Rights and duties of a citizen are the two sides of the same coin. In the absence of fulfilling one's duties, he/she cannot morally claim rights. The Constitution of India guaranties six fundamental rights under Articles 12 to 35 in part III of the Constitution. It also enjoins on its citizens 11 fundamental duties under article 51A. The eighth of the eleven fundamental duties is to “develop scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform”. While the fundamental rights are justiciable, the fundamental duties are not. That does not reduce the importance of fundamental duties, especially the need for developing scientific temper.
Jawaharlal Nehru in The Discovery of India, writes, “Scientific temper is a way of life -- an individual and social process of thinking and acting which uses a scientific method which may include questioning, observing reality, testing, hypothesizing, analyzing and communicating”. In the absence of scientific temper, people can easily become victims of superstitions and blind faith. It appears that scientific temper is disappearing from our national discourse and people are easily becoming prey to religious fanaticism and blind faith. Use of religion for political mobilization and religions becoming more and more fundamentalistic in their application, seem to be the main reasons for the erosion of scientific temper and humanism.
Why do people turn to godmen and godwomen and become prey to their manipulations? Often, there is a mismatch between the needs and wants of human beings on one hand and the means to satisfy them on the other hand. People also face suffering and tribulations due to poverty, illness, conflicts, natural calamities etc. People in general have a tendency to search for quick fix solutions in such situations. Godmen and women in all religions appear with instant solutions to the existential predicament of people.
TV channels and social media platforms are being used by clever and shrewd godmen and women to hoodwink people. They promise people that if they follow certain rituals or rites, all their ailments will be cured and their desires will be fulfilled. Since the self-styled godmen are getting a lot of coverage on electronic media and on social media, they are making efforts to collect people at their durbars on one pretext or the other. People flock to mega gatherings organized by these godmen and women in the form of pravachan, recital of katha, healing conventions etc. Politicians of all hues support these gatherings with the motive of garnering votes.
One such mega gathering was planned under the leadership of Pandit Pradeep Mishra of Kubereshwar Dham situated in Hema Chitawaliya village of Sehore district, Madhya Pradesh from February 16 to 22. The programme consisted of reciting Shiv Mahapuran Katha and Rudraksh Mahotsav where more than 40 lakhs of blessed and purified rudraksh were expected to be distributed during the seven-day programme. News was spread among people that if one drinks the water in which the specially blessed rudraksh is kept the whole night, he/she would be cured of all ailments and would become healthy. The news about the rudraksh mahotsav was disseminated widely via TV channels and social media platforms throughout India.
As per the media reports, about 20 lakh people came on the first day itself from Madhya Pradesh and the neighbouring states like Maharashtra, UP, Chhattisgarh, and the situation appeared uncontrollable due to a huge crowd. While people were trying to get Rudraksh, a stampede-like situation was created on many occasions. The situation was such that there was a 20-km long jam on the Sehore-Indore highway leading to Dham. Nearly 25,000 vehicles were reported to be stuck in the jam. Due to the traffic jam several buses plying between Indore-Bhopal were diverted to another route, which is much longer. The buses that usually take nearly 3.5 hours to cover the distance between Indore and Bhopal were taking more than 5 hours to reach the destination, causing great inconvenience to passengers.
Due to the overcrowding at Rudraksh ceremony, the administration stopped the programme of rudraksh distribution at Kubereshwar Dham. According to the Collector of Sehore, Pravin Singh, about 40 percent of people returned on the first day itself, as rudraksh distribution was stopped. As per media reports, two women and a child died during the first three days of the programme. Many devotees alleged that the temple committee failed to make proper arrangements for the devotees, although they had invited lakhs of people from different parts of the country to the religious event. It was widely reported that the devotees had to face a lot of inconvenience because of lack of proper arrangements, including food and drinking water.
Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan was expected to be present at the temple on the first day of the programme. Because of the traffic jam and overcrowding, the Chief Minister cancelled his visit.
