Mar 6, 2024

Beyond Jay Shetty: Osho to Asaram – Revisiting India’s controversial self-styled ‘gurus’ and their murky past

Beyond Jay Shetty: Osho to Asaram – Revisiting India’s controversial self-styled ‘gurus’ and their murky past
While the controversy around the life-coach has made headlines, India is no stranger to self-styled gurus and their not-so-ordinary lifestyles. Some of them have been jailed, facing charges of heinous crimes, while others have been M.I.A after disturbing issues surfaced.

Surabhi Pandey
Financial Express
March 5, 2024

India’s self-styled godmen and their murky past

1: Osho: Known as Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh in his heydays, Osho was the it-guru not just for Indians but global devotees as well. In 1966, he quit his job as a professor at the University of Jabalpur and commenced a pan-India tour on a spiritual quest. He slammed Hindu orthodox ideas and focused on meditation. Osho’s book ‘From Sex to Superconsciousness’ had created a lot of controversies in India at the time of release. The decade-long quest culminated with Osho establishing an Ashram in Pune in the year 1974. But a few years later, Osho decided to move to what he called ‘Rajneeshpuram’, his 60,000-acre commune, based in Oregon in the US.

In a span of just three years, his followers transformed Rajneeshpuram from a barren land into the most happening place in this sleepy neighbourhood. From restaurants to malls, Rajneeshpuram had it all. There was a public transport system and a reservoir. But all this changed after Osho faced two counts of felony. After pleading guilty, Osho was deported and he came back to India. He stayed at his Pune Ashram till his death in 1990. A result of counter-culture of the swinging 60s, Osho’s cult was popular among A-list stars from Hollywood to Bollywood. Filmmaker Vikram Zuthsi once wrote that Osho’s ashram was modelled on the community of Russian mystic GI Gurdjieff.

2: Gurmeet Ram Rahim: The events leading to 23-year-old Gurmeet Singh transforming into Huzoor Maharaj Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh ji is stuff that fiction stories are based on. Born in a well-to-do landlord family, Gurmeet Singh did not have a spiritual inclination. But in a surprise turn of events, Singh was appointed as the Dera Saccha Sauda chief and rechristened as Huzoor Maharaj Gurmeet Ram Rahim. The Dera, which had massive following among Dalits and other backward sections, saw construction of a massive cave-themed park at its Sirsa headquarters.

Convicted for rape, Gurmeet Singh was profiled for sexually exploiting women devotees in name of ‘maafi’ or pardon. Ram Rahim Singh was convicted by a special CBI court in Panchkula in August 2017 for raping two women. Recently, the Punjab and Haryana High Court had raised objections over repeated paroles granted to him. Supposed to serve 20 years in jail, Gurmeet Singh has been granted nine paroles in the past four years.

3: Zakir Naik: Born on October 16, 1965 in Mumbai, Zakir Naik studied at Mumbai University before founding Islamic Research Foundation and starting the broadcast operations of Peace TV. Naik, who is a wanted criminal in India, is named in an FIR. He has been accused of instigating young men and women of the Muslim community to comment on terror attacks against India. Known for his radical Islamic preachings, Naik is currently living a fugitive life. Some reports say that he is living at an undisclosed location in Malaysia.

4: Asaram Bapu: Asaram was arrested in 2013 after a minor filed a police case accusing him of raping her at his Jodhpur ashram. Ever since then, Asaram remain behind bars. After the 2013 case, several other girls have also come forward with gruesome accounts of sexual abuse at Asaram’s ashrams. The Asaram case is pending with the top court.

5: Swami Nithyananda: In March 2010, a grainy video clip surfaced on local TV networks showing the self-styled godman involved in acts of sexual nature with a TV actor. After backlash, Nithyananda had claimed that he was impotent and that the act was not of sexual nature – it was shavasana. However, that video clip was tip of the proverbial iceberg. Soon, allegations surfaced of him raping a follower at his ashram. A search by the local police showed recovery of condoms and contrabands. In 2019, the Gujarat Police had said that the infamous godmen had fled India. A non-bailable warrant has been issued by Indian court in connection with the several cases of sexual assault and wrongful confinement.

6: Maharishi Mahesh Yogi: The man who became an icon for being the so-called spiritual guide to The Beatles, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was at the centre of intense media frenzy back in 1960s. The band was so much in awe of the guru that they stayed at his Rishikesh-based Ashram. But later, the ‘Fab Four’ and the guru parted ways. Some media accounts said that Maharishi Mahesh had allegedly made sexual advances towards Mia Farrow. According to the New York Post report, Woody Allen’s ex-partner had claimed that the godman had groped her in his cave. And final conclusion came when John Lennon famouly said – “There’s no guru.”

No comments: