As Ram Rahim Singh is put behind bars, we take a look at how exploitation of women continues to be a mainstay of these godmen and what promotes this environment
Exploitation and women are way too often heard in the same breath. Ever wondered why? The not-so-difficult answer is patriarchy. But the slightly convulsed answers are many — lack of education, traditions, and superstitions. Yes, we read it right. Superstitions!
Last Friday, Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh of Sirsa’s Dera Sacha Sauda was convicted in a 2002 rape case and on Monday, he was given a punishment of 20 years in jail, 10 each for the two rapes — 15 years after the incident.
See a connection between these two pieces of information? There is one, a rather strong one. “Exploitation of women under the garb of superstitions is a major reality of our society,” says Priti Karmarkar, chief functionary of the Nari Samata Manch. She blames it on the sorry state of politicians around us. “We need to value the people who fight for justice in such terrible times, like the journalist who brought the wrongdoings to light and the girls who have undergone the injustice. When will we learn to value these people?” she questions.
The Nari Samata Manch works to better the situation around gender-based violence. It works in Pune and the surrounding villages, in the spheres of education and community health. “Only women cannot be educated and made aware of sexual exploitation. The men need equal, if not more, counselling. So we include both the genders in the narrative,” she explains, adding that this is the need of the hour.
It is not just Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh. These are probably the darkest days for three self-styled godmen — Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh Insan, Asaram Bapu whose bail application in a rape case has been rejected by the court and a baba named Rampal, whose criminal case is on in a Haryana court.
However, simply blaming the state machinery in matters like these is not going to help us, Karmarkar insists. “The focal point of the debate must be the exploitation of women by these self-styled godmen,” says the lady who has been working in the field for the last two decades.
Bhagyesha Kurane, who works with women residing in slums in and around Pune, too agrees with Karmarkar. “In slums, superstitions exist on a large scale. When there are fights within the family, large-scale unemployment, and addictions, these people go to the so-called babas. Such behaviour influences their next generation too, which starts believing in godmen and their power to offer solutions,” she tells us.
Kurane, who works in these areas along with 10 other people, says that the group tries to help by talking to these people, showing documentaries, conducting workshops and counselling.
“We recently had an Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti’s workshop for them. We show science films and make them recite songs that discard superstitions. Through music and dance, they get the message better,” Kurane believes.
Poverty plays a crucial role
The one thing that both these women working to better the situation of women strongly feel is that poverty plays a huge role in such blind following. “These people who are unemployed and see no road ahead, are very easy to influence. They quickly turn to such godmen because they are looking for some solutions to their lives,” Karmarkar explains.
Speaking of such instances, she narrates experiences she has had in the Ambegaon tehsil of Pune where she has had to pursue people to go to the doctor. “They always go to the local baba for treatment. While this can be dangerous to their health, it is dangerous at many other levels too,” she says.
Sometimes these women say that they get possessed, says Kurane. “They are then worshipped by the people of the village and are given the status of god. Some of these cases are of attention issues. They need psychological help. We try and tell them that. It is quite a challenge to persuade them to visit a doctor. One, because they trust the babas more and two, there is an acute lack of money,” she says.
These seemingly small cases of blind faith lead to large-scale “unimaginable” situations like what we are seeing in north India right now, Karmarkar says. Education and awareness alone can save us from “this collective failure of our society,” she concludes.