We are all aware of the conviction of the Rockstar Baba, and how could we not be? Afterall, it was all over the news and the internet. Rather than hammering away on the same topic and reiterating all the events, I would like to look at another facet of the whole situation; the followers of the Guru of Bling. Where do these millions of ardent followers come from, and what drives them? What is the source of their unflinching faith and solidarity? And most importantly, why take a bullet for Ram Rahim?
No one can really fathom what Ram Rahim represents to his followers with his silken robes and floral headbands, his rockstar-ness, and his superhuman attributes in his movies. But what we can look into are the factors which influence the “Dera Premis” and make them do what they do for the so called Messenger of God. Let’s take a look at some of these and try to understand the psychology of why Gurmeet Ram Rahim and similar ‘godmen’ are so popular.
In 1843, Karl Marx, while criticising Georg Hegel’s ‘Elements of the Philosophy of the Right’ wrote: “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people”. According to Marx, religion made people dull towards the oppression and induced a sense of fatalism. Religion created illusions to mitigate the immediate sufferings of the people. But rather than becoming the opiate, religion has now metamorphosed into a thought process that threatens to destroy the state. Deras can be understood as an alternative to mainstream religion, where faith creates social capital. Deras free their followers from religious customs and rituals, often a financially demanding task for the poor, giving them greater flexibility to practice their faith. The fact that the Dera head usually appears before the distressed in flesh and blood, assuring them of relief in some form, plays a significant part in hiking the sect’s popularity.
When we talk about religion, we need to keep in mind the caste bias. Caste-based discrimination is rampant in Punjab and Haryana. Dalits form 30 and 20 percent of the total population in Punjab and Haryana respectively. Such large chunk of population faces extreme caste discrimination, making them a fertile ground for Babas. Dera Sacha Sauda and Gurmeet Ram Rahim offered diginity to the dalit disciples who had remained disappointed in religious matters for far too long. He asked his followerss to shun their family surnames and adpot the new one as ‘Insan’ to end caste inequality. The Dera also provided food, ration, education free medical services and money for various social rituals to them, and this won Ram Rahim strong allegiance of these people. The easiest theory on this dera and some others is that they appeal to the economically weaker sections, or to those excluded from caste hierarchies.
All the major religions have seen the emergence of outsize cult figures claiming to be “godmen” who themselves become objects of veneration, superseding the divinities they represent. From being objects of veneration to claiming divinity is just a small leap. Ironically, it is not the veneration of inanimate idols that is worrisome but the cults around living figures that tend to pose challenges to authority. They might be interceding for many gods, but one commonality among godmen is that have mesmerising control over their devotees. The “mystical” aspect of the Dera Sacha Sauda head also helped him draw followers. The Dera used technology and literature to project its gurus as superhumans endowed with divine powers. The story regarding Ram Rahim’s induction into the sect, and his gradual ascendancy from follower to leader, has been well-documented. The documented text calls Ram Rahim a child prodigy who excelled in everything he did, and learnt how to drive at the age of eight. His premis, vouch for the Dera chief’s healing touch and mystical powers.
Moving on to another obvious factor, that is the political patronge. We mention this because godmen have mesmerising powers, politicians flock to them to seek their beneficence in votes. The godmen then seek favors for themselves or for others to prove their divine powers. In Ram Rahim’s case, the congress and the BJP made several attempts to seek favour from Ram Rahim.
Confronted in the world mostly by our helplessness we find ourselves pining to belong somewhere we feel safer, less vulnerable. Ram Rahim and the Dera made their follwers feel at home, and instilled in them a sense of belonging, when they thought they did’nt quite fit in the system. Many among the thousands who gathered in Panchkula believed his political clout — going right up to the biggest demigod of all right now — would mean no one would shoot at them. And if they did, ‘we would die at the hands of a system that never gave us space anyway’! And that is precisely the ideology of the followers who would do anything for their guru.
This write up was submitted by Shaurya Gulati (II year)
Image Courtesy: Hindustan Times