London, May 21 : The Government of Kerala appears to be on a collision course with religious groups in the wake of the several scandals associated with them, which the political leadership feels has done damage to the image of the state.
The arrest of a god man on charges of allegedly raping minor girls, the attempted suicide by another and a third who is now on the run after failing to pay back a loan of a million rupees, has prompted Kerala's Minister of Temples, G. Sudhakaran, to declare most swamis as frauds.
"They're conducting all kinds of criminal and material activities behind their spiritual exteriors," The Times quoted Sudhakaran as saying.
"Ninety per cent of them are fake and criminals. There are so many swamis who have enlightened the hearts and minds of people, but these people are fakes with no idea about spirituality. They are only interested in women and money and muscle power," he added.
His comments have outraged many devout Hindus, who consider these swamis to be beyond reproach, and even above the law.
Atheists and rationalists, however, have hailed the minister's diatribe, saying his speaking out could go some way in eliminating a malaise that has plagued India for centuries.
"This isn't just a problem confined to Kerala - the same thing happens everywhere else," Narendra Nayak, the president of the Federation of Indian Rationalist Associations, said.
"You have all sorts of illegal things going on in ashrams, but police won't go in there because they're holy places." Dr Nayak alleged.
Part of the problem, he said, was that no central religious or government body regulates the activities of the swamis.
James Vadakkumcherry, a former teacher at the Kerala police training college who is doing a study on bogus swamis, said that there were about 50 or 60 such "holy men" in Kerala alone.