The real forces at work

There was a strange coincidence on August 20. The so called spiritual guru AsaramBapu was booked that day by Delhi and Jodhpur police for allegedly raping a minor girl from Jodhpur. On the same day, two unidentified gunmen assassinated NarendraDhabolkar, the rationalist and the anti-superstition crusader from Maharashtra.

The followers of Asaram, who has been thoroughly disgraced by now, were prompt in resorting to vandalism in protest and one of his followers even castrated himself apparently to protest his arrest. Even politicians blamed the authorities for having acted on behalf of their rivals to tarnish the image of Bapu.

But the response to the assassination of Dhabolkar was entirely different. Both the national and international media covered the incident well, but not everyone was exactly surprised by the news: he had been receiving death threats since1983,and many wondered how he had survived these three long decades to do one of the most difficult tasks in India.

The reality is that both the increasingly pauperized lower class and the increasingly wealthy but insecure middle class have little faith in the political and other social institutions in the country. In a country of 1.2 billion people—characterized by some as the ocean of poverty with islets of wealth—with such a vacuum of dependable institutions of faith, a string of self-styled godmen have done everything to attract people to them through a clever manipulation of their spiritual instincts. This gives them insurmountable wealth and power while altogether disempowering and literally looting the devotees. The fact that even one former PM of India was among the disciples of the disgraced Bapu illustrates the hold of these men in the society.

As people throng to these godmen in hundreds of thousands, people like Dhabolkar, who flay the superstitions and debunk the myths of their black magic, come to be seen as the mortal threats to their empires of wealth and power. Putting some bullets in the head of this man thus helped them secure much of their future business in the country.

Conclusion

Amid all the talk about the impending world power status of India, much of the vocal Indian middle and upper class has got the diagnosis itself of the nagging problems of Indian society wrong. Their confusion between the symptoms of the disease and the disease itself apart, they are reluctant to acknowledge their own―albeit indirect―role in the whole fiasco.

This, along with the poor Indians persistently resorting to lifelines like alcohol and godmen, forms one of the largest cohort of people in the globe maladapting to their adversities simultaneously. The complacency and even reverence shown towards people like Asaram and the neglect and even hindrance shown towards those like Dhabolkar from people across the spectrum of prosperity in the society is, to me, the perfect explanation to why Indian society continues to remain what it is.