I never liked Asaram (Bapu). Why I would care to like or dislike him, you might wonder. But when nine out of ten families in my colony worshipped him like he was Lord Vishnu’s avatar in Kalyug, I could not ignore him.
I remember the ladies’ weekly get-togethers to pay tribute to the “great” soul, singing kirtans and chanting “Asaram Chalisa”. To the uninitiated, this Chalisa sings of the Godman’s journey from birth to, well, attaining enlightenment (whatever that means). It recounts miraculous incidents from his life such as how the boy showed early signs of being a divine incarnation because a stranger emerged out of nowhere upon Asaram’s birth and gifted the family a baby palna carved in pure gold. In the great soul’s own words, any wish would come true if a disciple read the Chalisa 108 times.
I have no issues with Godmen/women in general. But with this man, I had differences in particular. The opinion built as I happened to attend a public discourse by him organized in the city. A mini-bus was arranged to ferry scores of men and women from our colony and around to the venue and back.
I was almost forced into listening to him but I never mind experiences. The lecture, in fact, opened me to the knowledge that since crores of men/women were grasping his words as the Gospel truth, the change in Indian mindset wasn’t happening anytime soon. Why, not less than several lakhs were packed in that ground.
He began with extolling all the sacrificial women of our ancient history for purely being sacrificial. Enumerating exemplary faithfulness/chastity/modesty of ancient Hindu females, Asaram emphasized on his point by adding that this was despite the men paying little attention to the marriages as they were busy changing the world.
Next came a list of do’s and don’ts for women. But what got my goat was his casual dismissal of the profession of a telecaller in a call centre.
Sample what he preached:
“My heart pains to see what our bahu-betiyan have to face in these filthy places. They are molested and even raped. I appeal to those women to come to me for help; I’ll suggest better ways of employment,” he said, while I shuddered at the thought that a majority of those keen listeners would reject a call centre job for their daughters/daughters-in-law the first thing they return home.
Now, I am no fan of this profession. But I personally know at least two girls who could bring their life back on the tracks thanks to the quick money these jobs provided even with average academic credentials (definitely without facing what Asaram spoke of). One of them had been forced to substitute her English-medium school education for a Hindi-medium Government-aided one due to the untimely demise of her father. The girl made more than Rs 20000 a month, enough to rent a small flat in Noida and continue her education through distance learning from a management institute. Today, she is the centre manager at a similar call centre.
Listening to this highly damaging sermon, I seethed even as the crowd nodded vigorously, some, I suspected, with tears of guilt for granting too much liberty to their women than they deserve.