News Analysis |
Asaram Bapu, an Indian spiritual guru; a religious leader with a massive fan base from around the world, has been awarded a life sentence for raping a 16-year-old girl. Previously known as Asumal Siumalani, the 77-year-old committed the act of sexual assault in August 2013, at one of his 400 ashrams.
The victim was his devotee; a girl who reportedly visited his ashram’s to cure her of evil spirits. The judge, who feared riots across Jodhpur after the verdict, also convicted two of the guru’s aides, Shilpi and Sharad, giving them a 20-year jail sentence.
A majority of the people believe more in attending religious festivals or events than actually studying the religion and acting accordingly.
The conviction of the rape case comes on the heels of two rape cases already jolting New Delhi; One, of a girl in Unnao and the other, of Asifa Bano, who was raped inside a temple in Jammu and Kashmir. Asaram Bapu is not the only religious leader to have been convicted of rape as Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh was also found guilty of sexually harassing two female followers, which led to a sentence of 20 years in prison, in 2015.
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Gurmeet’s sentence sparked violence in the town of Panchkula, near Chandigarh city, where over 20 people were left dead. Ram Rahim Singh, like Bapu, was also a self-styled guru – performing in concerts and films – claiming to have 60 million followers across the world.
Looking at the conviction of religious leaders in India, there seems a very thin line between the ideologies of religious figures present in Pakistan and India. Although no prominent figure, with the stature of Bapu Asaram or Ram Rahim Singh, has been convicted of rape in Pakistan, it is of no surprise that, many prominent clerics are accused of misleading their followers and living a life contrary to their teachings.
Considering this, in leading publications across Pakistan, there are tragic stories every now and then, about the arrest of ‘fake pirs’ who lure people into believing that the solution to their problems lies in their hands. The most recent case of a religious leader misleading his devotees is of Abdul Waheed, who was a custodian of a shrine at Sargodha and killed 20 of his followers with batons and knives last year.
In the case of Abdul Waheed, the crux of the killings was the ignorance and blind trust the devotees gave Abdul Waheed. They were reportedly assured that they would be alive again after the murder. Even after he was arrested and confessed to his crime, he claimed that he could bring back the deceased. This led the police to suspect that he had psychological issues.
Asaram Bapu is not the only religious leader to have been convicted of rape as Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh was also found guilty of sexually harassing two female followers, which led to a sentence of 20 years in prison, in 2015.
With all the knowledge made public, Waheed was still followed by many. What exacerbated the situation further, was the fact that the relatives of the victims did not file any complaint against the custodian of the shrine, probably because they feared it would harm their religious allegiance.
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Further to this, there are many examples of similar cases. Another example, in the Pakistani context, of how religion is abused and misunderstood, is a shrine dedicated to ‘Murshid Ji billi’ – the pet cat of Pir Gaji Shah. Located 70 kilometers away from Dadu in Sindh, the shrine attracts followers of a Pir, who, scholars say, was a military commander of the Kalhoro dynasty in the 1690s.
This goes on to show how, in Pakistan and India, religion is used as a tool by the religious scholars to boost their influence and enjoy monetary benefits. In case of Pakistan, many of the custodians of the shrine join politics, get the support of their devotees in elections and pave their way into the Parliament.
he ‘ascension’ is not unholy apparently, however, what mars the reputation of the scholars is the misinterpretation of religion. Such acts are dangerous as the region of sub-continent is home to over 1.3 billion people, who have strong ties to their religion. A majority of the people believe more in attending religious festivals or events than actually studying the religion and acting accordingly.
They were reportedly assured that they would be alive again after the murder. Even after he was arrested and confessed to his crime, he claimed that he could bring back the deceased.
This is not to say that there are not countless, rightful, shrines in Pakistan and India, of known religious leaders. However, there are also plenty of individuals disguised as ‘religious scholars’ who use the ignorance of their devotees to their advantage. The case of Asaram Bapu, Ram Rahim Singh, Abdul Waheed, Murshid Ji billi and many other corroborate the fact that despite the partition, India and Pakistan still suffer from almost the same kind of problems on a social level – be it poverty, corruption, unemployment or religious intoxication.
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The reason behind the commonality of issues is the fact that both of the countries have not invested heavily in education and grooming of their masses; limiting themselves when it comes to solving our core issues, instead of demanding space and resources in the political arena.