CALL it religion, call it spirituality, call it whatever, right now it is in the docks. Let us start with our so-called Godmen. Like “Swami” Nityananda, for example. Or Kripaluji Maharaj of Pratapgarh. Or Anup Kumar Sahay of Ghaziabad. Or Sant “Swami” Bhimanandji Maharaj Chitrakootwale. To say the least, they have brought disrepute not just to Hinduism, but to the very concept of spirituality.
The New Sunday Express ( March 14) ran a full page about “swamis” who have been increasingly shocking society with tales about their acts of carnal pleasure. The list is long and it is about right time that these spurious ‘gurus’ are exposed for what they are, religious humbugs. One, Ichchadhari Sant Swami Bhimanandji Maharaj Chitrakootwale was charged with running a prostitution chain. Stories about such cheats have to be read to be believed. Such is the situation that at a recent meeting of priests of temples in Ayodhya attended by sants and mahants a decision was taken that in future, women devotees planning a darshan of a sant or mahant should always be accompanied by a male.
A report in INA quoted one Ram Vilas Vedanti, former BJP MP and much-respected peethadheeshwar, as saying: “At a time when some crooks are exploiting people, especially women, in the name of religion and in the garb of sadhu-sants, it has become imperative to take some urgent steps to save our reputation.” “In such a situation,” he said, “we had to think of drastic steps”. But Hinduism is not an organised religion unlike Roman Catholicism, which has a religious spiritual supreme in the Pope. And the Catholic Church in recent weeks has been under severe attack for some of the misdeeds indulged in by Catholic priests, which have largely gone unpunished. The Vatican has been under siege.
Deccan Herald (April 16 ) noted: “A crisis of confidence in the Catholic Church unparalleled in modern times has been triggered by allegations of sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests and the Church’s failure to act against the latter.” The paper noted that while allegations of sexual abuse of minors by priests and the cover-up of these crimes by other higher-ups in the hierarchy is nothing new, yet only one bishop has been disciplined. And even this bishop was sent to a job in Rome. The paper charged Pope Benedict XVI that “as a cardinal in Germany and later as a top Vatican official”, he was “part of the culture of secrecy that shielded, even abetted child rapists and molesters”. “The right thing,” said the paper, “for the Vatican to do is to come clean on the rot that has gripped the Church, even own moral responsibility for horrendous crimes that have been committed by its priests and its silence on the matter”.
One charge was the practice of paedophilia which The Times of India (March 16) said, “is hardly exclusive to the Catholic Church”. However, the paper said: “It is among the most abhorrent of crimes, made even worse when it is perpetuated by those who are supposed to be the ultimate repositories of trust and faith.” The paper also charged Pope Benedict XVI and his advisers for having been “less then effective in dealing with both the problem and the fallout of its exposure”. By way of giving unsolicited advice, the paper said: “Rather than relating sexual abuse cases to the Church’s existing taboos, re-examining one of its core tenets-celibacy for priests- may address the issue at its roots, difficult though this will be.”
Earlier, The Indian Express (March 27) had noted: “Sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church has a long and dishonourable history.” “Long before the present uproar about the sexual abuse of children in its care,” said the paper, “there were many sniggering references to the bambini of the more notorious popes of antiquity”. It said: “Nor did this always refer to their illegitimate children; in some cases it was a reference to catamites. Given this background, sexual abuse should come as no surprise, but the sheer scale of continuing revelations is staggering.”
For a long time, the Church’s response was denial. As the paper noted: “It systematically aborted attempts to uncover the truth.” It even questioned the Pope’s defence of an Irish priest and prelates when he tied their behaviour “with the uncertain morals of their times”. “This,” said the paper, surely is “the most egregious of defences, coming from an organisation that preaches a code for all time”. Asked the paper: “If paedophile priests get away with their crimes with robust legal systems, think how much easier it would be in India, with its endemic corruption.”
The Hindu (April 6) was very critical of the Roman Catholic Church for being “delinquent in handling widespread sexual abuse of members of its flock”. “This,” said the paper, “has the making of a crisis of historic proportions for the Church”. Noting that the Church must acknowledge and make amends for even decades-old cases-just in the United States alone there have been allegations of 11,750 child-abuse-the paper said that “a key focus for those seeking Church reform is priestly celibacy, a tradition dating to Christianity’s early days but made mandatory only in the 11th century”. The paper expressed shock while referring to the finding of Judge Murphy’s Commission in Ireland, which said that sexual abuse was not merely “endemic in boy’s institutions” but also that “the Church hierarchy protected the perpetrators”.
In conclusion, the paper said: “It seems unlikely that the Holy See will now be able to overlook international law which counts egregious sexual abuse of children as a crime against humanity.” “To treat the assaults as ‘sins’ subject only to action by religious bodies looks increasingly indefensible”, the paper concluded.
Interestingly when the behaviour of “Swami” Nityananda became public property, according to The Hindu (March 4) “an angry mob attacked the Nityananda’s ashram pelting stones and pulling down banners and hoardings of the Swamiji, setting them ablaze”. The mob tore down the godman’s portraits and damaged the decorate lamps at the ashram’s gates and some huts on the ashram property were gutted in a fire. To the best of one’s knowledge no priest was assaulted, nor any church property damaged in Ireland, Europe or the United States, by an angry public. At least the people in India have a sense of values.