Last year also the distribution of Rudraksh was stopped due to overcrowding and traffic jams. It seems that the temple management and the administration did not learn any lesson from the chaos and inconveniences to the public last year. Instead of expressing regret for the inconveniences caused to the devotees, Pandit Pradeep Mishra alleged that some people were trying to tarnish the image of Hinduism. He also said that a few criminals created a chaotic situation which led to mismanagement on the temple premises. Mishra told media persons that he would organise a religious function that would be bigger than the one that was organised this year.
None of the politicians or the government officials made any criticism for the massive failure in managing the crowd, 48 hours traffic jam, death of 3 persons and a lot of inconveniences to lakhs of people. Except for a few journalists, the media in general ignored such a massive failure on the part of the organizers of the mega programme and of the administration. It clearly shows that religion has really become an opium of people, as Karl Marx said.
Another self-styled godman who has been in the news for about a month is Acharya Dhirendra Shastri, who has a huge following. He is associated with Bageshwar Dham in Madhya Pradesh’s Chhatarpur. He claims that he can read minds and resolve problems with his special powers. A Maharashtra-based organization fighting superstition challenged Shastri recently to show his miraculous power during his satsang in Nagpur. However, the godman reportedly wrapped up his programme even days before the schedule and fled. In a video widely circulated, Dhirendra Shastri has claimed that a conspiracy against Hindu Sanatana Dharma is hatched and that money was being paid to journalists and people to show him in poor light. In the video, he questioned whether talking about religion could be termed a superstition.
As reported in The Print, Dhirendra Shastri on February 18 said that “India will become ‘Hindu Rashtra’. On alleged religious conversions, Shastri said, “We are making Hindus return to the religion they acquired at birth. Some people are creating a nuisance. They have to be taught a lesson. As long as I am alive, I will make all Sanatani Hindus return to their original faith.” (ANI).
As reported in The Quint on 15th February, the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party are seemingly courting the new godman. Recently, the state president of the Congress and former Chief Minister Kamal Nath met with Shastri in the latter’s home town Chhatarpur. Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan too is scheduled to meet the godman in the coming days. The approach of Kamal Nath, who is a protagonist of soft Hindutva, appears to be just the opposite to the message loudly sent out by Rahul Gandhi during his Bharat Jodo Yatra.
Not only godmen and godwomen, but also government departments are promoting practices that are diametrically opposed to scientific temper. The latest example is the recent call given by the Animal Welfare Board India (AWBI), but subsequently hurriedly withdrawn. AWBI in a circular gave a call that February 14 should be celebrated as ‘Cow Hug Day’ instead of being observed as the popular Valentine’s Day. The statutory board circular stated, “Hugging cows will bring emotional richness and increase individual and collective happiness”. Union Rural Development minister Giriraj Singh endorsed the idea (February 9, 2023) by saying that everybody should love cows.
It appears that religions in India are playing a key role in moving people away from scientific temper to superstitious beliefs because of their overemphasis on ritualism and obscurantism and failure to focus on the moral, ethical and human values taught by religions. Mega religious programmes are organized by religious leaders, especially the so-called godmen and women who have learned the trick of performing miracles. People are lured towards these programmes that promise not only healing but also prosperity and riches. A large majority of people who throng to these mega programmes are not motivated to become spiritual but they come to gain physical healing and material benefits from God.
There is an implicit or explicit give and take between these godmen and politicians. The godmen get patronage from the political leaders for their business and even if something goes wrong as happened in Sehore, the godmen are protected by politicians. Politicians in turn get the support of the godmen in mobilizing votes for them. This game appears to be very dangerous for the political health and scientific progress of the nation. In this process secularism and scientific temper are being buried.
What is the panacea to the near-death of scientific temper and humanism? Promotion of spirituality based on the practice of the core ethical and human values taught by all religions seems to be the main solution. The core values are more or less the same in all religions. Jesus has summarized in the Sermon on the Mount what spirituality is. That is why Mahatma Gandhi said, "But the New Testament produced a different impression, especially the Sermon on the Mount which went straight to my heart." But the million-dollar question is whether the priestly class in all religions is ready to give up their vested interests, and guide and educate people to become spiritual. Spirituality and scientific temper along with humanism should go hand-in-hand.