Extortion in the name of God

When I read about a daylight robbery in the newspaper – about a few men brandishing knives and robbing people on the road – it reminded me of the system of “vargani” where people are intimidated into donating for setting up Ganpati or Ganesh mandals where expensive and elaborate sets complete with lighting and actors, even harmful laser beams, blare out music and songs beyond the permissible limit.

There are societies which make it compulsory for the residents to cough up an amount so that a section of the society can enjoy this dancing and singing and acting which has nothing to do with religion, and they use intimidation if money is not paid. Intimidation tactics like barging into the house of society members uninvited, and demanding money, is common. This is worse than making the donation or vargani a part of the annual maintenance fee, which is also a common practice, even by so-called law-abiding societies. It is nothing but goondaism.

And for what? To do ungodly things in the name of God?

Damaging people’s hearing due to loud sounds and wasting money on expensive sets in a poor country like ours are not the only activities carried out by the organisers of the Ganpati mandals.

Here are their other crimes, all committed in the name of God:

  1. Using non-biodegradable material for the statues of Ganpati and other decorative items made of thermocol and plastic, and then throwing them either into the rivers or other water bodies, killing aqua-life. Often these are just thrown on the roads for the municipality to sweep up. And what does the municipality do? Throw them in landfills, or in the rivers! There have also been incidents where the rubbish collected in the special ponds set up by the municipality, is thrown in the rivers. These are often the same people who eschew eating non-vegetarian food but have no qualms about killing nature as long as they can have their song and dance. I yearn for the times when Hinduism was about worshipping nature.
  2. Blaring loud music way past the time allowed by the law. People are too scared to complain to the police even if they have to suffer sleepless nights.
  3. Digging up roads, our roads! Roads which tax-paying citizens have paid for. Often these remain unrepaired for months, not to mention the taxpayers’ money being spent on the repairs.
  4. Use of public space, our space, creating such bad traffic jams so that even ambulances find it hard to get through. These are often the very same people who break traffic laws with impunity so they do not think anything is wrong, as long as they use the name of God.
  5. Then there is the matter of vargani, or rather, extortion.

img-20140829-wa0000This complete lack of regard for the law, lack of compassion for others and lack of civic sense or let’s say common sense, is beyond belief. But in India, in the name of God you can do anything. Breaking laws is standard procedure. Keeping law-abiding people awake late into the night, damaging the public’s hearing, and creating pollution, these are activities which are no big deal for the lawbreakers.

This is what the High Court has said:

In principle, we are against all this. Ganesh Chaturthi utsavs, Navratri and other festivals that are celebrated in the open spaces of the city should be stopped…If Lokmanya Tilak were here, even he would have objected…

Well said. And the judges are talking about open spaces – just the public grounds. They are saying that it ruins the grounds. The question of digging up roads and blocking traffic doesn’t even arise.

If the eminent Lokmanya Tilak, the father of the Ganesh celebrations, was alive today, he would have started a movement to stop this criminal behaviour.

When it comes to extortion in the name of vargani, yes, sure, Bombay Public Trust (BPT), Act, 1950, makes it illegal to collect vargani without permission, and of late, audits are also required. But the laws are silent on the punishment if permission is not taken or if accounts are not submitted. Not that taking permission makes it any better. It is still extortion.

Perhaps the law is trying to ensure that the loot is strictly used for polluting our rivers, killing the fish and other life, and contributing to air pollution and digging up public property.  A license to pollute and destroy.

Claims by the mandals that the donations or vargani is voluntary are hogwash. There is always a section of the public who does not want to pay but are intimidated into doing it because they want to continue to live in that society or continue to do business without fear.

I wonder why these mandals only extort money for lavish expenditure, and not for social causes, not that extortion in any form is right. But that they do it so that they can blare loud music and dance and sing, speaks a lot for their humanitarianism or rather, the lack of it.

Why is the pollution of water bodies, the sound and air pollution, destruction of civic amenities and extortion – NOT considered ungodly and criminal?

group of people raising hands silhouette photography
Photo by Chad Kirchoff on Pexels.com

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