing Iftar receptions during Ramzan; we see them offering chaddars at dargahs of Muslim saints and embracing them on Eid-ul-Fitr and Bakr-id.

We have Muslims celebrating Holi and Diwali by inviting Hindu friends and offering them ‘mithai’. I dismiss all this as politically motivated display of open-mindedness without any substance. I have come to the conclusion that the nitty-gritty of integration is when people of different races, religions beliefs, castes and speaking different languages marry and there are no tensions created.

Using this as criteria I conclude we are far from being an integrated society. Every inter-religious marriage is looked upon as a kind of battle. If the boy subscribes to one faith, the girl to another, the boy’s kinsmen regard it as a victory; the girl’s kinsmen regard it as surrender.

I know of dozens of inter-faith marriages: Hindus and Sikhs married to Muslims, Christians or Parsis. And a large number of Muslim men married to Hindu and Sikh women. In any case if one or the other party converts to the faith of the spouse, it is making mockery of religion. I regard conversions as demeaning to the dignity of the person who converts.

The worst example of refusal to integrate are the ‘Khap Panchayats’ of Haryana. They are relics of the past when elders of a village, mostly illiterate peasants, sit round on their ‘charpoys’ smoking hookas, pronounce against boys and girls of different castes getting married. The couple is often exiled from their village, declared outcasts and occasionally murdered. What we can do is to rid society of these self-appointed arbiters of matrimonial affairs. I am not sure if we can abolish them by legal enactment?

In any case many legislators depend on votes of these rustics. Perhaps the best way to handle them is by massive media campaign mostly on TV channels, exposing them to ridicule. It will be worth trying because making Indians a truly integrated people is a noble ambition.

Bhai-bhaism

Manjitinder Singh of Ludhiana has written to me of an incident while he was on pilgrimage to Sikh shrines in Pakistan. He was travelling by bus from Lahore to Panja Sahib near Rawalpindi. At a midway halt, a beggar woman came around asking for alms. He gave her a five rupee note. The woman looked up at him, saw he was a Sikh and returned the note. When she came round again, Manjitinder Singh pressed the five rupee note in her hand. Again she gave it back saying in Punjabi: “Nabin Sardarji, asseen mehmaana toon nahin mangdey — we don’t ask for money from our guests.”

Holy birthdays

Teacher: “Ghanta, what is common between Bhagwan Ram, Buddha, Jesus and Guru Nanak?

Ghanta: “All were born on holidays.”

(Contributed by J P Singh Kaka, Bhopal)

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