By Ujjaini Chatterji
Since the very inception of humankind, insecurity has been a constant driving force behind most of the actions of human beings. As brute creatures in the forests, we fought till we eliminated every rival to our interests. And then, as men progressed in civilization, we agreed upon a social contract to create a system of equity and justice and to protect even those, who were powerless. Therefore, society had moved from a system where only the powerful could exist, into a system, in which, existence was not dependent on power play.
The Social Contract, promised us rights and freedom. And these entitlements were to be protected by a systematic leviathan of the State in which, human beings, collectively vested more power than the rest. We assured the acceptance of the rule of the Sate against the protection of our rights and security. Any deviation in the agreement, would, thus, lead to punishment. Thus, the judicial system was born.
However, despite all legal, social, political norms, taboos and bindings, human beings, still contain their sense of insecurity and constant identity crisis in their regular lives. Though, not beasts anymore, our basic instincts can never be logical enough to surpass our inherent tendencies. These tendencies exist in our subconscious and with civilization and progress, though we learn to control them, they can seldom be completely diminished.
One such instinct is our constant self-scrutiny about our self-image and self-identity. Like our atmosphere contributes largely in the development of our individuality, we also, subconsciously, begin to, sometimes; identify ourselves to identities that conform to the set standards to heroism or success. And hence begins a sort of fandom which influences us. Every person, from a child, to and elderly man, is usually influenced in such a sort of fan following. It is not just, our favorite football teams, players, actors, writers, politicians or thinkers, in whom, we try to merge our identities. It is also, the people around us, some of whom, carry an unbelievable aura or personality of command, in whom, we find faith and a support to fall back upon. For example, as children, we often, tend to believe that our parents are the strongest and hence admire them more than all others. Sometimes, a successful senior influences us to the extent that we tend to equate every successful or gifted person to them. We take shield in their identities. In most our mediocre lives, we are constantly in search of heroes, in whose identity we can hide our monotony. And thus, we give birth to those we call our leaders or sometimes, even ‘Godmen’.
In the recent trend of events, we have obviously seen the advent of multiple such men, who claimed to be the ‘messengers of Gods’ and have helped us create our identities that hid in the garb of religion. Now, sociologically, religion has played an immense role, in keeping social order. And by order, we mean, the maintenance of a status quo or having a favorable scheme of things. Under the circumstances, in the society that we have created, we have our own set of inequalities, our own insecurities and worries in which, such men who pretend to be Gods, operate. In a country like India, particularly, which is home to the world’s largest population of illiterate adults in the world, we tend to fall prey to false dreams very soon. Amidst unbelievable poverty and the struggles of a third world country for healthcare, education, sanitation and hope, we tend to desperately follow such merchants of faith. Such a merchant was, Baba Ram Rahim.
Shri Gurusar Modia, became of the spiritual leader of an organization called Dera Sacha Sauda (DSS), which, spread its branches, globally, to countries like United Arab Emirates, Canada, United States, United Kingdom and Australia. He adopted the name of Baba Ram Rahim and soon, gathered more than six crore followers worldwide. Carefully crafted and named, the organization became a place of worship across communities. Not just spiritually, Baba Ram Rahim was also an entertainment figure. He acted in films, which he wrote, directed himself and also acted as the main lead. His close affiliations with political parties and ministers also, often made his film releases tax free and he enjoyed sufficient limelight and glamour with multiple awards for ‘social work’ and ‘acting’. He carefully maintained his position and shifted sides accordingly to benefit maximum from his political associations. No political party willing to contest elections in the Punjab or Haryana, ever had the audacity to ignore his humongous power and fan following. His words could easily sway public opinion and support in any direction he desired. In fact since 2014, he had directly aligned himself with the present NDA government, which was certainly instrumental in their win. In the past, he had been associated even with other political parties either directly, or through blessings. Prominent political leaders supported him directly and often tweeted in his praise. Baba Ram Rahim appealed to the spiritual fantasies of his followers to build a very robust identity, which, he could, then manipulate for his benefit. And manipulation became a tool to generate bulk support for political parties.
Amidst all the euphoria of Baba Ram Rahim’s Star power and the shrewd strategies of political parties, what played a very significant role, was our society. In order to study the present situation of this man, it is important that we understand the dynamics under which we to construe the value system of our society.
Despite social contract and numerous promises to build equality, our societies could seldom give everyone that equal access to dignity or opportunities. That basic instinct to dominate over others and establish superiority never stopped haunting men. Thus we found a caste system to build a social hierarchy and confuse ourselves to believe in a misplaced state of betterment and monopolize opportunities. Similarly, as the men went out to fetch livelihoods, women got confined at homes to breastfeed their children and nourish them. Social conditioning, made it easy for us to feel that women, alone could handle homes and men, who stayed back, were not chivalrous enough. Gender roles got defined and women began to be nurtured as fragile little flowers, to be protected, first, by their mothers and later, by their husbands. So much was this need for protection, that even upon reaching adulthood; women could never find their individualities. Even today, in most of our upwardly mobile households, too, women take ‘permission’ of the men to make decisions. No matter how accomplished a woman may be, her final position is always as a mother in the society. Women, themselves, began to deny and stay intimidated by their own sexuality, so much, that their own bodies began the social weapon for their suppression. As we cheer today, in joy and happiness for the right to privacy, being finally, recognized by the Supreme Court as fundamental right or triple talaq being made unconstitutional, it is hard to determine if women, really have found themselves in this struggle to find their individual identity. And even if they find that voice and personality, is there anyone to listen? In a society, that protects the vulnerability of a women much more than her individual womanhood, would we not be intimidated and scandalized by the actual exertion of women as human beings with equality. Perhaps, just as women, men also need that empowerment to understand that feminism or anything feminine is not exactly offensive.
