Deadly Stampede Casts Light on India’s Enduring Allure of “Godmen”

A recent stampede at a religious gathering in northern India has reignited discussions about the enduring popularity of self-proclaimed godmen in the country. The event, led by preacher Bhole Baba, attracted a staggering quarter-million followers, far exceeding the permitted capacity. As the crowd dispersed, chaos erupted, tragically leaving over 120 people dead, mostly women.

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Bhole Baba, whose real name is Suraj Pal Singh Jatav, is one among many figures in India who have amassed followings through promises of divine intervention and miraculous cures. Ramkumari, an 85-year-old attendee, exemplifies this devotion, claiming her kidney stone vanished after a simple touch from the preacher. While such stories lack medical evidence, they fuel the immense faith many Indians place in these godmen.

This phenomenon isn’t new. Godmen, often adorned in saffron robes, have held sway for centuries. Some, like the controversial Yoga guru Baba Ramdev, have even leveraged their influence to build billion-dollar empires. However, the movement has a darker side. Godmen like Asaram Bapu and Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh have faced accusations and convictions for rape and exploitation, highlighting the potential dangers associated with blind faith.

The stampede tragedy has sparked calls for stricter regulations on such gatherings. Authorities are investigating how the event, initially permitted for 80,000 attendees, ballooned to such a dangerous size. The incident also raises questions about the allure of these figures in a country grappling with poverty, healthcare disparities, and a yearning for spiritual solace.

While some godmen are undoubtedly charismatic and cater to a deep-seated desire for hope, the recent stampede serves as a stark reminder of the potential pitfalls of blind faith. Moving forward, a delicate balance needs to be struck – respecting religious freedom while ensuring the safety and well-being of vulnerable followers.

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