The forces of globalization, internet technology and a quarter century of liberalization and privitisation have spawned a new class of consumers by opening up jobs in the new internet enabled global service industry across banking, insurance, hotels and tourism. By breaking national barriers by internet technology jobs could be outsourced from multinational corporations to tech parks in Bangalore (India).
The main beneficiaries of this revolution numbering anywhere between 60 million and 200 million became consumers of Western goods. But contrary to the expectations of the neo-liberal policy makers who ushered in a welfare state for crony capitalists, large sections of the populace still remain trapped in abject poverty. India that is Bharat is truly a banana republic whose income pyramid shows in the words of Amartya Sen and Jean Dreze-“islands of California in a sea of sub-Saharan Africa”.[i]
It is this class of elite consumers fueled by paychecks, credit cards and bank loans educated in Business schools and Engineering colleges that have taken to predatory consumerism. They are the avid shopaholics who stuff their bags with smart phones, iPods and kitsch Hinduism.
The last item namely Kitsch Hinduism is indeed a puzzle for scholars like Meera Nanda who wonder as to how educated Hindus in science and technology believe in supernatural powers supposedly embodied in idols, divine men and women, stars and planets, rivers, trees, and sacred animals.[ii]
Surveys show that the prosperous Hindu classes embrace a more ritualisticand superstitious form of popular Hinduism centered on temples, pilgrimages, and popularsaints or god-men /women. There is also a boom in the construction of temples and mega temples. Holy pilgrimages are also big business with the market expanding as the number of people undertaking such pilgrimages are expanding.[iii]
The increasing religiosity does not indicate any other worldliness in the followers. The religiosity though lofty in its metaphysics is mostly a means to harness divine support for self aggrandizement.[iv]
The practice of Hinduism also finds expression in conspicuous consumption by spending enormous amounts of money on popular rituals like Ganapati homas and Lakshmi homas. Among the rich businessmen and politicians a ritual which is enormously popular is Kumbhabhisheka for temple renovations. Also popular is Navagraha homa recommended by astrologers to ward off evil Saturn to calm the anxiety of their clients.
The proliferation of God men and women is a matter of concern as magic and superstition have taken hold of the imagination of rich well heeled devotees. The God men are seen as avatars of god and are seen as miracle workers. These gurus spin magical tales about cures of incurable diseases and rescuing their devotees from misfortune.
The modern gurus are CEO’s of big spiritual enterprises and offer their gullible consumers myriad services. The services fall in three broad categories- providing miracles, expounding vedic wisdom and suggesting alternative cures to people stricken with chronic diseases. Among the God men / women who have captured the minds of thousands of devotees are Satya Sai Baba, Mata Amritanandamayi (called the hugging guru) and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar who through his art of living has taught his admiring followers the art of rhythmic breathing earning tens of millions of dollars.
Prosperous Hindus by adopting a debased form of Hinduism full of black magic and ostentatious rituals have turned their backs on the more sublime, philosophical and secular humanistic version of Hinduism which was a part of its Neo-Vedanta renaissance that started in the 18th century and continued well into the 20th century.
If modernity is a world robbed of capricious vindictive gods, then our collective consciousness must erase such gods from our religious imagination and beliefs. Only then we shall have taken our first steps away from descending to a dark and uncertain future.
[i] Quoted in http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/may/16/what-next-india-pankaj-mishra
[ii] The God Market- Neera Nanda- page 61.
[iii] Ibid pages 70 -71.
[iv] Ibid page 61 Pavan Verma quoted.
C R Sridhar