Babas thrive on social equality deficit

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Babas thrive on social equality deficit

Wednesday, 10 July 2024 | Sidharth mishra

Babas thrive on social equality deficit

The Hathras incident points to a deeper societal neglect of marginalised communities, offering a fertile ground for dubious leaders to emerge as champions of social reform

The unfortunate incident in Hathras is finding a very despicable narrative in social media. Nobody seems to be mourning the death of 120-odd people belonging mostly to the Dalit community but contesting the fact that a godman had emerged from the Jatav community.We political analysts talk of undercurrents in polls and leave it unexplained.

The emergence of a Baba like Surajpal Singh explains it. In times when the most powerful of the political leaders with the help of all the money and machinery at their disposal find it difficult to get 25000 people to attend a rally, there must be something in Surajpal Singh’s modus operandi which saw a gathering of 250000 people.When the BJP blames the Hindu voters for deserting it, particularly in Uttar Pradesh during the last parliamentary elections, its answer lies in the Hathras incident. The opposition leaders led by Rahul Gandhi and Akhilesh Yadav have blamed the administration for the tragedy and in a way covertly if not overtly taken a stand in defence of the Baba.

It’s not only about a Surajpal from the Jatav community but several others like Rampal from the Jat community in Haryana, who have challenged the upper caste monopoly on Hindu spiritual discourse.

They have their methods that challenge the Puritan practises but they are applauded by their followers for it.The police report filed in the matter states that organisers “underreported the number of expected attendees, did not cooperate in managing traffic, and concealed evidence after the stampede, which occurred when people stopped to collect soil from the path of the baba’s vehicle.” The FIR indicated that the police and administration did everything possible with available resources.

The FIR ironically also shows that how the administration, not just district but pan-India, has been completely unaware of the swelling undercurrent. When such a large gathering of people clamber to clutch dust particles kicked up by a departing godman’s car, it reflects that the government and society have failed to engage with the poor and the deprived. Poverty is not as an economist would define it but that of ignorance and inequality. This provides just the fertile ground for a Baba from the community to emerge as a ‘social reformer’.

The social reform programmes of the government, be it the ‘sarvoday’of the yore or the ‘antoday’of the current times, have focussed on cash transfer and not social equity transfer. This explains the financial sinews of Surajpal and others like him.

The financially prosperous in the community donate liberally as he talks of ending social discrimination.In his discourses Surajpal talks of equality and empowerment. He advocates education and even facilitates the admission of children from his community into upmarket schools. He routinely condemns caste-based discrimination and preaches universal brotherhood.What got his following soar was that during the Covid-19 pandemic, he is reported to have facilitated food and medicine distribution and other such succour to the poor from the community. During the second wave of the pandemic, in May 2021, when contagion was at its peak, Surajpal organised a camp in Farrukhabad.

The district administration had allowed the presence of 50 people but several thousand attended.Such ‘social movements are not alone in western Uttar Pradesh where Surajpal operates. People flock to ‘Deras’ of different hues, especially in the region of Haryana-Punjab. Though all these Deras have followers among every caste, most followers are Dalits and backward caste people, who are often economically weaker too. Punjab has been witness to the emergence of a large number of Deras due to prevailing inequality in the social and economic order and the marginal position of the Dalits in society.

According to rough estimates given by Sikh scholars, there are more than 9,000 Sikh and non-Sikh Deras in 12,000 villages in Punjab. Of these, there are about 300 major Deras across Punjab and the neighbouring Haryana. Out of these almost a dozen have over one lakh devotees each. Going by these standards Surajpal’s Ashram has if not more at least as strong a numerical strength as the major Deras of Punjab like  Radha Soami (Beas), Dera Sacha Sauda (Sirsa), Nirankari, Namdhari, Diya Jyoti Jagran Sansthan (Nurmahal), Dera Sant Bhaniarwala (Ropar), and Dera Sach Khand (Ballan).As of now, a judicial commission has been set up to enquire into the matter. The commission would blame Surajpal, his devotees and the administration for the tragedy.

The state would also for some time act with full might carrying out arrests. Once the public outcry dies down, the media would withdraw its cameras and post it at another news event. The matter under judicial probe too will hit a dead end. Probably nobody wants to answer why Babas like Surajpal get a tailor-made pitch to mould public emotion.

Through their clout they come to command political influence and every political party wants them on their side. No wonder Congress and Samajwadi Party are backing Surajpal Singh in the same way as the BJP government of Haryana gave liberal furloughs to murder convict Ram Rahim Singh of Dera Sacha Sauda. The wrath of Babas could be politically harmful.

(The writer is the author and president of, the Centre for Reforms, Development & Justice; views expressed are personal)

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