Stockholm Syndrome, Cults and God-men.

When I was in ninth standard, I first came across him. He was from another school. People called him Andrew. He was not the tallest, but was the strongest. He was unbeaten at arm wrestling. There was a certain charm about him that all the boys flocked around him. They all looked forward to be with him. To be in his company, was considered privilege by clueless fourteen-year-olds. He would influence major decisions, dictate terms, bring in new trends and wore the best clothes because his father was a rich man. He always had at least half-a-dozen boys hanging out with him. After school, he would form a circle with those boys and pick two of them and made them fight. Like a referee, he would signal the start of the bout and wait until one of them was completely on the ground, and gave up. He enjoyed while the boys fought and after the fight, both of them would continue to walk around him, like nothing happened. They were just following orders and it didn’t affect them emotionally, although I’m sure physical pain lasted.

One day at school, Andrew was caught copying in the English exam. And in those days, punishments were ruthless. Especially, in that school, they had a public-shaming vice-principal who would beat the shit out of the kid in assembly if the crime was grave enough. The next day, before the start of the Maths exam, the vice-principal called Andrew out and announced to the whole school that he had copied in the English exam. And he began to hit him with a cane. After seven or eight blows, the stick broke and the beating continued by hand. There was hair pulling and ear pulling and unlimited supply of swearing. After about five minutes, the beating stopped and everyone was allowed inside the exam halls. After the exam, all the seven or eight boys who hung around him, returned to their duty — standing beside him. And the first thing Andrew said to them, ‘I didn’t get hurt at all. In fact, the stick broke!’ and everyone hailed him as a legend. That was my introduction to blind followers.

Now extrapolate this story to the current crisis in North India. Everyone knows that their chief has been convicted of rapes without any reasonable doubt and still, they continue to take his side. And they will defend to death, their leader, who is their only sense of self-worth and identity. Young, old, men, women and even young girls have come out in his support in lakhs and they think he is innocent. They don’t just think, they believe the whole thing to be a conspiracy against him, perpetrated by the state.

In psychology, there’s a concept called the ‘Stockholm Syndrome’, where the hostages start liking their kidnappers and form a psychological alliance with them. Sometimes, very strong emotional develop between two persons where one person intermittently harasses, beats, threatens, abuses, or intimidates the other. In this case, although it is legally proved that the so called saint is a rapist, somehow it puts into question, the years of dedication they have displayed towards him. It is like you pet a snake since the day it hatched and one day, it grows big enough to bite you, the the only person who loves it. But then, you like the snake so much that you are ready to die by its poison.

In 2010, I was working with a film director helping him complete a paranormal/horror movie script. During those sittings, we happened to discuss a god-man from Andhra Pradesh who charged about five lakhs for a darshan. That is, you have to pay that money just to see him. And there is a long queue of people willing to do that. In fact, people wait for months for their turn. Then, I asked him, what about poor people, don’t they have access? He said, ‘If you can’t afford him, you can pay two lakhs and see his wife.’

His answer blew my mind. Then, I asked him, what is so special about meeting him? Why should one pay that kind of money? To which, he said, ‘I have a friend who pays five lakhs every now and then. He says, it is his aura. The moment you enter the room, you can feel his aura. And if he touches you, his aura stays with you for a long time and it will attract all the positive things, makes you rich, literally and mentally.’

To an extent, I believe in the concept of aura and positive vibes. But people willing to pay for it? That was a new. An eye-opener. So while we’re at it, if you go and tell this friend of the director, that the god-man is a fraud and that he’s been exploiting the vulnerabilities of gullible disciples, what do you think will happen? He will tell you to get the hell out.

That’s what cults do. When a person gets indoctrinated into a belief system and start following a guru, or a god-man, what actually happens is that they build a strong, unbreakable bridge with them. And in the process of building that bridge, they shut off all roads toward rationality and ability for freedom of thought. It’s a tunnel with no other outlets. And that liberates people, because this sense of belonging to that cult, it’s better than their current life. And what looks like liberation, is actually, a long, endless, incarceration of the mind.

— Deepak Karamungikar