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The madness of believing in charlatans

A rapist was found guilty.

The rapist had supporters, though. Millions of them. A mob of thousands, upon hearing the court’s verdict, went on the rampage, attacking journalists, setting vehicles on fire, attacking train stations and government buildings. Dozens of people were killed in the mêlée. The army had to be called in to quell the carnage.

The rapist in question was Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, leader of an Indian sect. Who is this man, whose supporters so rabidly protect him even when all the evidence is stacked against him? Well, you’ll have to Google him to see. If I described him here, you might find it too ludicrous to believe that such a character can have followers. Let’s just say that this gentleman is one of India’s pantheon of assorted fraudsters and conmen who masquerade as ‘godmen’. Ram Rahim is possibly the most egregious of the bunch, the self-styled ‘Guru of Bling’ who made superhero-style movies about himself – almost the living caricature of the over-the-top guru.

The question we have to ask is: what makes ordinary people so susceptible to manipulation, that they can ignore all evidence and follow outright clowns and frauds? Ram Rahim was ultimately sentenced to 20 years in jail. Subsequent searches of his organization’s 800-acre headquarters – which looks more like a tacky theme park than a spiritual abode – revealed a secret tunnel leading from the guru’s plush residence to a hostel for female disciples – precisely where two such women had alleged the rape had occurred. It is now believed systematic sexual abuse of disciples was going on for years.

Ram Rahim is not alone. Many of his fellow godmen run huge global businesses, perform cheap conjuring tricks in the name of miracles, and prey on the gullible poor. How do they get away with it? They are protected by two things: ignorance, and politicians.

It is to the world’s enduring shame that we have been unable to educate the mass of ordinary people to rise above superstition, witchcraft and other delusions. In every country, conmen find the promise of salvation to the poor and the afflicted a sure-fire path to riches. They masquerade as healers and prophets and seers, and those who have so little part with their meagre earnings in the hope of getting better lives.

Once the godman amasses a large number of followers, he becomes attractive to politicians who eye his captive vote bank. Ram Rahim was courted by politicians of all parties, because he could simply order his millions of loyal followers to vote a particular way. Politicos would be seen shamelessly prostrating themselves before him, further building his myth in front of gullible supporters. In return, Ram Rahim was granted special state security; and a blind eye was turned to his many misdoings. The rape charges on which he was finally convicted took 15 years to come to court.

This is the toxic combination of ignorance and politicking that builds up so many charlatans in so many countries. We need to talk straight with our people wherever we see this dangerous nonsense building up. Let me start right here today.

There is no salvation that will come to you just from following the instructions and rituals of another human being – none. None of your fellow humans holds the keys that will magically transform your life – none. None of the problems of poverty are solved by prostration before those proclaiming themselves as messiahs – none.

Be very wary of those asking for donations in return for deliverance; those who are adorned in sudden riches whilst surrounded by abjectly poor followers; those who take on godlike airs and claim divine backing; those around whom the whiff of scandal and wrongdoing always lingers; those who dismiss every charge made against them as fake news, propaganda and a war waged by their enemies; those who ask you to abuse and steal and kill in their name.

Those people, be they gurus, pastors, demigods or politicians, are lying to you and stealing from you, and they will lead you only unto darkness.

This proliferation of fakers prevents us from listening to those messages that can indeed be our salvation. There are people in life that we should pay attention to and be inspired by. Those people are kind, humble, earthy, knowledgeable and wise. They make no promises and offer no magical solutions. Their life is their message. They don’t appear on billboards and televisions, and they ask for nothing from us. Above all, they speak the truth. Do we ever stop to gaze at them and listen to their words?

(Sunday Nation, 17 September 2017)

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