The magic healer of Janakpuri
A Rationalist Sting Operation
Janakpuri, one of the largest residential colonies in Asia, is located on the outskirts of New Delhi. In a sub-lane of one of the main residential blocks lives Sunderlal Bhargav. From behind the bamboo curtains covering his veranda in the ground floor, clouds of white smoke are soaring into the air. Holy mantras are being recited. In front of the fire, with an excited face, sits Alison, a blonde TV anchor from Australia. Vis a vis a jovial fat man clad in white, chanting relentlessly holy words. That is Bhargav. He is a holy man. Bhargav and Alison have struck a deal.
According to the guru, the mantras that he is chanting are creating special sound waves. They go up into the sky and are picked up by some huge satelites launched by NASA. As the earth is rotating, they are going to touch down right over the city of Sydney in Australia. There lives a close relative of Alison, suffering from cancer. The mantra waves will fall upon him and cure him instantly.
The deal was made two days before that eventful afternoon, when Alison, along with her Indian friend Deepali, visited Bhargav’s veranda temple for the first time. Deepali came as a rationalist “under cover agent”, deputed by Sanal Edamaruku as Alison’s guide and negotiator. The guru offered them a guaranteed cure for the terminally ill cancer patient. For that he demanded the equivalent of two luxury cars in cash.
Bhargav is one of the hundreds of magical healers and astrologers of New Delhi who offer their services in advertisements in different media and in the internet. The Indian Rationalist Association keeps filing and listing these people. Claiming magical remedies for illness is a crime in India. But despite the Magical Remedies Objectionable Advertisement Act, miracle cures are offered in newspaper and TV adds, hoardings and on Internet. Often gurus and astrologers solicit their clients through veiled surrogate advertisements with hidden clues about the offered services. So they cannot easily be caught legally. Additionally, the big fishes use to protect themselves from the public eye with hightech equipments and body guards. Many keep goons like mafia bosses.
The daring plan to expose Sunderlal Bhargav was prepared well in advance. It took several weeks of preparation, training and area based studies. The team was well equipped for a sting operation of sorts. The two ladies sported recorders and hidden cameras under their dresses. The negotiation and Bhargav’s claims how he would remote cure the cancer patient via satelite, were recorded and documented. It was with this proof in hand that Sanal Edamaruku entered the scene.
The mantras stopped, when he suddenly stood on the veranda, straight in front of the shocked guru. Bhargav recognized Sanal at once, as his face is familiar in India from several hundreds of TV programs, in which he appeared in recent years to expose holy charlatans and explain their “miracles”.
Bhargav was quick to adopt his balance again and invited Sanal friendly to sit down with him. He tried to tell him that only a harmless little pooja was being performed for a foreign devotee. Obviously he had no clue that he had been trapped. Alison publicly clarified the situation and exposed the deal. She did not yet disclose that the story of the cancer patient had been created as a bait to catch the charlatan. She acted convincingly as a disappointed and furious customer who understood that she had been betrayed. Sanal confronted the guru with his immoral behavior and the legal consequences. The loud exchange on the veranda started to attract a neighborhood audience.
The guru got furious. He phoned the chief of the residence welfare association and requested him to come. An elderly man appeared and tried to calm Sanal down and find excuses for the guru. But during the discussion with him, a rather shocking story came to light: his own wife had been terminally ill with cancer some years back. The guru demanded a huge amount to cure her. Soon after this she died.
The crowd gathering around the veranda was growing. The guru got panic, picked up his phone and barked orders. Within a few minutes, some plum cars drove up the lane and some bully boys emerged. They positioned themselves at the entrances and observed the scene. But the rationalists were well prepared. Sanal flashed his trump card. He coolly pointed at the two TV crews who had been filming the encounter from the very beginning without the guru’s notice. Press cameras were clicking. And, of course, behind the bamboo curtains stood discreetly some of Sanal’s well trained rationalist protectors and waited for their signal.
Despite the tense situation, Sanal talked to the crowd and explained what was happening. Some people came up and vouched that there had been several victims before exploited in a similar way. They had always felt helpless, they confessed, as the guru was protected by strong men. Sanal threatened the guru with dire legal consequences. Alison could just file a police complaint. Bhargav was cornered and finally gave up. He agreed to apologize to Alison in front of TV cameras. He promised he would never make such claims again. Of course, one cannot trust him. But while he ruefully withdrew to his house, some youngsters came up and shook hands with Sanal. They loved his courageous operation and promised to keep an eye on future events on Bhargav’s veranda.
Sunderlal Bhargav of Janakpuri is just one of hundreds of miracle healers in Delhi. On this very afternoon, Sanal’s team managed to put an end to the work of yet another one of them: Guru Dev Rajkumar in Sagarpur. One by one, the rationalists pull the rug out from under the “holy” men’s feet.
[8th March, 2012]