If I had the power, I would choose my destiny
MID-DAY By: Abhijit Majumder Date: 2010-12-12 Place: Mumbai
Face of the Brahma Kumari organisation, Shivani, speaks to Mid Day editor Abhijit Majumder in a no-questions-barred interview
She is the young, articulate face of a spiritual organisation once known as a secretive cult. Through her conversations and lectures on television on matters like the ego, relationships, stress, anger, self esteem and meditation, 38-year-old Sister Shivani is helping bring the Brahma Kumari (BK) movement out of the shadowy realms of myth into millions of drawing rooms in India and abroad.
Here is an outspoken, no-questions-barred interview that covers Shivani’s journey from a normal, party-going, 23-year-old engineering graduate from a Pune college to the heart of a 70-year-old organisation, and touches upon touchy stuff like funding, sex, and vegetarianism.
When did you get associated with the Brahma Kumaris?
My parents used to go to BK. Obviously, if your parents go somewhere, there is conversation in the house. It’s in the air at home. For two years, I saw the impact on them. They asked me to come with them, but that doesn’t work. The more they would ask me, the more I’d block.
Then, for the next two years I kept going off and on…a function, once a fortnight. I was 23. Then I started going daily.
Did a personal crisis make you go to a spiritual organisation?
This is a very big myth, actually. Yes, for some people, a tragedy shakes them up. It’s like starting to go for a walk only after one has been diagnosed with a big health problem. We keep postponing the decision.
I was an extroverted, social person. So I kept away from BK, initially. But I saw the change in my mother…from a very emotionally sensitive person to a strong person, and decided to check it out just to explore, as an experiment, one step at a time, not looking for anything… not looking for God.
There’s a notion about BK that it is a secretive cult. There is literature widely available on the Internet that speaks about child abuse in the organisation, people drawn away from their families, patrons forced to donate huge sums. What do you say to that?
It’s an organisation where a huge number of people come together with the mission to clean themselves. They come to improve themselves through the practical application of spirituality. It’s a journey. When we come here, we are not perfect.
There is a difference between someone who is born divine — Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, for instance — is a divine soul. We are not born saints. We are here with our weaknesses, complexes, prejudices ¦ like everyone else. Here, we start working on ourselves, clean ourselves. In BK, we are all learning. You may ask who is the head. The head is only the administrative head. She is not a guru, she is also learning.
Now, if there are nine or ten lakh people coming for purification, there would be one or two who can do
something. There may be a possibility that one or two cases may have happened, but I don’t know about it. But if somebody is saying something has happened with them, total benefit of doubt should go to him or her. It must have happened. But we tend to look at that one case instead of the nine or ten lakhs who are working on cleaning themselves.
You talk about cleaning. Is the detergent fine?
That I have to ask myself after the dry cleaning. It’s only for me to know. No one else can know. I can be very
presentable and sweet, but what is going on inside me, only I will know.
Yes, initially when women were not allowed to step out, some sisters had to leave home. But now, nobody is leaving home. You have to above 21 and your family has to give you permission before you are taken as a 'surrendered sister'. How many such sisters do we have? About 15,000. Rest of the nine lakh people go back home.
Is having you as the young, presentable face of the organisation, especially on TV, a clever spin?
It was not planned at all. There’s a production house in Delhi. I helped backend for two years. Post-production, editing etc. Then, when BK started on Sony, they wouldn’t accept any tape coming from our Mount Abu headquarters.
They had certain parameters. Then it was my role to call seniors to shoot at the studio. Now, most of them are occupied with other work. So, it happened absolutely by default. I was pushed on to sitting in that chair just because there was no one else.
Does the name Brahma Kumaris turn men off from joining?
Initially, yes. People go by what they hear. Not now. Today we have equal numbers of brothers and sisters. The name is because initially the administration was carried out by sisters.
Where do you get money from?
We come here like a study group, benefit, feel like sharing, and finally if we want, we contribute. No one knows what I am giving.
Does the organisation never ask for money?
It depends. Suppose there is this programme, we have to hire an auditorium etc. We would sit with 200 people, ask them what’s their thought, and if they say let’s go ahead, we ask them to contribute on their free will for the event.
Are you in favour of transparency of finances in spiritual/religious organisations? Do you think they should come under audit?
Why not? If you are a spiritual organisation, working cleanly, you should be transparent, open to audit.
Are the young responding to spirituality?
In an amazing way. A huge number of schoolchildren watch the programme. It’s surprising. They are going through enough challenges of their own. They are ready to work on themselves. They are being made to do a lot of things in the name of peer pressure, and then they are feeling guilty. So many girls get into a physical relationship in school or college because of peer pressure, or to please somebody, and then go through guilt.
What do you tell them? Not to have a physical relationship? Or not to have guilt?
To work on the inner thing. The outer thing is your choice. You can do whatever you want to do, provided you can keep the right state of emotion. If it is out of your free will and free choice, there is no question of guilt. Guilt arises when you give in to pressure because you didn’t have the power at that time to say, no.
Why do spiritual/religious organisation have this track record of professing celibacy?
It’s a process. I want to climb up to here, and there are certain things pulling me down. The doctor tells me this is a preventive measure. It’s not a compulsion.
Is lovemaking an illness?
No, it’s not an illness. In Raja yoga meditation, celibacy is like a preventive measure.
Food has vibrations. The animal has gone through certain emotions before it was slaughtered.
So has a plant…
A plant is a living thing, not a living being.
Just because a plant doesn’t die dramatically…screaming, shouting…doesn’t mean it does not feel pain. We can’t rid ourselves of the guilt.
It’s not that. A human being is a soul with a body. An animal is also a soul with a body. Not a plant. Human beings impact other beings. Plant get affected by human beings.
I would argue — human beings get affected by plants too. If there’s a tree in front of my window, I’d possibly lead a different life than if there was no tree there. Energy levels of an animal is greater than the energy levels of a plant.
You are discriminating ¦
The other option would be to stop having plants as well.
We’ll then have to stop having food.Well, as much killing as we can avoid. In BK, satvik food does not only mean vegetarian, but also getting rid of dark or angry thoughts when we are cooking food.
You are just 38. Do you miss doing stuff that normal young women do…like going to a pub?
I’ve done all of it. Also, I stay at home with my husband in Gurgaon.
You’ve ever done a job?
I’m working. I have a business with my husband.
If you were wearing a T-shirt, what would the graffiti be?
It would be: If I had the power, I would choose my destiny.