The Great Collaboration Of Religion And Capital At The Kumbha : Part I
By Vidya Bhushan Rawat
06 February, 2013
Kumbha is India’s investment in spiritualism, say a number of experts but a beautiful nexus between capital market and religious forces is unambiguously displayed everywhere during the festivities. Banks have put up their stalls and big companies are marketing their product handsomely. The biggest irony is that religious forces have their field day and one can realize how many Babas and Sadhus exist in India today. In the Ghats, the business is usual but most of the devotees prefer to go to Sangam where they will get ‘nirwana’.
Much has been glorified about the Kumbha fair and its spiritual and scientific side. Many scientists are saying that the Ganga water has power to energize people and bathing together help strengthen the vital resistance of the body. The arrangements are definitely better though many people feel that this time the Kumbha is not that attractive as it used to be but the fact is that the administration has made enough arrangements to make things easier for pilgrims. A glimpse at various stalls started by the Dharm-gurus shows that ‘customers’ are not coming to the stalls in that large number as they would have expected.
The irony is that the Babas are not really interested in Indian followers. Attempt is made to attract the foreign visitors. A white skinned person is much in demand at these ashrams and stalls. If you are travelling along with a foreign friend then rest assure that you are not wanted by any of these Babas. Europeans, Americans are in high demand and the Babas look for them. It is shameful to say the least. The technological advancements have helped the religious gangs a lot and with capital in their hands, they have used it for their own purposes. At these stalls we see the laser/PowerPoint presentation by various religious groups. You can see heaven and hell through these presentations and how to better our lives through spiritual discourse. There is a big hoarding of a particular Swamy talking about ‘saving the daughters’. The organizations like VHP harp only on the issues of ‘ Hindus are not united and endangered’. They have opposed the usage of Ramlala on the cloths and termed it an insult. Another slogan which has been highlighted by VHP is the issue of ‘infiltrators’ and illegal immigrants in India which according to them would reduce Hindus to minority. Kumbha is related to Lord Shiva but the huge stalls at the Kumbha have only Rama as their God and it reflect the real changing times in India where Rama becomes the symbol of the political Hinduism that has even bitten the Dalai Lama who is in the controversy at the Kumbha. It is not really surprising to see him in the company of Ashok Singhal who invited him for a VHP programme in Kumbha. The Sadhus and Sants are divided as many have opposed Dalai Lama’s visit on known ground that Buddhism and Hinduism do not go together while those closed to Ashok Singhal felt that Buddhism is part of Hinduism. It is sad that Dalai Lama has allowed himself being used by the narrow communal organizations like the Vishwa Hindu Parishads who spread hatred and communalism openly even during these times. Buddhism in India has not been revived by Dalai Lama but by Dr Ambedkar and it need to be evaluated that way. Those who want to make Buddhism, a duplicate copy of varnashram dharma, should understand that Buddha revolted against the caste system. The opposition to Dalai Lama by the several Sadhus is based purely on the conflicting nature of Hinduism with Buddhism. Ashok Singhal is a political person and knows that a good will of Buddhist world over would help them gain legitimacy of their agenda. Everywhere, VHP hoardings are communalizing things, talking of ‘infiltration’ and now they are challenging that the photos of Ramlala on the cloths is an insult to Rama.
There are huge pandals of every guru which shows how much money they possess. Most of them are talking nothing but all greatness of their spiritual values. Through various exhibitions they are also showing us what heaven is and what hell is. Local people visit the stalls every day but it looks that Kumbha is lacking people this time.
On the bank of Ganga, the priests are performing their Artis. They have the field day as it is the biggest congregation of Hindus world over and a huge number of people come to them and ask for their guidance and hence their importance has suddenly gone up. Normally, people are going to their relative camps but most of them looked emptied. Perhaps, people thronged to those camps just for the sake of staying there.
Though the administration has done enough to control the crowed and all the nights we have loud speakers roaring with Hanuman Chalisha and Ram Charit Manas. The most surprising thing for me is the presence of ‘Sant Ravidas Mandal’ in the Kumbha fair. ‘ Why are you here’, I ask Sadho Singh Maharaj, who is along with his wife has come from village Deoria and add Ravidas Maharaj had always said that ‘ man changa to Katauti me ganga’, i.e. if your heart is clean, there is Ganga there. You do not get purified with a dip in Ganga. Sadho Singh Maharaj says that the Kumbha is a brahmanical fair and it is dominated by these forces and actively supported by the capitalists. It has been difficult journey for him to have Pandal. What I like about him that he does not have faith in Kumbha but he is here to register his presence. Ravidasji Maharaj was the greatest human being and world has acknowledged him. Baba Saheb gave us constitution, he says and these priests want to reverse that order and impose Manusmriti on us he says. But he is aware of the fact that he had strong adversaries around so he keeps quiet.
