Fifty Shades of Godmen

Posted on: September 8, 2013

Asaram Bapu has never shied away from talking about sex. There are YouTube videos that show him dispensing sex advice to his devotees. “Don’t have sex during amavasya, purnima, Shivaratri or Holi. A child conceived on these days will be born handicapped,” he warns. “Even if a child is not conceived, intercourse on this day will lead to impotence and the man could face several other problems,” he adds helpfully.But lest his devotees should despair, he tells them that there is also a right time to do it. “If a child is conceived between 12.30 and 2.30 during the day, he or she will go on to become a very intelligent person.”There’s more. A booklet meant for his followers says that masturbation or homosexuality in men leads to wastage of energy, thus making them physically and mentally weak.

Unfortunately, the man who gave out such “valuable” sex advice is now embroiled in an unsavoury sex case — arrested by the Jodhpur police for allegedly raping a 15-year-old girl in his ashram.

Of course, this isn’t the first time criminal charges have been levelled at Asaram Bapu. In 2008, two young boys died in his ashram in Motera in Gujarat. But his trusted lieutenants say the charges against him are all fabricated.

“There has been a conspiracy to malign him for many years,” says Asaram Bapu’s media manager Sunil Wankhede. According to him, Asaram doesn’t have any sexual desires as he is not a “common man”. “He is a sant (saint). And saints don’t have sexual desires,” he asserts.

Though gurus or godmen in India have huge followings and are usually considered holy and utterly blameless, allegations of sexual misconduct and depravity on their part crop up with regularity.

Take Swami Nithyananda of the Dhyanapeeta Charitable Trust in Bidadi, near Bangalore. In 2010, local television channels aired footage that showed the swami in a compromising position with a Tamil actress. The same year, Aarthi Rao, a former follower of Swami Nithyananda, filed a complaint with the criminal investigation department, Bangalore, alleging sexual harassment by him. Nithyananda was arrested but freed in 53 days. The case is now before the court.

“In India, godmen wield a lot of power over their devotees, which is a heady feeling. They have the money power and influence. So they begin to believe they can get away with anything,” says Rao.

Rao, an engineering graduate of Birla Institute of Technology and Science, Pilani, and a software engineer, joined Swami Nithyananda’s ashram and even changed her name to Ma Nithyananda Trineshwari Nayi.

  • SEX AND THE SWAMI: Asaram BapuNithyananda
    Illustration: Onkarnath Bhattacharya

She also signed a “non-disclosure agreement” that had a clause saying that the existence of such an agreement could not be revealed to anybody. It went on to state that the programme could involve tantric secrets associated with male and female ecstasy, nudity, access to visual images, graphic visual depictions, and descriptions of nudity and sexual activity.

Followers being sworn to secrecy is a common practice of godmen. In 2006, Vikas Joshi alias Swami Vikasanand was arrested with more than 60 CDs full of sleaze material. An influential guru in the Jabalpur area, he was with three women, one of them a teenager, when he was picked up from a city hotel.

“He had told the women who were close to him that any revelation of their sexual activities could have adverse consequences for their families or themselves,” says a Madhya Pradesh police official who investigated the case.

Called “Saahab” by his followers, Vikasanand used to give pravachans (sayings) and bless his devotees wearing Ray-Ban glasses. “He claimed that he had tantric powers to cure every human misery. And his devotees, many of them well-educated, believed that,” recalls the official.

Though most of his women followers refused to testify in court, Vikasanand was convicted by a Jabalpur fast track court in 2010 and is now in jail.

In another case involving Delhi-based Shreemurath Dwivedi alias Ichchadhari Sant Swami Bhimanand Maharaj Chitrakoot Wale, six women, including two airhostesses, were arrested for allegedly running a prostitution racket from his ashram.

So why do so many “godmen” get embroiled in sex scandals?

Experts say that it is the blind faith of their devotees that enables these “gurus” to influence them. “We Indians are great believers in miracles and feel that somebody can get us out of our miseries. This is the prime reason we fall for these godmen,” says Prabir Ghosh, general secretary, Science and Rationalists’ Association of India, Calcutta.

