Delhi rape of Dalit girl should not surprise because priests are known to have exploited women

Having observed the conduct of priests from all religions, I now believe in Mahatma Gandhi's dictum that we do not need a middleman to communicate with God, writes Sujata Anandan

The 9-year-old Dalit girl was violated, killed and burnt inside the Nangal crematorium
The 9-year-old Dalit girl was violated, killed and burnt inside the Nangal crematorium

Sujata Anandan

Even in less polarised times in this country, I was always suspicious and wary of priesthood. This was possibly because when we were not yet teenagers, a friend had wept while reporting that a priest roaming a childrens' playground had felt her up and threatened her with dire consequences if she wept, screamed or reported the transgression to her elders.

It was years before I fully understood the true import of that violation. As I grew into my teens and twenties, I kept a healthy distance from every priest in every temple – fortunately my father was an atheist and so we never had saffron robed men running all over our house as some of them did in homes of our neighbours.

When we finally needed services of a priest following the deaths, at different times, of our parents, the experience was nothing to write home about – the man with three daughters of his own still had a roving eye and I made my disapproval clear by refusing to touch his feet and denied him every opportunity at physical contact.

His dakshina was always given to him in an envelope held gingerly at one edge and we released our fingers the moment he wholesomely grabbed it. If the envelope fell to the ground, we moved away and left him to pick it up. After a few such episodes, he learnt not to invite such inauspicious incidents in terms of his wealth.

Now the three most important godmen of our times– Ramdev, Jaggi Vasudev and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar - are nothing to write home about either. All three are clearly commercially-minded and are quite possibly cheating the government on taxes and other dues. Vasudev, in addition, had faced allegations of murdering his wife. A fourth bearded saint Asaram, it has clearly been established, was a rapist and a paedophile confirming my suspicion that many of them don the priestly garb, white or saffron, to hide the other nefarious sides of their character.

I was not surprised therefore to learn the identity of the man – a priest- and his three accomplices - who reportedly gang-raped a nine-year-old child in a crematorium in Delhi. What was shocking was that all men were over fifty years old and the girl the age of their grandchildren.

This incident was even more diabolical than the Kathua rape case, where again so-called proponents of Hindutva drugged and raped an eight-year-old child for days inside a temple. The priest in Delhi attempted to destroy all evidence by cremating the child, threatening her mother who had come looking for her with dire consequences if she raised an alarm, reminding me of the trauma of my 12-year-old friend. Where was the humanity in this man of God and why should we continue to revere the saffron priesthood?

It is not my case that it is only Hindu priests, who indulge in such criminal activities. There have been several reported incidents in the past where the Christian Church has had to deal with similar crime as has the Muslim clergy. I also know of at least one incident in recent years where a Buddhist priest, who patronised a woman and her two daughters, pressed them into prostitution. The neighbour, who reported them, was instead victimised under the Prevention of Atrocities act because the family belonged to scheduled castes. But the investigation proved the neighbour right.

There was a communal agenda to the Kathua rape, but the Delhi rape was a case of sheer self-gratification and I hope the priest and his accomplices are put away forever because the child was Dalit and there could be no greater example of an atrocity against a scheduled caste as this one.

These examples of priests from all religions also makes me a greater believer in Mahatma Gandhi's dictum that you do not need a middleman to communicate with your own God.

Gandhiji had said he could not allow any scriptural text or preacher to supersede his reason – an ounce of practice is worth more than a pound of preaching. He was a devout Hindu but that statement should be true of all religions because, as Gandhiji said, scriptural texts, whether Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Jewish or belonging to any other religion, suffer from a process of “double distillation" - first they come through a human prophet and then through the commentary of interpreters. “Nothing in them comes from God directly.”

But that is what is happening in large measure today – most of India's Rasputins are preaching and interpreting the scriptures to the unquestioning common people and who knows whether they are interpreting correctly or preaching for self-gratification? There have been ample instances of less famous so-called men of god demanding the sacrifice of young daughters in families as the price for inducing God to shower more wealth and prosperity on them which, not surprisingly, in most instances, God has denied them.

On the physiological side of the debate, there was a case within the Catholic church to drop the condition of celibacy among their priesthood because it was thought the denial of a basic human need encouraged all sorts of atrocities against women, children and sometimes even men.

But I simply cannot understand men in other religions to whom celibacy is not a condition of priesthood who feel the need to violate women and children – the Kathua and Delhi incidents were stand alone cases but what about Asaram and his son, who were doing it for years garbed behind beards and holy incantations? It leads me to believe that most priests enter the profession for easy money and easier access to women it affords them and the ready trust that men place in them, enough to turn a blind eye to their transgressions.

At the end of the day, as Mahatma Gandhi said, priests are ultimately just middlemen. And every middleman will extract a commission for any services rendered. It is better by far to cut out the middleman and deal with the principal - in this instance, God, directly. In trade and business you at least know how much the agent might have cheated you out of.

In case of communication with God, there can be no incontrovertible proof of what He demands and what He is paid - certainly not the blood of young children. So if one wants one's prayers to be heard, I think one would have more success sending one up directly rather than allowing a middle man to filter the message and eat up both one's capital and interest.

Middlemen are already being eliminated in the real world. We should avoid them in our communion with God as well, except for the strictest conduct of essential rituals of births and deaths. Rest is all so much hogwash.

(Views are personal)

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