Kumbha is nothing but religion and market and both are helping each other. Small vendors are being charged heavily by mela administration. For small roadside tea shop, a local informed that he is paying about Rs 3,200 rupees. His sale has reduced. ‘Sir, it does not look a Kumbha fair. We have not received much crowd here. At the tea shop, I offer tea to a devotee from Bihar who informs me that he is here at the camp of Mastane Baba. If counting starts, we will find how and why this country has so many Babas surviving on the government and capital patronage. A friend from Italy says, it is the best combination of alliance between religion and power and that is more dangerous for the country.
It is tragic that politics of domination is being played at Kumbha. The corporate greed has always helped the religious rights to fix their agenda. The corporates for their own benefits can go to any extent and if you see an advertisement of ‘sale of Ayurvedik oil’, a woman is clinging to the ‘shiva lingam’ is simply offensive to say the least. The crowds at the markets are swelling and lapping up every free product.
In the heart of Kumbha, the Humanise India journey raised some uncomfortable questions. Yes, the Ganga will be polluted with more people washing their sins and dirty linens there. Shockingly, we are reading daily doses in the newspapers about the ‘collective bathing’ and the scientific impact on the human minds. It look that the Indian scientists are first serving their brahmanical interest and then science. How can the scientists that Ganga water is ‘healthier’ when it is getting filthier and dirtier day by day and no concerted efforts have been made to cleanse it? How can so many thousands people bathing together help grow the health of the people.
Kumbha has been profiled highly by the Indian ruling brahmanical elite as biggest congregation. It is nothing but congregation of religious politics and reviving the status quoist values in India at the expense of state exchequer. In front of the big Pandals, I see with painful eyes, a young girl making bed for her parents under the open sky. The night and mornings have seen dense fog here but the contractors of religion have no time as their spiritualism is aimed at attracting more ‘western’ audiences. It is shameful and shows the hypocrisy of the entire show. As the might show goes on showing India’s ‘great’ ‘spiritual’ heritage, there are highly uncomfortable questions in Kumbha which will come to you tomorrow in the second part of the report.
Unseen Reality of Kumbha - Part II
It was early morning and our beautiful residence at the heart of Kumbha was engulfed in absolute fog yet most of us could finis our routine work in the morning because the facilities at the place. There were beautiful cottages which attracted every one and it was an experience for life time. Enough water was flowing and no dearth of taps, toilets in one ‘Pandal’. The stay of Humanise Yatra in the Kumbha was made possible through a friend as it was a Pandal owned by a nationalized Bank. Some social action groups had placed their banner in the Pandal.
The fog was slowing disappearing as the sun was about to peep and those who make the Kumbha clean and live able were on the street. I saw two women, a child and a man with their brooms in our ‘campuses. They came close to our vehicle parked inside and saw something written against Untouchability and caste discrimination. I could realize this and went to him. ‘I am Manoj and hail from Kaushambi. I am working here with all my family members, my wife, brother, sister etc. for the past three months. There are over 7000 daily wage Safai Karmcharis in the Kumbha. They have got no rights to leave, medical and any other compensation which is reserved for the other employees. The working hours are much more than that for an ordinary employee. They get Rs 156 per day for this work. We had a strike several days back but our demands are not met by the administration’, he said.
Suman, sister of Manoj is an absolute illiterate and has come along with him. ‘Why have you come to clean here? Didn’t you get any other job? Manoj and Suman are children of a landless parents who suffered deep because the origin of their birth. Even the MNREGA work is not available to us, he says as it has never come to us for stated 120 days in a year. Kumbha fair has offered them opportunity to earn some money and hence they came here. The painful thing is that Manoj’s bhabhi is also working as a sanitation worker along with her small child. The duty starts at early morning 4 am and end up 11 mornings for the first shift. In the second shift too they are supposed to work after 2 pm till 5 pm.
Suddenly Manoj and his family members come and want to shake hand with us. Each of the Humanize India Team members shakes hand with them. It is surprising for me as why has this happened but then we further probe Manoj about the condition of Safai Karmcharis and Doms. Slowly, he opens up and starts narrating the plight. ‘Sir, we face daily humiliation here. People keep aside from us and do not want to get touched to us when we visit their cottages to clean’, he says. And when he is out with us and raising slogan, he says, ‘Sir, you see, I came to touch you and shake hand with each one of you because Tiwariji wanted me to do so. He wanted to know whether we are fake activists or real’. I say, do you know that a majority of youngsters that you are witnessing here belong to your community. He is shocked beyond belief that his community girls are playing lead role. Too petty, for us to respond to such small questions which are realities in India and has shook it. When he was going out, Tiwari again said something to him perhaps fearing that we are trying to ‘instigate them’. But the caste forces are always there to thwart the movements which are a challenge to their dominance and power.