Sociologist Dipankar Gupta agrees that godmen prey upon the vulnerability of their followers, especially women. “Once the women are drawn in, it is easy for these godmen to force themselves upon them,” he says. But he adds that sometimes, these sexual relationships are “consensual”.

Naturally, the devotees dismiss all such allegations. Wankhede, for one, claims that Asaram Bapu never had sexual desires even when he was young. He also insists that Asaram’s ashram is absolutely safe for women. “Men and women don’t even sit together here,” he says.

Then why did Asaram call the 15-year-old girl to his room? “Don’t fathers meet their daughters?” he retorts. “To him, all younger women are his daughters and older women his mothers.”

Asaram’s devotees are equally insistent that the guru has been falsely accused. Take Rukmini Devi, who has come all the way from Kurukshetra in Haryana to pick up ayurvedic medicines for her ailing husband from Asaram’s sprawling ashram on Vande Mataram Marg in Delhi’s ridge reserve forest. She says all allegations against her beloved “Bapuji” are baseless. “Bapuji has been trapped by his enemies who are jealous of his popularity,” says Devi.

Experts say, however, the belief that so-called godmen are above sexual impulses is totally false. “Their sexual desire is no less than that of an ordinary man,” says andrologist Sudhakar Krishnamurti.

Others say that so many incidents of rape or sexual assault by godmen happen because they deprive themselves of a natural sex life. “Since they don’t engage in self-stimulation or masturbation, they are left with no alternative but to molest or rape women to satisfy their sexual urge,” says Mumbai-based sexologist Prakash Kothari.

Not only that, many godmen visit andrologists to deal with their sexual problems. Krishnamurti, who is also a member of the Sexual Health Committee, World Health Organization, says that the most common problem with godmen is erectile dysfunction. He also says that many come to him wanting to know how they can “perform better” with multiple partners.

Kothari asserts that some of these godmen also take drugs to enhance their sexual prowess. “Many of them confess that they want drugs to be able to perform better at sex,” he says.

Shantum Seth, who had once accused a godman (who died a few years ago) of indulging in sexual misconduct, says that there is nothing wrong with them having a sexual urge, but that they should have a responsible sexual life. “Godmen should set an example by behaving responsibly as there are millions who follow them,” Seth, a preacher of Buddhism, asserts.

Some godmen get away with their unpleasant acts simply because they enjoy political clout. “With the support of politicians, these godmen get a space to play. That’s the irony,” says sociologist Gupta.

It will be interesting to see if Asaram Bapu’s case grinds on and fades into irrelevance. But one thing is certain, as long as these “holy” men enjoy the blind faith of thousands of followers, it will always be easy for them to indulge in unholy practices.

Scandal sheet

2013, Sehore (MP)

Mahendra Giri alias Tunnu Baba,65, arrested on charges of raping a 24-year-old woman.

2013, Jodhpur

Asaram Bapu arrested on charges of rape.

2010, Delhi

Shreemurath Dwivedi alias Ichchadhari Sant Swami Bhimanand Maharaj Chitrakoot Wale arrested for running a prostitution racket from his ashram.

2010, Bangalore

Swami Nithyananda arrested on charges of sexual abuse.

2009, Chennai

Kanchipuram Devanathan of Machaesa Perumal temple accused of sexually exploiting devotees. Arrested.

2006, Jabalpur

Vikas Joshi alias Swami Vikasanand arrested for sexual abuse of young girls and making obscene films. Serving jail sentence.

2005, Junagadh

Priest of Swaminarayan temple Bhaktiswarup and three others arrested for role in alleged sex scandal.

1994, Tiruchirapalli

Swami Premananda sentenced to life imprisonment for rape of 13 inmates of ashram and a murder.

(This story was done jointly with my two colleagues )


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  • ranginee09: It is clear, justice eludes many but to imprison a man for his humanitarian deeds in a civilised society leaves an permanent blotch in our criminal ju
  • ranginee09: The article points-out a very pertinent social ill. Social ostracisation in childhood may have unwanted results later in life. A child victim is not a
  • Seeker and her search: Thanks for reading, Anne. Yes, I know what you are saying.
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