Tainted godman

‘Fake babas’: Why rape-accused Swami Nithyanand is not on the apex sadhu body’s blacklist

The All India Akhara Parishad has blacklisted 14 self-styled godmen, including Gurmeet Singh, Asaram, Aseemanand, Radhe Ma and Nirmal Baba.

After the All India Akhara Parishad, the apex body of sadhus, released a list of 14 “fake babas” on Sunday and called for them to be boycotted, one missing name has evoked animated discussion – Swami Nithyanand.

Nithyanand is facing a rape case in Karnataka, filed in 2009. He also faces seven cases of fraud against his foundation, which bears his name, in India and the United States.

“Nithyanand’s name was raised by Hari Giri but the proposal was fiercely opposed by representatives of Mahanirvani Akhara,” said Dharam Das, the chief abbot of Nirvani Akhara, who attended the meeting in Allahabad where the list was drawn up. Hari Giri leads Juna Akhara.

The All India Akhara Parishad is a conglomerate of 13 akharas, or militant ascetic orders – seven of Shaiva persuasion, three each of Vaishnavism’s Ramanandi sect and Sikhism.

The Parishad’s “fake babas” list is aimed at restoring the credibility of sadhus after the arrest of several self-styled godmen on criminal charges, most recently Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh of Dera Sacha Sauda. Singh is on the blacklist, along with Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh member Aseemanand, Asaram and his son Narayan Sai, Radhe Ma, Sachidanand Giri and Nirmal Baba.

Nithyanand, though, escaped sanction. “Despite Mahanirvani’s objection, the case of Nithyanand was discussed in detail at the meeting,” Dharam Das said. “But since Mahanirvani’s representatives were not ready to listen to any argument we decided not to put his name on the list of fake babas.”

Nithyanand was anointed Mahamandaleshwar, or high priest, by Mahanirvani Akhara at the Allahabad Kumbh in 2013. The decision had drawn severe criticism from other akharas, which alleged that he had bought the title with “secret guru dakshina donations” to the akhara. Such was their indignation that the Niranjani and Juna akharas organised an open meeting of sadhus and devotees attending the Kumbh to denounce the grant of the coveted title to Nithyananda, who is believed to be one of the world’s richest sadhus.

His omission from the blacklist has not gone down well with many sadhus.

“The Akhara Parishad’s decision to exclude Nithyanand from the list of fake babas signifies that it is not serious about taking concrete steps to salvage the image of the ascetic community,” said Baba Hathyogi, a prominent sadhu from Haridwar who belongs to the Digambari Akhara.

Satyendra Das, a member of the Nirvani Akhara and chief priest of the Ramjanmabhoomi temple in Ayodhya complained: “Akharas tie their hands the moment they take money for granting titles. The practice is so widespread that they are simply not in a position to launch a rectification drive.”

Satyendra Das went so far as to question the credibility of the Parishad’s leaders: “Many are themselves sadhus only in name. How can they cleanse the system?”

His allegations are not unfounded. The Parishad’s president Narendra Giri of the Niranjani Akhara was instrumental in getting Sachidanand Giri, a realtor who owned a bar in Noida, anointed as the chief priest in 2015, while the Juna Akhara’s Hari Giri went out of his way to consecrate Radhe Ma as the high priestess of his akhara in 2012.

Although both Sachidanand Giri and Radhe Ma feature in the “fake babas” list, the support that led to their rise has put a question mark on the Akhara Parishad’s ability to restore the credibility of Hindu ascetics.

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.