Of sex swamis, lies and videotape
The recent scandals over two spiritual gurus have shaken the collective faith of their followers in India.
The sanctity of religions or the people’s faith is not being questioned but these controversies put the spotlight on the uniquely Indian phenomenon of mortals given the status of gods.
Cities across the country teem with astrologers, tarot card readers or some self-proclaimed guru. Saffron silk robes, turban cloth and rosaries are available off the shelves in plenty.
It’s an irony that some of these gurus are courting controversies such as sex rackets, money laundering and child trafficking.
Spiritual gurus in India draw millions of men, women and foreigners to help bring them on a divine path. And there’s no denying that they have done a lot of good work and helped alleviate the sufferings of their followers.
But those who have renounced the world and embraced asceticism are expected to be completely detached from wealth and worldly affairs.
Reports of some seers travelling by choppers, air-conditioned cars and loaded with gold and precious stones speak otherwise.
A recently leaked videotape showing Swami Nithyananda frolicking with a woman created a furore in south India. The policemen who went searching for Nithyananda found the footage was just the tip of an iceberg.
Another self-styled preacher, Swami Bhimanand, was caught running a prostitution racket at a plush location in New Delhi.
Many argue that faith is a matter of individual choice and it should be left entirely for people to decide.
This debate is timely as even faith in the West looks battered by shocking revelations of child abuse.
Does the fault lie with people who in a moment of crisis, make gods and goddesses of living men and women?
Many believe that men like Nithyananda, with an unimaginable following, are used as vote banks by politicians.
And that they are businessmen who run shops where ignorance and the desperation of gullible people are traded for wealth, power and crimes as heinous as sodomy and rape.
Where does the buck stop, particularly in a country where abject poverty and superstition transforms it into a breeding ground for such gurus?