IN­SIDE THE GURU’S BAS­TION

In In­dore, ag­gres­sive pas­sion for ‘ Ba­puji’ keeps a glim­mer of hope alive for the god­man

India Today - - NATION - By Gay­a­tri Jayaraman

Ayagna is burn­ing be­hind the cow shed, deep in­side the heart of the In­dore ashram run by self­pro­claimed god­man Asaram ‘ Bapu’ on Khandwa Road, a ma­jor ed­u­ca­tional artery for the city. At least three men have been sit­ting around the fire night and day, chant­ing the mantra that ‘ Ba­puji’ has taught them for suc­cess in court cases. “Svaha ( So be it)”, they say in unison, as they toss in a mix­ture of fennel, black se­same and sugar along with obla­tions of ghee into the ha­van kund built of brick and cow dung. Next to them is a large im­age of ‘ Ba­puji’. It is not clear if th­ese fol­low­ers are pro­pi­ti­at­ing Asaram, whom they be­lieve to be God, or if there are other gods who need ap­pease­ment.

The eight to 10 peo­ple who are at­tend­ing the yagna in the mid­dle of the day are of­fered wa­ter to wash their hands with when they get up. This is to en­sure that any re­ward, or punya, they may have ac­quired dur­ing the ser­vice ac­crues to Ba­puji rather than to them. Women are not al­lowed into the ashram at cer­tain times of the day: Af­ter 7 p. m., and in the af­ter­noon be­tween prayers. This is strictly en­forced now that al­le­ga­tions of rape have sur­faced against Asaram. Only the ashram work­ers, typ­i­cally wives and daugh­ters of ashram per­son­nel, are sit­ting in prayer in dif­fer­ent parts of the com­pound. Some are in the main hall in front of Asaram’s bul­let­proof glassen­cased seat­ing space, lip- sync­ing the Hanu­man Chal­isa in a loop in front of an­other peren­nial flame. Some oth­ers

are walk­ing around the ‘ wish- ful­fill­ing’ tree planted next to the store sell­ing her­bal medicines, which dou­bles as the of­fice of Rishi Dar­shana, Asaram’s of­fi­cial news­let­ter.

This ashram is one of the three main seats of Asaram’s vast spir­i­tual em­pire— along with Motera in Ahmed­abad and Jodh­pur in Ra­jasthan, which was the venue of much drama on Au­gust 31, when the po­lice fi­nally ar­rested him.

Prepa­ra­tions are un­der­way for a silent rally in which 5,000 devotees are ex­pected walk to the dis­trict mag­is­trate’s of­fice in the heart of In­dore city on Septem­ber 5. One by one, Asaram’s of­fice staff is call­ing peo­ple from a list of sup­port­ers and ask­ing that they be present for the rally. “What do you mean you don’t know who can join? Make them join! They have taken Ba­puji from here, I need a crowd of 5,000 to­mor­row,” one devo­tee is scream­ing into the phone.

Gen­tle­ness is not a qual­ity usu­ally as­so­ci­ated with fol­low­ers of Asaram. As a stranger at­tend­ing the yagna for the first time, you are watched, fol­lowed, and your ev­ery move­ment noted. Are you pray­ing, or just wan­der­ing? Why is there a flight tag on your bag? Have you re­ceived deek­sha, or initiation mantras? If you are from Mum­bai, why did you not go to the ashram there? Why did your hus­band not ac­com­pany you? One by one, the work­ers are sent to in­ter­ro­gate you.

You are searched, and if some­thing sus­pi­cious is found on your per­son— such as a phone or a tablet PC— you are sur­rounded. This cir­cle, now less ca­sual and more in­tim­i­dat­ing, tells you that do­ing “com­puter things” is sin­ful. “Don’t you know Ba­puji is against it?” An alert is sounded, you are told to leave, and the ashram gate is shut down. If you won’t move far enough as you wait for your cab, a chair is of­fered kindly in a neigh­bour­ing house, where you are ca­su­ally locked in. “Who do you think you are, walk­ing around ask­ing ques­tions? Were you tak­ing pho­to­graphs? We will take yours also,” says a bel­liger­ent school prin­ci­pal who has rushed out of the Gu­rukul premises op­po­site, push­ing and shov­ing as he clicks your pic­ture for ev­i­dence.

And yet, there is an el­e­ment of pathos in the fer­vent cling­ing on to the hope that Asaram is in­no­cent. “The truth will come out in the end,” says a fe­male sup­porter, more out of hope than faith, as you are leav­ing. “Milk will sep­a­rate from wa­ter. We are not dis­heart­ened. It is just that the al­le­ga­tions lev­elled against him are hard to di­gest.” And that, in a nut­shell, sums up the at­mos­phere of part- fear and part- dis­il­lu­sion­ment, hid­den be­hind anger, in­so­lence and ac­ri­mony.

PAWAN BHAWAR

ASARAM’S ASHRAM

IN IN­DORE

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