Rape convict and Dera Sacha Sauda chief Ram Rahim Singh, rape accused Asaram Bapu, Mecca Masjid and Samjhauta Express blasts accused Aseemanand and eleven others have been blacklisted as “fake” religious heads by the apex body of Hindu saints and ascetics in India.
In July this year, the Akhil Bharatiya Akhara Parishad had, as part of an image makeover, embarked on a crackdown on “farzi shankaracharyas” (heads of monasteries or matthas) who have been “duping and misleading the public” and tarnishing the name of the clerical order by their misdemeanour. At a meeting on Sunday at its Allahabad headquarters, the organisation, which comprises 13 akharas (religious orders), released a list of 14 such “farzi babas”.
Asaram Bapu, his son Naryan Sai, Radhe Maa, Sachidanand Giri, Gurmeet Singh Sachha Dera Sirsa, Ombaba (Vivekanand Jha), Nirmal Baba, Ichhadhari Bhimanand, Swami Aseemanand, Om Namah Shivay Baba and Rampal, Acharya Kushmuni, Malkan Giri and Brihaspati Giri featured in the list.
During its Sunday meeting, the Parishad reviewed findings by a team of sadhus it had formed in July to identify “fake” religious heads from across the country and get them to refrain from using the religious title to draw followers.
Mahant Narendra Giri, president of the Parishad, had earlier told The Indian Express that all those self-proclaimed shankaracharyas, other than four “genuine” ones, will face action.
“None of these fake shankaracharyas will be allowed to attend the religious gatherings at the upcoming Magh Mela and the Ardh Kumbh in 2019. We are strictly dealing with the menace. Over the past two decades, these farzi heads have come up, misleading people into believing they are the genuine monastic heads. But everyone must be told there are only four original peeths,” he said.
The four peeths at Badrinath in Uttarakhand, Dwarka in Gujarat, Govardhan in Odisha and Sringeri in Karnataka are the seats established by 8th century Hindu theologian Adi Shankaracharya. Giri, however, said reports of over a 100 such preachers have come in over the years, something which the Parishad has been trying to curb.
A religious leader at Sunday’s meeting said that the Parishad will submit the 14 names to the Centre and ask it to not only take strict action against them, but also draw up a law in this regard if possible.
“These preachers are making money off Adi Shankaracharya’s name. These preachers come on TV and fool people. They are married men with families, yet they claim to be celibate ascetics. They commit crimes on women and children. All this gives us a bad name. The life of a sadhu is one of solitary pursuit of knowledge and service for years on end,” Giri said.
Giri further said the Parishad had asked its akharas to hand out ID cards to pupils who successfully complete their courses in the “Sanatan dharma”, the “universal code of life and eternal knowledge”, and graduate to becoming monks and sadhus so that followers do not fall for con men. “Just about everyone is wearing bhagwa (saffron cloth) and claiming to be a sadhu now. It has become a fad,” Giri said.
He also alleged that members of the Sanatan Sanstha, a radical right wing outfit, who were allegedly behind the murders of rationalist thinkers like Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare, were “privately funded goons” and had no affiliation to the Parishad or the Sanatan Dharma.