Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh found guilty in rape case. Photograph: (PTI)
Political parties need 'gurus' like Ram Rahim Singh to win elections and, therefore, turn a blind eye to what is happening within the closed doors of ashrams.
The violence which rocked Haryana and adjoining areas cannot be limited to an administrative failure or inefficiency of the police forces. Rather, it is a reflection of an unequal society as well as unethical dalliance of political parties with sects and various sub-cultures throughout India. In the subcontinent, religion, popular culture, counterculture and politics have interacted at multiple levels with each other. But violence in Haryana shows lack of meaningful engagement between a sect and the state because of the state of electoral politics today.
The political parties continue to treat sects like vote banks and turn blind eye to what goes behind the huge walls of the sects in exchange for the votes every five years. The lack of scrutiny allows a free hand to sect heads and enables them to turn the organisation into a land grabbing and wealth-creating enterprise. But the irony is that the followers are mostly people who are already marginal and peripheral to the imagination of the Indian state.
To start with, the sects in India including Dera Sachha Sauda attract followers from lower castes who face structural violence on all levels. Whether it is an extraction of forced labour, coercive sex, denial of entry into sacred spaces or discrimination at the level of basic utilities like water and toilet, sects offer a counter culture. The premise of most of the sects is equality and dignity which for people perceive them as agents of change, egalitarian and married to new modern philosophies of equality and liberty.
It is for this reason sects attract thousands of followers across India. These sects act like counter veiling narrative to the established religions. The sects also balance crude edges of the Indian state.
The Indian state is not divorced from the mainstream biases of the society as it has repeatedly failed to protect and treat lower castes with equality. Whether it is the case of Mazhabi Sikhs or Dalit Muslims or Dalit Christians, Indian state at the level of benefit distribution has failed often. When basic utilities, such as water, food, employment and shelter become freely available married to a sense of purpose in life, the sects become extremely attractive and a world unto themselves.
The problem further gets exemplified because of lack of literacy in the country. This is not to say that individuals in modern times don’t have the right to create new ‘oeuvres’ in the realm of spirituality and religion but what mainly gets produced is a cheap imitation of already existing dogmas.
This lack of literacy prevents individuals from interacting with religious texts, making them completely depended on pravachans or oral communications.
But in today’s age, empowered with new communication technologies, the oral traditions have ended up creating fake truths and views of the world. For this reason, the court’s judgment is not being seen as justice but as conspiracy of the state.
It ends up mediating truth through individuals who at one end create a meaningful world but on the other merchandise and exploit the ‘harvested’ souls. This discourse further gets vitiated in the Indian context as historically, community’s sense of dignity and honour outweighs individual’s right. It is because of this, cases like talaq ends up being about a community’s autonomy and honour than a woman’s right.
The violence in Haryana is a warning that there needs to be a healthy relationship between various sects and the state at every level. The scrutiny should not terminate for the want of political and electoral support.
The spiritual and religious order have the right to interact with political and electoral establishments as hard secularism is not a workable framework of community management in India. What is required is re imagination of Indian politics where sects aren’t allowed to work as secret societies.
It is for this reason every state intervention with sects whether it was Rampal, Ashutosh Maharaj or Ram Vriksha Yadav end up in violent episodes leaving scores dead.
Both BJP and Congress have indulged in flirting with the sects for votes in exchange of scrutiny. This must end. Netas should stop going to sect heads for votes, instead the sects should be open to state’s scrutiny without harassment. And lastly, to locate the issue, loyal party fellows don’t make good administrator’s. ML Khattar might have been a hardworking and honest pracharak but lacks administrative abilities which he has demonstrated thrice. Time Khattar goes and BJP come up with a person with good administrative skills.