Odisha Sun Times Bureau
Bhubaneswar, Sep 2:
Untold secrets of Odisha’s self-proclaimed godman Sura Baba alias Surendra Mishra are coming to the fore after his arrest. Close on the heels of charges of sexual harassement, land grab and murder, allegations of large-scale bonded labour have now been levelled against the ashram.
If the complaints made by many of his devotees are anything to go by, arrested godman Sura Baba used bonded labour from devotees to keep things going at his Trahi Achyut Ashram at Jhiinti Sasan near here. When the fear of god didn’t work, the fear of force was used to suppress dissent and sexual exploitation of female devotees was common.
The baba himself set the rules that decided the hours of work and types of work by different sections of the devotees. Failure to abide by the rules was considered dissent and was met with strict punishment: both physical and financial.
The service termed as ‘Kara Seva’ (voluntary labour) included all sorts of physical labour and those unable to do it had to offer ‘pranami’ (a form of tax) for a lifetime. The money collected used to go to Sura Baba directly. Things used to get worse for female devotees for whom sexual exploitation was also a form of physical punishment.
While the baba himself used to scare his god-fearing devotees with the wrath of god and thraets of curse with his divine powers, his ‘Lal Bahini’(Red Army) loved using force to get things done where the fear of god failed. The red army of the Baba, a bunch of anti-social elements, had been assigned the duty of enforcing his decisions and suppressing dissent.
As per information provided by some of the inmates, kara seva was mandatory for all and used to carried out between 5:30 AM and 8:30 AM. The afternoon session of the seva used to start at 3:30 PM sharp. Even a minute’s delay in reporting for the seva invited punishment.
Similarly, Rs 50 penalty (pranami) was imposed on abstention from mass meditation. Rs 30 for not wearing clothes of recommended color during the Rahas and Rs 100 for wearing Rahas clothes anywhere else..
The red army was ever ready to enforce the orders. Such was the terror of this red army that apart from the ashram of other establishments of the baba, devotees went on to work for his son’s construction business without receiving any kind of payment whatsoever.