Large parts of Haryana, including Gurugram on the border of Delhi, and Punjab were held to ransom yesterday — with violence threatening to spill over to Chandigarh — by lakhs of followers of Gurmeet Ram Rahim ‘Insaan’. They were upset about the trial, arrest and probable conviction of their guru. The godman was accused of rape in 2002, the year that also saw the emergence of a case of murder against him. The situation is tense even as the Haryana government has ordered its policemen and allowed the paramilitary forces to take strict action against rampaging hooligans. Condemnation of the rowdies has been flowing thick and fast, and rightly so, from all quarters except one — the underprivileged sections of Punjabi and Haryanvi society. For, the Dera Sachcha Sauda and all deras of the region are home to millions who have been ostracised from temples and discarded by gurudwaras. At a stage when they remained neither quite Hindu nor quite Sikh, whoever gave them a sense of belonging was bound to be a godsend for them. It does not matter if ‘Insaan’ is hardly humane, let alone spiritual to the extent of being godly. They will see no evil in that man. However, saying that the act of throwing city life out of gear for one’s blind faith is unacceptable is a no-brainer. That it is an issue of castes within the Hindu-Sikh fold would not paint the whole picture either, as people, from the United Kingdom to India, hesitate to take on the might of arguably the most dreaded religion of the world.
India witnesses and adjusts to little discomforts in life for the sake of belief in the divine as a routine affair. Those living in unauthorised colonies suddenly find worshipping arenas erected right in front of the sole entry cum exit of their houses, blocking the passage to and from the house. Terrible traffic bottlenecks are created around places of worship of all religions. Loudspeakers blaring azan five times a day, jagaran any fine night and shabad kirtan every day break the calm of a neighbourhood at any point, troubling cardiac patients, students facing exams and new-born babies just put to sleep by their mothers. Kanwariya is gone and Muharram is coming to occupy half the space meant for the movement of vehicles in cities. And it’s not faith always. Political rallies and wedding processions disrupt our quotidian businesses every now and then. While Indians have learnt to live with such daily irritations, it turns atrocious when religion puts life and property at stake. It is there that one is astounded by the near-complete silence of the lambs.
The news of the execution of Iraq’s dethroned dictator Saddam Hussein, to save whom India could have done nothing, imperils lives in the largest State of the country, Uttar Pradesh. Journalist Alok Tomar was persecuted for merely reproducing a caricature of Prophet Mohammed; the trials and tribulations ended the life of the patient of cancer prematurely. For distant Myanmarese Rohingyas, a self-styled Raza Academy defiles a memorial for soldiers in Mumbai’s Azad Maidan. The comment of a radical Kamlesh Tiwari is met with such violence in Kaliachak, Malda, that a government two States away is forced to arrest him — with the advocates of freedom of speech nowhere to be found. In that very State, the ‘minorities’, refusing to forgive a crass cartoon by a minor on social media, stage riots in Basirhat, and nobody returns state awards in protest. If the law is supreme, why does West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee have to postpone the immersion of idols of Goddess Durga to make a peaceful way for Muharram’s Taziya year after year? The list of selective outcries is so long, it cannot be exhaustive in an editorial. What is new in the Ram-Rahim conundrum is that some nationalists have made common cause with the leftists. For, none among the shabbily dressed, shoddily speaking, ‘unwashed’ masses rioting around is one of them!
But ‘two wrongs make a right’ is not the argument. That law is supreme has never been the overriding faith in this country of faiths that was turned secular on paper by the Indira Gandhi regime. No government in independent India has been firm enough in its resolve to impress the supremacy of order upon the people. As for the guilt of this god man, it’s not the ordinary citizen but the Supreme Court, where the case is finally likely to reach, that can have the last word legally. The have-nots of Punjab-Haryana might well wish their guru had the wherewithal of Rahul Gandhi to get the case dismissed in the name of defamation. While this may or may not be a case of a libellous attack on the person now convicted by a CBI court, one can see a pattern since the last decade when one Hindu leader after another has been targeted by the state, with Kanchi Shankaracharya’s arrest to a volley of cases against Asaram Bapu, and several cases of lesser preachers from the Hindu fold in between. Whereas the regime change at the Centre might have struck a balance, wherein the state has been chasing Islamic supremacist Zakir Naik, neither the Narendra Modi government nor the courts will join the dots. It will take a new breed of investigative journalists to figure out why the narrative suggests Hindu spiritual leaders alone fool around while the tablighi jamaat and evangelicals easily maintain the spotlessness of their white robes. Till then, fake, distorted secularism and selective outrage will not help usher in an era of sanity. Today, it’s one dera; tomorrow, there will be another.