Dera chief Ram Rahim, the self-styled spiritual guru for millions of a multitude who often fall prey to antics that apparently converge to holy thoughts and practices but that in reality constitute a well-designed plot to befool the gullible, has been booked. He is now languishing in the company of his agonies rooted in his past misdeeds – and we emphasize here the fact that his misdeeds were politically glossed over, because, after all, this is how our politics works. To take you straight to the issue, we say here that many a guru have been found to be very convenient political species. How can, then, the Dera chief be any exception? But the larger issue – which is societal – is the following.
Cult and Culture
India has had a very long and glorious tradition of spirituality, something distinct from the Western school of thought whose philosophy is essentially that of materialism – in fact it is “didactic materialism” as they say. The Indian strand of spirituality is perhaps best reflected in the tradition propounded and propagated by one of the best geniuses that India has produced, Srimanta Sankardeva of Assam. This tradition is not only pluralistic but also emblematic of the best that any cultural and spiritual engagement can bring to as many people as possible who see values in human life and put in honest endeavour to cultivate those values for the emancipation of all, especially those who have been subjugated all along. But it is a different story.
The fact of the matter in the instant case is that after the conviction of the Dera chief – also a self-styled film director, producer, and actor himself – the violent mob frenzy that followed and that had the government of the day virtually kowtow to the free run of belief sans reason, has been a grim reminder of what cult can do to culture. But what is cult in the first place? Any good English dictiory would tell us that cult is “a system of religious worship directed towards a particular person or object” or “a small religious group regarded as strange or imposing excessive control over members” or “something popular or fashioble among a particular group of people”. One remembers how in the eighties Osho Rajneesh became a worldwide cult among a whole lot of people from the East to the West seeking moksha or liberation through the route of unbridled spontaneity from existential conditionings. But that was just one instance. Throughout the world, especially in India where the fine line of distinction between religion and spirituality is often vague, cult has had its own cost either in the form of a belief system that militates against the culture of reason or in the form of violence itself when the cult concerned meets any roadblock. The latter happened in the case of the Dera chief following his conviction by the judiciary in a rape case. The sheer madness of violence that hit at least four States in the country’s so-called heartland and the total failure of the system in place to contain the violence has once again brought to the fore the very question of cult as pitted against culture; culture being an offshoot of reason wedded to the nuances of history and heritage.
Where is the fault of cult in general? As a matter of fact, cult does not run counter to culture as long as the tenets of the cult concerned do not usurp reason. But as and when any cult runs directly counter to reason, or rather seeks to decimate reason altogether, the casualty is culture itself. In this context, just think of the number of people killed and wounded in the aftermath of the conviction of the Dera chief last Friday! The utterly discomfiting question is: Why on earth should people die, or get maimed, just because one particular person, seen as ‘demigod’ but who no one can ever prove is indeed any god-like figure, is arrested for a crime of the most bestial kind? The answer points to a cult bereft of any reason altogether, a so-called culture of beliefs in which rigidity of thought rules the roost. In other words, in the present context, no one can ever challenge the likes of the Dera chief because these ‘specially’ gifted people are incartions of God and can do no wrong, no matter what facts say and how the judiciary acts!
This is 21st century. This is an age of reason. This is an age of debate and deliberation. And, therefore, this is an age of wisdom too, a few good steps above mere knowledge. As the famous psychologist James S Ross says, “Knowledge or erudition is the mere possession of facts, but wisdom is the added power to use and apply the knowledge at one’s disposal… Wisdom has always been exalted far above knowledge.” Therefore, when it comes to a blind belief system that has its manifestation in cult as the one of the Dera system, the very lack of wisdom, or the inte ability of people dictated by that belief system to tear apart the barriers of the mere possession of facts in order to reach the realm of wisdom, unsettles the whole governce system; and worse, the excuse for governce deficit is that we are a democracy and no one can stop people from ventilating their feelings. What is, in the ultimate alysis, missed is the fact of the casualty of reason itself, and it is this fact of life that unsettles culture too just because cult is deemed far more powerful! There are far more profound ways to have beliefs, nourish them, and have the world flourish without the cruelty of madness that violence unleashes.