In the backdrop of a similar perspective, we encounter the present case of Baba Rahim, who was particularly exposed by an anonymous heart wrenching letter, written, directly to the then Prime Minister, Shri Atal Vihari Vajpayee. It detailed the horrific situation, in which, women were raped regularly, and then threatened by this Baba Ram Rahim that if they dared to make any complaint, they would face dire consequences, as the man was connected closely in all political circuits. The letter recalled, how, in the fortified premises of the Ashram, women, lived, more as sexual slaves, under daily trauma and torture. Most unfortunately, when the woman tried to complain to own parents, their faith in the Baba triumphed over affection towards their own daughter. The letter alleged that Ram Rahim had raped the woman repeatedly.
The letter was addressed to the Prime Minister, Chief Ministers of Haryana and Punjab, the Union Home Ministry, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and the Punjab and Haryana High Court. However, only the Punjab and the Haryana High Court took cognizance of the letter and sought a report from the District and Sessions Judge of Sirsa. The District judge conducted an inquiry and submitted the report recommending a probe by the central agency. The Punjab and Haryana High Court, then, referred the matter to the CBI for a probe. CBI, Chandigarh branch, registered a case of rape under IPC Section 376 and criminal intimidation under Section 506 and insult to the modesty of a woman under 509.
In the meanwhile, supporters of Baba Ram Rahim, even allegedly killed, those, they suspected of writing the anonymous letter. And as the CBI delved deeper into the case, they realized that there was more than just one complainant in the matter. Later, two Sadhvis(women ascetics), even deposed before the court, stating that Ram Rahim had sexually exploited them.
The trial had begun in the year 2008 and today, the special CBI court, found Ram Rahim, guilty of rape and pronounced the judgement. The exact quantum of the judgment shall be announced on the 28 of August, 2017, through video conferencing.
In the meantime, there has been a situation close to a riot as the supports of Baba Ram Rahim have come at mass to protest the judgement and support his acquittal by acts of complete vandalism. Though anticipated earlier, the state governments have failed to handle the situations with severe lapses in security control and even army has been deployed. Many parts of the National Capital Region have already been imposed with Section 144 to prohibit assembly of four or more persons keeping in mind the immediate danger to life and security of the citizens.
Needless to say, the followers of Ram Rahim continue to vehemently defend him and also have shown the desire to prefer an appeal. However, the most surprising factor in the situation is the trivializing of an offence as gruesome as rape. India, as country, has been ranting, tremendously about women’s safety and how ‘good women’ do not travel alone or wear shorter clothes. Yet, in that very moral scheme of living, at the heart of an ashram, when, even in the most suitable form of living, women are reduced to the existence as mere slaves, where exactly does our value system stand?
Baba Ram Rahim, is perhaps, not an isolated incident that questions the very evident hypocrisy of our value system. As we move on with that sycophancy of this Baba, there are many other Babas in every corner hidden around. Now, the question is how much, we have normalized rapes and violence against women in India. If the social contract was built with promise to protect the powerless against the powerful, where is it now? Or do we take pride in moving backwards by chanting praises and worshipping the powerful? Isn’t Ram Rahim still dictating his terms on us?
We live in a country where, harassed women are afraid of complaining to their parents because the only would be to confine them home and kill their dreams. We live a country, where women choose death over divorce. We live in a country, where women, cannot decide their destiny. Yet, we cheer liberating laws made for the women, by the men, in a society dominated by the men and a system, implemented by the men.
Like millions of people can be manipulated to support a political party, they are also manipulated to wear the mask of Baba Rahim’s identity to hide the helplessness of the common man. And it is much easier for them, because rape, still, is not such a grave crime for us. It is no wonder that marital rape of even a 15 year old girl is acceptable, in a society that boats of several rights. The case of Baba Ram Rahim puts up a very big question to us about how we wish to see our image as a society. It is the teardrop of every woman demanding recognition of their existence as human beings.
We believe that our heroes do no wrong and we emulate their mannerisms. As post world war, a devastated Europe found their hero in James Bond, a hopeless bunch of Indians is looking for a hero in Ram Rahim. And thus, we form a food chain, where the powerful engulfs the powerless commoners in its cauldron of greed and the commoners smoke the dreams sold by the powerful to numb their pain and tears.
Today, as we watch the support for Ram Rahim, there is a knock in our conscience that reminds us of how, education, empowerment and self-reliance, alone, can build our nation. Discrimination, superstition and hatred emerge from the darkness of insecurity and incapability. Rahim like Godmen exploit this vulnerability of the masses. No social contract can really find success unless, we find out ourselves and know who we are. When there is a self-identity and an expansion of our own horizon, we shall be disillusioned by our own iconoclast and self-enquiry. Patriarchy is only an expression of frustration of men as they find it hard to understand their identity and hence choose to stay in their own image of over entitled glory. And thus, they are lead to such hero worship and crazy illogical support by which crooks get powerful and exploit us. Every individual falls prey to this trap and thus, begins a nexus to powerplay.