While Punjabis, especially Sikhs, had reined in local deras where self-styled godmen “cured diseases” and helped people in many ways such as getting a better job and spouse, in the last decade, a void was created after the deras were shut. It paved the way for independent churches to “flourish”.
However, with the rising economic disparity, illiteracy and myriad problems, there is no dearth of desperate people seeking magical remedies for their problems. And here comes the new breed of Christian preachers. While the earlier magic healers did it under the umbrella of the Sikhism or the Hinduism, the new self-styled “agents of God” are doing it under the garb of Christianity.
Now, look at an example. A middle-aged person with facial palsy due to paralysis is supposedly healed within a few seconds as Apostle Paul Sukhpal Rana touches his face a few times while speaking gibberish. In between, he throws in a few English words, Jesus, bless, God, Hallelujah and the job is done. The facial palsy fades away and the same moment, a band and singers waiting on the stage start a devotional song and everyone in the audience, including the cured patient, start dancing.
While there is no scientific explanation for what and how Rana did it (if he had really done it), the believers are mesmerised and convinced that Rana has connection with the Almighty.
However, an inquisitive mind with a scientific temperament, after right queries, finds that the “patient” like the “apostle” too was an actor. But both have played their part well and the poor, desperate, sick and uneducated flock believe it.
Now, Rana presents a woman whose infertility he claimed to have cured. Most of his “followers” are from the poor strata of society, mostly Scheduled Castes, who are desperate to seek cure for infertility, a child’s mental health condition, cancer, etc.
The success of pastors could be guaged from the fact that Rana is constructing a sprawling church on at least six acres adjacent to IIM. While the land alone is worth several crores, the church has a state-of-the-art congregation hall and all amenities.
A corner of Rana’s “Abundant Life Church” has a set of three counters where such desperate people are standing in a queue to get their name registered for the special prayer (exorcism).
While Rana is a ‘star’ these days, Prophet Jimmy Masih uses the same tricks and performs the same miracles on the rooftop of his house at Verka, which he has converted into a church. Jimmy is associated with the church of Pastor Bajinder Singh, who is accused of raping a follower and from whose places, huge stashes of unaccounted cash were recovered by the IT Department.
Dr Sham Sunder Deepti, a community medicine expert and Punjabi writer, said, “A sick person is in a poorer state of mental health than a healthy person. He will visit any place he is hopeful of getting relief from.” Dr Deepti said the government had failed to develop scientific temperament among citizens as envisaged in the Constitution.
Dr Deepti added that the failure of the government to implement The Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable advertisements) Act had left the vulnerable groups at the mercy of miscreants, who can exploit them.
A senior police official said, “The police have often taken action under the magical remedies Act but it has been usually done against individuals. With a religious entity or a group violating the law and police taking action against it will snowball into a major controversy.”
A member of the management of Apostle Sukhpal Rana ministries, who identified himself as Brother Ranjit, said, “The baseless allegations against the Christian preachers have been levelled for long. Earlier, it was said churches offered money to people and now it is said they are taking money from people.” Repeated phone calls to Ranjit for having a word with Rana proved futile as every time he claimed that “Father” (Rana) is in prayer.
Akal Takht has expressed concern at the rising trend of apostasy with officiating Jathedar Giani Harpreet Singh and asked the Centre to investigate the source of funding of these congregations and introduce ‘anti-conversion’ law, but in vain.
President of the Dalit and Minority Organisation Kashmir Singh said the SGPC, too, needed to introspect for its failure to curb the apostasy. Dalit ‘mazhbi’ Sikhs were embracing Christianity. In return, they were offered everything, from money to healing chronic illnesses, free education, compensation, etc. The Dalits had never been given adequate representation in Sikh bodies and never supported by the SGPC,” he said.
SGPC president Harjinder Singh Dhami said, “In July, a letter was written to the Centre to take steps to scrutinise the funding of such congregations, which were planned to allure or force people to adopt their faith, but there was no response,” he said.
Bishop Dr PK Samantaroy, who is also the President of the MMS, said, “Not a single complaint against any forcible conversion has come to my knowledge yet.”
At the mercy of ‘miscreants’
A sick person is in a poor state of mental health. The failure of the government to implement the Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) Act has left vulnerable groups at the mercy of miscreants, who can exploit them. — Dr Sham Sunder Deepti, medicine expert
Will take up issue
In the absence of any complaint, the government will not be able to scrutinise the funding of these congregations or take any action. I will take up the issue with the authorities to check if there is any violation of the FCRA. — Kuldeep Singh Dhaliwal, rural development minister