This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by JYOTI. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

What Happens To Godmen Who Do ‘Ungodly’ Acts?

More from JYOTI

A few days ago, I had a chat with a close acquaintance of mine. She told me about a time in her early teens when her mother, being a devout Hindu, used to take her for govardhan parikramas on ekadashi (circumambulating in the major temples in the town of Govardhan, on the 11th day of the moon cycle ).

During one such routine parikrama, she was separated from her mother. It happened to be some minor festival and hence, the temple was a bit more crowded than usual.

While looking at the flowers decorating the temple premises, she recalled being beckoned by a middle-aged priest. He was seated on a nearby pedestal with another godman holding a bowl of prasad (edible offering) He proceeded to ask her if she found the flowers pretty. To this, she replied: “Yes!”

He then turned around and offered her a massive marigold in full bloom. And, as she touched the flower he grabbed her hands and pulled her towards him. She couldn’t remember what happened next, except that he did not let go of her even as she struggled, till some other devotee came to offer prayers.

The Daan Ghati temple in Govardhan. Representational image. Photo credit:

Godmen Accused Of Sexual Harassment

The thing that most struck me about this ordeal was the fact that my acquaintance could still remember the smirk that man gave her when she was backing away. Just thinking about it still sends shivers down her spine.

That smile to me signifies his confidence in the non-redressal of any potential complaints from the survivors.

She considers what happened to her as relatively benign. According to her, it only resulted in a loss of faith in religion for her. Comparing this to news reports and the condition of women in ashrams and other religious centres, one can realise that this isn’t about a few isolated incidents.

Rather, it’s about a nexus of predators hiding behind orange garbs and an insufficient state machinery (to do with early redressal and sensitisation). The poor redressal of India’s sexual harassment laws has furthermore caused massive stigmatisation and disillusionment from judicial systems.

Nowhere is it starker than in cases involving religious and theological institutions. This usually results in most such cases being unreported and perpetrators flying under the radar… thus continuing to harass more people. 

Jai Gurudev has been accused of stoking communal sentiments, grabbing farmers’ lands forcefully, among other things. Representational image. Photo credit: Amar Ujala.

Be it the Asaram ‘Bapu’ case, or the Nithyananda one, or Jai Gurudev from Mathura (who is allegedly implicit in genocidal accusations), one can think of many cases where self-proclaimed godmen have been ungodly.

There Is A Need For A Special Law

In 1992, Bhanvari Devi an Indian social worker from Bhateri Rajasthan was gang-raped by men, angered due to her efforts to prevent child marriage in their family. The subsequent treatment by the police and court acquittal of the accused attracted widespread national and international media attention.

This became a landmark episode in India’s women’s rights movement. It paved the path to the landmark Vishakha Guidelines (1997) against sexual harassment in workplaces.

Later, we saw various new laws being framed like the POCSO (Protection of Children from Sexual Offences) Act. In both these instances, legislations were not enough to fix the problem, but rather, they provided a base to work with.

Likewise, we need special legislations pertaining to religious institutions. Alternatively, we need to increase the ambit of current legislations in light of many advocates and survivors arguing that religious institutions do fall under the umbrella of workplace sexual harassment, so as to do the bare minimum in creating a safe space for women in such places.

The issue of understanding sexual harassment in the temples of Mathura, where I hail from, poses another major difficulty. There is a lack of comprehensive data collection from both, the NCRB (National Crime Records Bureau) and independent research organisations.

There Are ICCs At Workplaces, But Not At Theological Institutions

Although a few newspapers have looked into the sexual assault cases in various ashrams, the data is, nonetheless, not enough to construct a complete picture. Some estimates point out that Vrindavan has more than 4,000 temples and ashrams, with about 2,957 widows living in them.

Another study pointed out to the ashram owners indulging in and soliciting young widows into human trafficking and prostitution. This results in a lot of them acquiring venereal diseases which often go unchecked. These rampant STDs (sexually transmitted diseases) and several others like diarrhoea etc. due to a lack of sanitation make their life a true rendition of dystopia.

What’s more, there is gross neglect of the older, so-called “less desirable ones” by the owners. The Indian society has a deeply misogynistic place for a survivor of any kind of sexual harassment. This is taken up by a notch when cases pertaining to religious leaders are brought to light.

The sheer mental trauma and harassment faced by the survivor and their families at the hands of the followers of the godmen are enough to de-incentivise any further action against them by the survivor.

This, notwithstanding the media trials the survivor has to face and the protection the godmen usually have in lieu of being a part of the politico-religious nexus

The sexual harassment faced by women and children at such religious places, essentially, puts such institutions out of their reach. It creates a sense of deep mistrust and fear of approaching various establishments against their practices.

What Is The Way Forward?

As is true in all cases, the law isn’t enough. But, it is the bare minimum required to take the fight forward, to the doors of each temple. A special committee needs to be constituted to look into such issues, which can take necessary steps in case of non-redressal.

Not to mention, a survey and fact-finding of actual data of the survivors, their rehabilitation and the matter of their mental well-being is the need of the hour.

We, as a society, owe an apology to all the girls, women and trans people, who were wronged. They were forced to face such gross violations of their bodies in front of an almighty being, who stood there and looked on with his unblinking, cold eyes and a non-beating, stony heart in his bosom.

Featured image is for representational purposes only.

Note: The author is part of the current batch of the Writer’s Training Program.

You must be to comment.

More from JYOTI

Similar Posts

By Priyanka Jaiswal

By Neha Yadav

By Tanveer Wani

    If you do not receive an email within the next 5 mins, please check your spam box or email us at

      If you do not receive an email within the next 5 mins, please check your spam box or email us at

        If you do not receive an email within the next 5 mins, please check your spam box or email us at

        Wondering what to write about?

        Here are some topics to get you started

        Share your details to download the report.

        We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

        Share your details to download the report.

        We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

        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.

        Read more about his campaign.

        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.

        Read more about her campaign.

        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.

        With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna 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.

        Read more about her campaign. 

        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.

        Find out more about the campaign here.

        A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

        She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

        Read more about the campaign here.

        A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

        The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

        Read more about the campaign here.

        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.

        Share your details to download the report.

        We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

        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.

        Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

        A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
        biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

        Bidisha was selected in’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.

        Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below