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What Should A God Fearing Nation Like Ours Learn From The Case Of Asaram “Bapu”?

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By Lata Jha:

The sadhu bana shaitan is our favourite kind of tale. It makes for dinner table conversations, heated, classroom discussions and not to forget, prime time news. There’s very little spicier and juicier than the dent on the halo. If there’s more to the person than the chadar, tika and beard can conceal, it’s more than enough reason to probe.

As news of yet another self proclaimed godman, Asaram Bapu’s alleged sexual assault of a 16-year-old girl at his ashram in Jodhpur does the rounds, it tends to ring bells of a lot of wrongs that have not managed to be skirted under the crisp, saffron cloth. About the fact that he was in the news not too long ago with regards to his opinion that the Delhi gang rape victim could have averted the incident by calling the rapists her brothers, the less said the better. We’ve paid him more than his share of attention for the ridiculousness. But he has also been involved in land scams and murder cases in the past.

asaram 1

Bapu (ironic, yes) is not the only godman to have been in the news for the wrong reasons. Popular for his spiritual courses and meditation programmes, Swami Nithyananda landed in controversy not too long ago thanks to a video that showed him in compromising positions with a female actor. An Indian born American citizen had also accused him of rape. Rajneesh, or Osho as he was known, was allegedly involved in the 1984 bio terror attacks in the United States where about 751 individuals were poisoned to rig the Wasco County elections. Sathya Sai Baba of Puttaparthy, also despite his eulogised status after passing away, had fielded allegations of sexual assault, paedophilia and questions about the veracity of his many miracles.

And who can forget Baba Ramdev, the most fascinating of them all? His biography could put any Bollywood screenplay to shame. From scurrying out of the Ramlila maidan in a salwar kameez to battling allegations of tax evasion, to facing flak over his belief that homosexuality is a disease that yoga can cure, he seems to have seen it all. In true blue motion picture fashion.

There’s something more to a godman going wrong than everyday news. I think it has a lot to do with the kind of people we are ourselves. As a God fearing nation, we like to believe in the force and in the fact that there are people amongst us who advocate and propagate His messages. If and when we realise that these people are in fact just as fallible as the rest of us, it’s understandably a little too much to take. It’s got to do with our sensitivities more than our sensibilities. It’s too stark a reminder of ugly, harsh realities. And probably of the fact that we’re living in not the best of times. Where, while not everyone is bad, the good has to be really hunted down even among ordinary mortals.

Without doubt, these self styled godmen should be put to shame as criminals of a different kind altogether. But shouldn’t we also give a little more thought to how easily and inevitably we tend to repose our faith in them? That is my question.

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  1. Manan Grover

    Its high time the Indian people realize that the path to God is through themselves only and not through these self proclaimed sadhus and babas. Since ancient times,babas and sadhus have occupied a position after God in the minds of the people.This strong belief has led to any Tom Dick and Harry call himself a baba and has started committing corrupt practices under this worshipped name.
    Let all of us become God loving people and stop believing in these thugs and in turn connect to Him through meditation,leading a simple and motivated life.

  2. Richa

    I am an ardent follower of Youth ki Awaaz but this was sadly a waste of time on my part and effort on yours. I opened this for it’s very interesting headline, thinking oh finally somebody has some opinion about what could be done, or how can it be done.. but all that was stated in the these 1000 or so words was the problem which we are so much aware of.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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