The Curious Case of Radhe Maa
In India, when godmen and godwomen are unmasked, their popularity only increases
Sandeep Kumar Delhi
Until she performed a dance in an outrageously skimpy red dress, not many people knew about Radhe Maa. Soon, though, as she began to occupy larger and larger chunks of television time, people started wondering who this ‘godwoman’ wearing heavy makeup, a ton of gold jewellery and carrying a trident was. This woman who didn’t mind her devotees hugging her and lifting her in their arms.
Murky details about her began to emerge thick and fast. Small-time Bollywood actor Dolly Bindra registered a complaint with the police in Borivali in Mumbai, alleging sexual harassment, voyeurism and intimidation by Radhe Maa and her 20 followers. Bindra alleged that Radhe Maa forced her to take part in orgies during satsangs as she claimed to be an incarnation of Goddess Durga.
Earlier, Nikki Gupta, a Kandivali homemaker, named her husband, Nakul Gupta, Radhe Maa and five others in a dowry-related harassment case. Nikki accused the godwoman of provoking her parents-in-law to demand more dowry, and also of forcing her to work at the ashram where she was allegedly physically assaulted. The Guptas, who are Maa’s ardent followers as well as her business associates, dismissed the allegations. Sanjeev Gupta, a wealthy member of the larger Gupta family, manages the ‘Mamtamai Shri Radhe Guru Maa Charitable Trust’ and has played a key role in the setting up of Maa’s religious empire in Mumbai. Sanjeev, the owner of Global Advertiser, the company that handles public relations for Radhe Maa, also controls prime-location hoardings that advertise divyadarshans (divine darshan or sight).
The 50-year-old godwoman has become a rage on social media after a video clip emerged of her dancing to a Bollywood tune and lounging on a sofa wearing a mini-skirt and knee-high boots. Radhe Maa followers all over India came out in her support. Still, she also became a butt of jokes on social media. Radhe Maa dubsmash videos, memes and theme parties, along with videos of Radhe Ma’s devotees carrying her around in borderline-obscene positions during satsangs, went viral online.
A few Bollywood celebrities, including Subhash Ghai and Gajendra Chauhan, stuck to their positive opinions about the godwoman, while others chose to stay silent until an inquiry was complete. Rishi Kapoor, who is known for his wit and humorous tweets, questioned the godwoman being addressed as ‘Maa’. “Why call yourself Radhe Maa, why not Radhe Baby or Radhe Barbie? People’s insecurity and them being emotional fools and their vulnerable state of mind is being used by such people. People here are being taken for a ride,” the actor said.
Like most of the babas and sadhus in India, Radhe Maa too didn’t have any religious background. She was an ordinary woman called Sukwinder Kaur, who tailored clothes for a living in Mukerian village in Punjab’s Hoshiarpur district. Born into a middle class Punjabi family, Kaur is believed to have a Class X education. She was married to Mohan Singh, a sweetshop worker, at an early age. Her father, Ajit Singh, who died last year, worked with the Punjab State Electricity Board.
Kaur’s pursuit to become Radhe Maa began after her husband left for Doha to work as a labourer. She began visiting the local Paramhans Dera and became a disciple of Mahant Ram Deen Das. She actively took part in satsangs and, as her reputation grew, she began to call herself a goddess. A few religious organisations objected to her portraying herself as a Hindu goddess. After a dispute in Phagwara, where religious leaders warned her, she moved to Delhi in the early 2000s and to Mumbai in 2003.
Today, she has a temple named after her and an ashram in Khanpur village, near Mukerian town. She lives in the lavish Radhe Maa Bhawan in Borivali, which happens to be Sanjeev Gupta’s bungalow. Every fortnight, the Bhawan hosts mata ki chowki, jagaran and satsang that attract hundreds of followers, businessmen, film personalities and models. These events are big money-earners.
Radhe Maa has been granted interim protection by the Bombay High Court and she’s rumoured to be living in the house of the Purohits of Walkeshwar since the dowry case controversy broke.
Be it Radhe Maa, Asaram Bapu or Nirmal Baba, every now and then one such representative of ‘God’ runs into controversy over money or sex. These godmen have been accused of rape, sodomy, landgrab and whathaveyou, but their popularity never fades. In fact, their unsavoury past, when shown on TV, never makes them unpopular. Intriguingly, it increases their popularity and influence.
Why do Indians go to babas, sadhus and maas? What is the attraction? Is it greed, fear or superstition that compels the masses to go to ashrams and camps and bow their heads in front of these fake babas and fakirs? These camps don’t just do charitable work, they also charge a hefty fee from followers. No one pays any attention to the pasts of these godmen and godwomen. No one cares to know how these once-poor conmen end up being super-rich. The followers waste their precious time standing in long queues for the fulfilment of their desires like money, a salaried job, health, marriage, babies, sex and so on. They patiently listen to the ridiculous solutions offered them and not only pay money for them, but also foolishly act on the idiotic advice given to them. And it isn’t just the poor and illiterate who do this. The educated as well as the rich are proud to be followers of these fakes.
Even Bollywood blockbusters, like OMG – Oh My God! and PK, which bravely and satirically highlighted the misuse and commercialisation of religion, fail to change the minds of blind followers. Even if Radhe Maa is found guilty and sent to jail, such frauds will not stop. Who knows, the next time we may see Radhe Maa on Bigg Boss, moving around in tiny red shorts with a trident in her hand, trumping her opponents.