Saturday, January 24, 2015

Un-Charitable Activities

God-men (and God-women, for that matter) of India are well-known for their social and charitable activities.  They have vast empires of educational institutions, low-cost hospitals, herbal medicines and condiment shops, etc.  They also participate, or help start, afforestation drives, water-body cleaning operations, drug de-addiction centers, etc.

Many people therefore understandably consider the God-men as noble souls who are doing so much for the poor and helpless and the suffering.

There are many glitches in this sweet narrative:

1. These activities are frequently used to get grants of land and other benefits from the government.  India might be secular in theory, but in practice politicians want the God-men to be on their side during elections.  They therefore find it easy to grant favors to them.  All religions are subject to an equality of appeasement in India.

Of course, the land and tax benefits are not coming from the political party's coffers, they are coming from the public.  It is a genius move to do campaign spending from others' pockets.  And given the charitable and religious nature of the project, nobody dares object.

If the government doesn't grant the favor, God-men and their organizations have been known to just take over the land.  Just like that.  If the authorities try to evict them, there is the threat of riots.  "How dare you defile the scripture/idol/holy-ground?"  Religion gets a free pass where normal business would get roadblocked.  Establishing a large hospital and a medical college not only gets the God-man a steady stream of revenue, he usually gets to build these institutions without huge upfront costs.

2.  It is not the God-man's altruism which makes him do it.  In fact, it isn't even his own money that is spent on these activities and "charitable" projects.  It is donated money, donated effort, but it is the God-man who gets to bask in the subsequent applause and adulation.  (As an aside, charitable in this context usually means that one's contribution to it is considered as charity and may be tax-deductible, not that the God-man is being very charitable in operating it)

Is the God-man to be applauded for spending at least part of the donations on such projects, and not keeping all the money for his own amusement?  This is a complicated question.

Firstly, the projects are not started with venture money (so to speak) already in place.  Most of these projects are funded along the way.  That means, the projects are designed to attract future donations.

Secondly, the existence of such projects guarantees good PR for the God-man, employment of his cronies, and long-term engagement of a significant number of people.  The God-man regards his investment, if any, as a business expense to increase his, ahem, market capitalization.

Also, for all his purported compassion, the God-man's comfort and pleasure come first.  Rest assured that a God-man who doesn't have an air-conditioned mansion to himself won't be in a big hurry to install ceiling fans in the village school.  Moreover, God-men don't usually go build primary schools and clinics in the poorest regions.  They instead go for the more lucrative business of higher education (and make no mistake, these are cash-flow-positive businesses) and hospitality (special rooms with extra facilities for non-resident-Indians!) near big cities.

3. It should be considered a colossal failure of governance and the democratic process that people, instead of participating meaningfully in the elections, and contributing to their own well-being via paying taxes and getting a return on that, choose to instead give their hard-earned money to a charlatan who then does with it as he pleases.  The government is still at least somewhat accountable to the people.  The God-man is beyond reproach, beyond questioning, beyond audits, beyond requests for information.

The state is happy about this state of affairs.  It has an easy out from providing basic services like education, sanitation, environmental protection, healthcare, as many of these activities are instead taken over by these unaccountable dictators.  This perpetuates poverty and disenfranchisement.  People no longer think that they need democracy or that the government is effective or worth criticizing, and the politicians are only too happy to agree.  It doesn't take long for a society to go from "God will save us" to "Only God can save us."

4. The fundamental business of a God-man is to offer solace to the distraught, and to do this, he has to encourage and continue an attitude of superstition and belief in the mystical.  Yes, people need solace in times of distress, and they might therefore need faith, but why does India need so many God-men?  Even if a belief in God is bogus, it can still be an individual matter not requiring any money or a greedy middleman.  Why is God big business in India?

I believe it is because people are desperate, and illiterate, and easily manipulated.  And their desperation is milked by propaganda and unscrupulous God-men.  Charitable activities are a part of this propaganda.  And because these merchants of solace diminish a demand for real governance, literacy and genuine, institutional changes, the desperation and helplessness and mental slavery continue.

A God-man is like a drug dealer, as Marx said in other words.  The fact that a drug dealer also operates another business, say a garment factory employing some poor people, should not make us venerate him.  We should, instead, realize that his empire depends on keeping people addicted to what he is providing.  We should keep in mind his primary business.  People paying the God-man for their fix, and the God-man only using a part of that money for himself, is no cause for admiration.

Or wait, it is probably admirable as a business strategy.

PS: Check out items 3, 49 and 50 in the list of "104 humanitarian works" being undertaken by Sant Ram Rahim and his organization.


Swami Aniruddha said...

In your analysis the perfect examples of such God-Man would be Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev of Isha Foundation. In his books he had fixed two body shedding exit dates. Both he missed and expanded empire by fooling people, getting free man-power & money. And the quest to expand more is still continuing. At the same time he advocates that to judge a man by how much money he makes is a wrong way to judge people.

I always felt one thing Harman after reading your blogs. How is it that God-Man/Enlightened people never get hold of a touch stone after their enlightenment by which they can convert rocks into Dollars and still rely on naive foolish people for their empire to flourish. Also billions of dollars are spent in building temples, deities, so called Bhoga or Food offerings are being done to the Deities. Never in once has the temple deity seen to have accepted such offerings. Still this farce is being continued in India by such god man.

Anonymous said...

The social work is usually a camouflage to cover the sinister stuff. Also people want to believe in good. Often people will just not believe the stories even if a sinister godman is exposed. "How can a man who did so much good be accused of bad things?" they get away with anything...