In the theatre of the absurd, there’s no place for logic – or restraint. And Swami Swaroopanand happens to be a star performer. As if there weren’t enough ridiculous explanations for why women shouldn’t be allowed into the inner portions of temples, the religious leader added one more, this time bringing in rape.
“If they worship Saturn (Shani), the incidents of rape will increase. They should have prayed that the people who indulge in alcoholism must not violate women. What will Shani do for them?” Swaroopanand was quoted as saying by IBN.
These comments came just days after the Bombay High Court held that it is a fundamental right for women to enter and worship in temples, a victory for activists from the Bhumata Brigade. But 91-year-old Swaroopanand, the Shankaracharya of Jyotir Math and Dwarka, is evidently unhappy about these developments out of concern for women.
In January this year, he said that Shani is a “cruel” graha and that women should be “away from the deity” in order to avoid “harmful effects”.
This wouldn’t be the first time that the swami has made it to headlines for saying something controversial. Swaroopanand was reportedly jailed for participating in the Quit India movement as a teenager.
In the 1950s he was at the forefront of the anti-Congress movement as President of the Ram Rajya Parishad, according to India Today. But years later, he gained a reputation for being rather close to the Congress party, having been consulted by former prime ministers Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and Congress president Sonia Gandhi.
In January 2014 he even slapped a reporter who asked him about Narendra Modi potentially becoming prime minister, clarifying later that there was a conspiracy in the media to keep Modi in the limelight. A Congress spokesperson defended the action, saying the swami had slapped the reporter “lovingly.”
Swaroopanand is probably most famous for his vendetta against popular saint, Shirdi Sai Baba, who has thousands of followers across the country. Earlier in March, the Shankaracharya reportedly linked the severe drought in Maharashtra to people worshipping Shirdi Sai who, he maintained, was just a saint “not worth worshipping.”
“And when people worship him, there are disasters,” he was quoted as saying in a report by India TV . “These places then face floods, droughts and untimely deaths… all of which is happening in Maharashtra”.
In the past, he has also alleged that Sai Baba was actually a “Muslim” who used to refrain from taking a bath in the holy river Ganga, remarks that have gotten him into legal trouble forcing Swaroopanandto apologise.
Despite this, he reportedly called upon Naga sadhus to assemble and fight against worship of Shirdi Sai Baba in temples. He called uponsympathisers of his cause to assemble in Allahabad and Haridwar to battle followers of Sai Baba in a “dharma yudha (religious battle)”.
Claiming the rare distinction of being the Shankaracharya of two of the four mutts, although this is disputed, also means Swaroopanand has taken it upon himself to comment upon events of public interest – including occasionally listing out what these are.
In 2014 that he refused to give blessings for Congress leader Digvijay Singh’s marriage to Amrita Rai stating that he would only give permission for only those events that are in “public interest”.
On the mob-lynching of a man in Dadri for allegedly storing beef in his refrigerator, he claimed that people should be allowed to eat and serve pork to test tolerance of other communities before blaming a certain section of Hindus for being intolerant.
“Let any Hindu eat pork, host pork party and then give a public press conference on it and if ‘they’ bear with it, then it is real tolerance,” he was quoted as saying. He has also argued for a ban on cow slaughter as a way of ensuring availability of milk.
On Aamir Khan’s movie PK, Swaroopanand went further than most who were outraged, claiming it insulted Lord Shiva and called for a Central Bureau of Investigation enquiry into the censor’s board approval for the movie.
Earlier this year, the Shankaracharya also diagnosed exactly happens to college students who are not spiritual enough: They turn anti-national.