Ruminations on the Unavoidable Truth about Evil Cults
On August 25th, many Indians took to social media to express their shock over the violence across Haryana, killing at least 30 people and injuring more than 250. The violence started after the quasi-religious sect leader Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh was found guilty of raping two of his followers (crimes he committed in 2002) by special CBI court. The devoted followers (claimed to be in millions) of the self-styled God-man’s Dera Sacha Sauda Group in Punjab and Haryana were enraged over the verdict. People were quick to place the whole violent retaliation on the followers. But there’s nothing shocking about these events, because this is what would happen when politicians enter into unofficial power-sharing/vote-sharing contracts with self-proclaimed ‘thuggish’ god-men. When pseudo-spirituality meets dysfunctional democracy the combined dark power even makes the all-powerful judiciary and police forces to go limp.
Indian states are riddled with deeply corrupted sects and political factions that command millions of followers who don’t recognize the writ of the State (the unrest caused after the Karnataka court verdict against former TN Chief Minister Jayalalitha is another recent example). Most of these Indian cult leaders provide basic public services that debauched state powers couldn’t provide. The utter weakness of the State allows such dangerous quasi-religious sects to easily thirve. After spending enough to hoard fanatical supporters using failure of the state, the cult leaders gradually enter in relations with political establishment. While cults like Dera Sacha Sauda flourish using the fanaticism of the underclass, there are many other less violent but equally corrupted cults which sell their version of ‘spirituality’ to India’s so-called ‘elites’ and ‘intellectuals’. The number of genuine religious guides who really possess the ‘special knowledge’ is very few and get shuffled among the sludge of these ‘charismatic’ leaders. The so-called ‘fool followers’ who commit arson in the name of their guru could only be understood when we address the never-ending cycle of victim-hood and tyranny caused by inept democratic system.
The dangerous exclusivity enjoyed by cults is also an alarming world-wide phenomenon. The line separating a cult from conventional religion isn’t always very clear. The secretive, authoritarian, dogmatic nature of a cult could be related with religions too. While religions provide some space to question its claims to truth without getting ostracized, cults doesn’t provide even that space (and many evil cults doesn’t have any specific ties to religion). Jonestown, Branch Davidians, Aum Shinrikyo, Buddhafield, Heaven’s Gate, The Church of Bible Understanding and numerous other sadistic cults were run by charming, pathological narcissists. According to Joe Navarro, veteran of FBI, who has deeply studied the dangerous traits of cult leaders, ranging from Jim Jones to Bhagwan Rajneesh, ‘All these cults demand flawless loyalty and are totally intolerant towards criticism.’ He further adds, ‘They [cult leaders] all have or had an over-abundant belief that they were special, that they and they alone had the answers to problems, and that they had to be revered.”
A toxic cult chooses its perfect prey from all walks of life: youngsters from dysfunctional families; victimized impoverished people; wealthy and well-connected with flexible religious beliefs; people suffering from unquenchable sorrow or disease, etc. the cults thrives on our basic mindset of painting everything in black and white. The bait often proposed during indoctrination is either based on unfounded fear (calamities or apocalypse) or disclosure of ‘special knowledge’. Once the cult lures enough people, then it endorses its ‘unique-ness’ through celebrities and politicians (those who tweet about ‘fools’ following Gurmeet Ram Singh forget about the list of celebrities and Chief Ministers who gleefully posed with the rapist).
As long as the religious communities and society as a whole shuns wider expression and diversity, the power-hungry, evil cults will continue to fill in the vacuum and sweep people by their feet. And the esteemed ideal that, ‘No individual in the society is beyond accountability’ won’t apply to them.