Most of us expect our spiritual leaders to defend the poor, needy, and oppressed. We expect them to speak out on behalf of victims of violent crimes such as rape, assault, and murder – and for the most part that is the case. Hindu spiritual teacher Asaram Bapu defied these expectations, however, when he suggested recently that a Delhi gang-rape victim who died of her injuries in the hospital deserves just as much blame for her attack as do her attackers. It is deeply disturbing that spirituality should be used for victim-blaming, and it is our duty as ULC ministers to call attention to it.
The controversy began with a speech Bapu, a self-proclaimed spiritual guru, gave to an audience consisting chiefly of his devotees. “She should have taken God’s name and held their hands and feet–then the misconduct wouldn’t have happened,” he told his followers. “Only 5-6 people are not the culprits. The victim is as guilty as her rapists. She should have called the culprits brothers and begged before them to stop. This could have saved her dignity and life. Can one hand clap? I don’t think so.” The family of the victim blasted the guru, telling reporters, “[i]t is an absolutely illogical statement, least expected from him.” Bapu’s words have earned censure across the political spectrum, with the Indian People’s Party calling them “regrettable, deeply disturbing, and painful” and India’s ruling Congress Party calling on the guru to withdraw the statement.
Nevertheless, Bapu’s spokeswoman Neelam Dube quickly came to Bapu’s defense, arguing that the media have distorted the teacher’s words. “Bapujee never made such statements. He just asked his women followers to avoid such situation anyhow, while he was addressing a ‘Satsang’ here soon after the incident,” adding that “[h]e was only suggesting that women should try their level-best to come out from such situations by using diplomatic ways” and admitting that “Yes, he said that the girl had made a mistake by taking an empty bus in night. If she had taken ‘Matra-Diksha’, the God might have saved her anyhow [sic].” For those who become ministers to champion the plight of the oppressed, this logic does not add up.
What’s wrong with Bapu’s reasoning is that he blames the victim for an act over which she had no control. Rape by definition is forcible sex, not a “two-way street,” thus it makes little sense to impart responsibility on the victim. Additionally, it seems absurd to suggest that holding your rapists’ hands and begging for mercy should somehow pacify them, or is even possible when you are being beaten. What is more, it is not the victim’s fault for choosing to ride the bus at night; it is her attackers’ fault for choosing to rape her. Every woman has the right to go wherever she wishes, free of the fear of being assaulted, and she should not have to plan her life around those of marauding rapists. It should be obvious that it is the victim, not her attackers, with whom our sympathies should lie as ordained ministers.
Remarks like Asaram Bapu’s show how easy it can be to justify horrifying crimes by hiding behind spiritual teachings. This practice is not limited to one faith group, though. In some strains of New Age thought we encounter the idea that people choose to be victimized before they come to Earth, which also potentially justifies criminal activity as a “lesson to be learned”. But the Universal Life Church Monastery believes in doing “that which is right,” and that which is right entails defending the persecuted, not to place the blame on them under the guise of some vague, twisted spiritual notion of forbearance.