Why godmen like Gurmeet Ram Rahim rape in the name of faith

Preying on women becomes a power trip as the female ‘devotee’ is turned into a glorified sex slave.

 |  6-minute read |   28-08-2017
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As the quantum of sentencing is pronounced today for the convicted rapist Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh Insaan of Dera Sacha Sauda, we’d witness another of India’s countless godmen packed off to jail for systemic sexual violence.

From Asaram of Rajasthan to Nityananda, to Rampal of Haryana or Ganeshananda Theerthapada of Kerala, sexual oppression forms the matrix of these godmen’s “spirituality”, and women – often from families desperate to believe in the Baba, are pushed into what can only be described as a life of a glorified sex slave.

This became amply clear when the anonymous letter that detailed Gurmeet Ram Rahim’s sexual perversion and serial rape of sadhvis in his “gufa” – boudoir – described how the Dera chief raped women at gun point, including the writer of the letter.

The harrowing story – of which multiple copies were sent out addressed to the 2002 prime minister of India, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, as well as to the Punjab and Haryana high court, chief ministers of Punjab and Haryana, National Human Rights Commission, etc – described the painful and sordid saga of the godman’s hubris channelised into sexual abuse, and buying silence of the victims and perpetrators by threatening to kill them and destroy families in case the word got out.

baba-_082817123920.jpgPhoto: DailyO

Reading the letter brings one closer to the endemic rape culture of the deras, which are, ironically enough, set up as alternative to organised religion which is caste-infected and exclusionary. The sadhvi’s description of Gurmeet threatening to kill her then and there if she didn’t comply, watching a pornographic film in her presence and boasting how he’s the god on earth with absolute political clout – are nerve-wracking, to say the least.

But besides the gory details of the Dera chief turning graduate, postgraduate girls from believer families into sex slaves, while also doing 16-18 hour-long physical labour daily at the deras, only for food and lodging, is the infuriating story of medieval treatment of women in the modern times.

Sex as power and perversion

In a 2013 essay for the Open magazine, Mihir Srivastava had chalked a variety of experiences that the victims of different godmen had shared with him. Hidden behind anonymity, the women, and sometimes even men, opened up about the power trip that the godmen wants to feel, while lulling the victims into a sexual trance, often mixed with psychotropic substances mixed in the smoky setting.

Srivastava went through a number of FIRs, testimonies of victims, views of sociologists and psychoanalysts interacting with the godmen and counseling the victims during their rehabilitation. Of course, the first thing he noted was that the rockstar godmen form only the top slice of an elaborate and many-tiered system, in which "yogis, maulvis, fakirs, gurus, swamis, pastors and priests who make mystical claims and hold devotees in awe … operate as sexual predators".

Srivastava notes the general observation among the social psychologists that voyeurism, paraphilia, sexual gratification through elaborate rituals, paedophilia, rape become standard operating procedure for the godmen. In fact, much in the loose Indian esoteric tradition of tantra is coopted to exploit gullible women from families all too keen to believe in the guru, having developed a strong dependency and trust syndrome bordering on the irrational.

Women, young girls, virgins and teenagers are often willingly offered by families who want the guru’s advice on various matters, and sacrifice the girl to be a “sadhvi” at the ashram or dera, a job description cunningly hiding the actual sexual abuse component deeply entangled in it.

Whether it’s foreigner women seeking spiritual or sexual nirvana, or girls from middle class families, and sometimes, as in the Dera Sacha Sauda, women from Dalit Sikh households, are expected to serve at the premises, where the sexual violations occur at the behest of the guru.

While sexual abuse and systemic rape has been documented among ISIS’ enslavement of Yazidi women, or among Boko Haram terrorists who rape women for recreation and also to use them as terror breeding factories, the murderous component of the Indian godmen’s sexual exploits is relatively less.

However, in the letter penned by the sadhvi detailing Gurmeet Ram Rahim’s abuse, she mentioned how the Dera leader told her that he had got an aide called “Fakirchand” killed and still he was beyond the law. Such boasting is often common among the godmen, whose power within the precincts of the dera or ashram seems to be unchallenged.

Rape as power trip

Srivastava mentions sociologist Sanjay Srivastava, who says “The disciples are abject in front of the guru”. This abjection creates an automatic power structure in which the guru is supreme and unquestionable, and serving the guru is made to be the only source of salvation.

Much like in the cases of the god-king and the “divine sanction” that such feudal orders espoused, the godmen evoke the same unchallenged god-like aura for the devotees, particularly the women, to be drawn to them, without realising how their consent hadn’t been sought even when there was perhaps no resistance from the victims.

The question of consent doesn’t arise because consent presumes sexual activity between “equals” and the godman considers over and above the mortals who serve him, so that he can give them the smattering of hope and delusion. So rape becomes the only way the godmen exercise and vent their sexual energies, to suit their larger-than-life images.

Moreover, the early years of sexual repression and the need for showmanship and pressing megalomania drive the godmen into acts of sexual perversion as performance, in twisted and despotic re-enactments of gods in congress in mortals and other such myths taken literally.

Men, women, children, adolescents, transgenders and others have been victims of the godmen’s sexual appetite, often the more vulnerable the victim, the more heinous the abuse. Blind faith becomes the reason why families send off the daughters and women, including widows, to become sex slaves at deras, and it takes way too long for the illusion to shatter.

Crime and punishment

Since 2013 however, the rape epidemic among godmen has been stalled somewhat, with a number of convictions, chiefly Asaram’s in 2013, Rampal in 2014, while some before that including Nityananda, Amrita Chaitanya in 2009, Premananda, Sadachari, among others.

However, as it’s apparent in the Gurmeet Ram Rahim’s conviction, the blind faith often remains unshaken, as by now it’s become a matter of identity, and perhaps also shame. The rampant sexual exploitation becomes a stark but not-so-unexpected contrast to the vows of celibacy and shows of sexual purity that the godmen and swamis often take or put up, creating a labyrinth of sexual abuse that most of the time, doesn’t get out.

The component of spiritualism in countries like India, with a profusion of gods and goddesses and extreme poverty, mixed with the vagaries of the modern life, with its social insecurities, atomisation of existence and breakdown of old ties, often means that the ashram or the dera becomes an alternative ideal of community living. But the sickening matrix of sexual exploitation makes it an unhealthy alternative, which must be carefully regulated by the government of the day.

Also read: How rapist Gurmeet Ram Rahim converted Dera Sacha Sauda into a cult of violence

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