An Indian Sant is not the same as a Christian Saint. It is ironical that the letter ‘i’ is missing in Sant because the one thing that is most prominent in our Sants is ‘I’, the ego, a highly inflated ego.
President Gyani Zail Singh, who used to hobnob with a lot of Sadhus and Sants, once told me “inhaan Santaan dee waddee haumain hundi hai — these Sants have huge egos - inhaan noo dangaraan dee tarah patthey paaney paindey han — they need to be fed the way we feed fodder to cattle.
An Indian has to pass no tests to become a Sant; he simply has to don white or saffron robes, let his hair or beard loose (or shave off both), smear his forehead with saffron (not compulsory) and people will acclaim him as a Sant. On the other hand, a Christian has to do something which the gullible describe as a miracle before he or she can become a Saint.
A conclave of church dignitaries examines the evidence presented in favour of the miraculous occurrence (for miraculous read irrational) and pronounce whether or not a person deserves to be anointed as a Saint. The accolade is invariably given posthumously: there are no living Christian Saints.
Thus we have the anomaly of a truly saintly person like Mother Teresa venerated by billions of Christians and non-Christians like who His Holiness the Pope has yet to acknowledge as a Saint.
We are generous in granting sainthood to Sants. Almost every village has a Sant-Baba or two. As a Punjabi proverb goes, itt putto tay Sant nikleyga — pull up a brick and you will find a Sant.
Sants do not need to have any educational qualifications. As a matter of fact the vast majority of our Sants are illiterate or semi-literate. Many are school drop-outs, unqualified to be considered to do much besides tilling the land, grazing cattle or cleaning utensils. Becoming Sant gives them better living without their having to do anything.
M N Roy rightly described them as holy beggars. Only foolish politicians seek guidance from Sants. Our Sants do not have to be saintly nor men of high moral standards. Some eminent Sants have been caught in amorous escapades, supplying prostitutes to rich patrons, keep mistresses and indulge in arms-trading.
A few become very rich; they wear gold and diamond jewellery; their ashrams are like mini-palaces; they drink milk of imported cows, own fleets of imported automobiles, even private aircraft.
Our Sants need not be men of peace. See pictures of Sants armed with trishuls and mugdars, marching in their thousands towards Ayodhya.
Puran Singh, who dedicated his entire life in the service of the sick and the destitute regardless of their religion or caste, was acknowledged merely as a Bhagat (follower), while Bhindranwale who was always armed to the teeth with sword, spear and automatic rifle and whose goons murdered scores of innocent Hindus is still revered by his followers as a Sant and a martyr.
Published in Deccan Chronicle