We decide to move towards the Balmiki camp near Sector 10 to see the situation there. The tents are smaller and no water facility. There is no toilet as they have to go out. Perhaps, it was felt that these people do not need toilets and can very much go in general toilets. The conditions of the families are disturbing to say the least. It can bring tear to your eyes. Most of the people are coming from different regions of the state. There is no electricity in the camp as if these people do not deserve it. How is it that just in front of the camp, we see again beautiful cottages meant for others but not here? Is the caste system working in Kumbha. Yes, it is a fact that most of the Safai Karmcharis hail from Balmiki, Dom and other most marginalized Dalit communities.
We speak to the families and see their living conditions. They are horrible and inhuman to say the least and are an understatement. It is chilly winter and the nights are chiller on the Ganges. There are children and old people. In small huts, we find, 10 people living. No toilets and without electricity, it is clear that India discriminate and officially practice untouchability. It is shameful that on the one side, our government, its media are talking high about the Kumbha and our spiritual culture and at the same time, at the same Kumbha, we have the horrible conditions of the Dalits who are denied basic human rights of living with dignity and honor.
Our horrors have not ended with one visit. Just moving inside the tents, we find left over food being dried up in the sun. They are left over Chapatis, rice etc. For one moment, I feel as if this is meant for the animals but then realize that there are no animals here. All these people living in the camps come from different districts of Uttar-Pradesh. Many of them are old and are doing this work in utter misery. Others complained that they are not getting their dues on time and hence it is possible that this is kept to eat after grinding the dried product. I do not probe further as India stand exposed and its constitution for the powerful people. Many people might have heard the stories about the hunger issue but here we were seeing the hunger amidst plenty. We are told that the Pandals are serving food to their ‘followers’ yet it is clear that the Balmikis and Doms cannot even have that. The camps for Balmikis and Doms are at the end without out any basic amenities. The doms take care of the ghats at the Ganga and are untouchables even today. The Balmikis have to keep the Kumbha clean without seeking relief for their issues.
As we moved to another Balmiki Basti in the Kumbha, I encounter a woman from Meerut and again she narrates the same issue of how administration has not done enough for their living condition. People here are from Sonbhdra, Deoria, Kaushambi, Banda, Bijnaur etc. Here the condition inside the camp is worse than the previous one. There is no tap water and inside the camps we see filth around. They are too close to catch fire and women are cooking in open with children roaming around aimlessly. The filth has shown how India wants its untouchables to live.
In the Kumbha there are banner about India, about Hinduism and how it is endangered. There are congregation and Samagams of Saints and ‘scholars’. There is campaign for ‘saving the girl child’. There is campaign to save ‘Ganga’ but there is no movement not even a mention of untouchability and caste discrimination even when it is being practiced daily and we have seen the situation how there is no dearth of money for religious dogmas. There are immediate medical attention for the ‘devotees’ but no hospital, no health insurance for those who make our cities clean and are taking care of Kumbha and its cleanliness daily. The talks of ‘sarve bhavantu sukhinah’ are farcical as it does not really include the untouchables.
Millions of people are bathing in the Ganges and washing their ‘sins’. Right from politicians to ‘spiritual leaders’, film stars, business tycoons, all have bathed and washed their dirty linen in Ganges. It is a dying river as it cannot tolerate the dirt of our mind and body. India’s sin will never wash with such hypocrisies when its own people suffer in humiliation. India remains a racist social order where caste discrimination and untouchability persist at every nook and corner of our society including its religious congregations. Kumbha fair is nothing but strengthening the age old caste system and hegemony of those in power. It is tragic that the political parties themselves have not taken the issue seriously. We are discussing everything under the son except untouchability. The country is still waiting stringent laws against untouchability and manual scavenging as the Parliament has not yet given it a serious thought. Practicing Untouchability must be made crime against Humanity and punishment must be high for the same. The people need to change their mindset and attitude only then we would be able to call Indian a country of civilized people.
Vidya Bhushan Rawat is a social and human rights activist. He blogs at www.manukhsi.blogspot.com twitter : freetohumanity skype : vbrawat Facebook : Vidya Bhushan Rawat firstname.lastname@example.org
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