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Dual dependency on religion and alcohol among working class: Hathras, Kallakurichi

By Bhabani Shankar Nayak* 

More than one hundred and twenty-one people died recently in a stampede at a religious gathering in the Pulrai village of Hathras district, located in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. This tragic incident highlights the deeper economic, social, cultural, and spiritual crises that India faces today. 
The prevalence of massive religious gatherings and the rise of self-styled godmen and godwomen point to these underlying issues. In contemporary India, many people turn to figures like Bhole Baba (Narayan Sakar Vishwa Hari), also known as Suraj Pal Singh, to address their everyday problems. 
This reliance on self-styled spiritual leaders is partly due to the retreat of the welfare state and the weakening of secular and scientific education systems, which are essential for fostering a more informed and scientifically conscious society. The incident in Pulrai village is a stark reminder of the urgent need to address these multifaceted crises. Ignorance is the breeding ground for all forms of religious dogma, and godmen are the living examples of such dogmatic practices. 
The perpetuation of ignorance serves the interests of both the godmen and the political class, creating a cycle where people remain trapped in a state of dependency and manipulation. To break free from this cycle, it is essential to promote education, critical thinking, and scientific reasoning. 
By empowering individuals with knowledge and encouraging rational thought, society can reduce the influence of dogmatic practices and create a more enlightened and equitable environment. Strengthening public welfare programs and enhancing the quality of education could help mitigate the dependence on such spiritual figures and prevent such tragedies in the future.
These self-styled spiritual leaders exploit the lack of education and critical thinking among the masses, perpetuating superstitions and unscientific beliefs. By manipulating the faith and desperation of vulnerable individuals, they gain power and influence, often with the support of political leaders seeking to mobilise voters and maintain control. The political leaders and political parties often promote these self-styled godmen and godwomen for their electoral mobilisation efforts. 
The political patronage extended to these figures bolsters their religious enterprises among the unsuspecting masses, who suffer under a caste-ridden society where spiritual freedom is constrained and economic exploitation is rampant. In such a society, religion is a good business where these self-styled godmen and godwomen seek rent and offer fake spiritual freedom that gives hopes to many working people and marginalised people to survive the everyday onslaught of a caste based capitalist and feudal society.
This alliance between politicians and self-styled spiritual leaders perpetuates a cycle of dependency and manipulation. By leveraging the influence of godmen and godwomen, political leaders can galvanise support during elections, ensuring their continued dominance. 
Meanwhile, the masses remain entrapped in a system that limits their spiritual autonomy and subjects them to ongoing economic hardships. People fall back on quacks in the absence of modern medicines and doctors.  People fall back on religion and various religious denominations to outsource and survive the onslaught of their spiritual and material sufferings perpetuated by political and economic conditions shaped by ruling elites in the country. 
Similarly, more than sixty-five people have died after consuming spurious liquor in Karunapuram village, located in the Kallakurichi district of Tamil Nadu in southern India. Additionally, over one hundred and eighteen people are currently undergoing treatment in various hospitals. The rent-seeking state promotes the liquor business as a means to raise revenue, which is then used to beautify cities and create conditions favourable for private investment in the name of economic development. 
This prioritisation of revenue generation over public health and safety leads to dire consequences, as evidenced by the tragic incident in Karunapuram village. This incident highlights the urgent need for stricter regulations and enforcement to prevent the distribution of illicit liquor. 
Furthermore, it underscores the importance of re-evaluating state policies that prioritise economic gain at the expense of the well-being of its citizens. A more balanced approach that considers both revenue generation and public health is essential for preventing such tragedies in the future.
Who are these people who died in Hathras and Kallakurichi? What is the common thread among these two tragic incidents? These are working people who build our parks, homes, hospitals and schools but live in a life of everyday sufferings. Many of these working people turn to liquor as a means to escape and forget their everyday pain. Similarly, these individuals often rely on religion to endure the hardships of their daily material existence. 
The dual dependency on alcohol and religion among the working class reflects deeper societal and economic issues. Economic instability, social inequalities, and a lack of comprehensive support systems contribute to the prevalence of these coping mechanisms. People seek solace and temporary relief from their struggles through alcohol, while religion provides them with hope and a sense of purpose amidst their everyday challenges of life.
The rent-seeking state, government, reactionary political class, and exploitative religious institutions are the real evils perpetuated by hegemonic system, which is responsible for the tragic loss of lives in Hathras and Kallakurichi. In Hathras, the reliance on self-styled godmen and the inadequacies of the welfare state contribute to social and spiritual crises. In Kallakurichi, the unchecked liquor business prioritised over public health reflects the state's focus on revenue generation at the expense of its citizens' well-being. 
Both instances reveal the darker facets of capitalist state, where profit and power often take precedence over human lives and dignity. Capitalism's influence on political and religious institutions exacerbates these issues. Political leaders use religious figures for electoral gains, fostering dependency and manipulation among the masses. Meanwhile, the state's focus on revenue through harmful means, such as the liquor trade, leads to dire consequences for the vulnerable.
Both instances reveal darker facets of capitalist state, where profit and power take precedence over human lives and dignity.
Both alcohol and religion undermine reason and weaken the critical thinking abilities of human beings. When people turn to alcohol as a means of escape, they may find temporary relief from their problems, but this often comes at the cost of impaired judgment and reduced cognitive function. Prolonged reliance on alcohol can lead to addiction, further eroding an individual's capacity for rational thought and decision-making. 
Similarly, all forms of religious belief, particularly those propagated by self-styled godmen, can discourage questioning and critical analysis. These dogmatic practices often exploit the lack of education and the desperation of individuals, fostering a reliance on superstition and unverified claims.
By promoting unquestioning faith over inquiry and scepticism, such religious practices can stifle intellectual growth and diminish the ability to think critically.  Such a society is fertile ground for ruling and non-ruling elites to continue their hegemony over the masses. Such hegemonic conditions are concomitant with the requirements of capitalism. 
Therefore, struggles against religion and capitalism are also struggles for mass consciousness grounded in science and secularism. These avoidable tragedies highlight the urgent need for the expansion of scientific and secular education to foster critical political, social, and scientific awareness. 
By doing so, individuals can be empowered to question exploitative systems, challenge dogmatic beliefs, and make informed decisions that contribute to a more equitable society. It equips people with the tools to analyse their circumstances, understand the broader socio-economic forces at play, and advocate for systemic changes that benefit the common good. This requires a collective commitment to advancing education, promoting rational discourse, and ensuring that knowledge is accessible to all. 
These issues require a concerted effort to dismantle the structures that enable such exploitation. This includes promoting genuine spiritual freedom, ensuring equitable economic opportunities, and fostering a political environment that prioritises the well-being of all citizens over short-term electoral gains. 
Improving economic opportunities, ensuring access to mental health services, and creating robust social support networks can help reduce the dependency on such coping mechanisms. By addressing the root causes of their pain and hardship, society can help individuals find healthier and more sustainable ways to navigate their daily lives.
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*London Metropolitan University

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