Cult under the radar
It is most astonishing that a cult preaching superstitious beliefs including the consumption of bodily fluids of its leader as a treatment for diseases still exists in this day and age.
What could be even more amazing is that such a bizarre cult, whose compound was found by police to have housed at least 11 unidentified bodies, had operated without any state authorities being aware of it.
The “temple” of the cult group whose leader, a 75-year-old man, proclaimed to be the father of the universe was only raided last weekend following a tip-off by private citizen Jeeraphan Phetkhao.
Mr Jeeraphan, also known as Mor Pla, has become somewhat of a celebrity activist who proclaims to help victims of superstition. Previously, he played a key role in exposing misconduct by Buddhist monks including the high-profile sex scandal involving Luang Phi Kato, the former acting abbot of Wat Pen Yat in Nakhon Si Thammarat, who is also facing an embezzlement charge.
Mr Jeeraphan’s activism has led some social media users to quip how one man has helped clean up Sangha and Buddhist malpractices more than the entire department of religious affairs. Indeed, they have a point. Although there are questions that arise when a private citizen sets themselves up as “authorities” or “gatekeepers” in an issue of public interest, the concern about the role of state authorities is valid.
Based on news reports, the cult must have been in operation for a while as it seems to have commanded deep devotion from a group of followers, most of whom are elderly.
Since the group prescribed such outlandish practices as drinking urine and eating faeces as well as coating the body with soil mixed with the waste of its leader out of a misguided belief that they would cure physical illnesses, it should have stood out.
The cult’s premise did not appear well-guarded or protected either. That is why it is quite incredulous that such strange, unhygienic practices could have escaped the attention of health authorities for so long.
It is even more worrying that there were unidentified bodies located at the cult’s premises.
While it is not known yet whether the bodies were related to the bizarre practices and treatment prescribed by the cult’s alleged leader, the fact that deaths could go unreported and undetected does not augur well for the local authorities.
The discovery of the cult does raise a few serious issues for society to deliberate on.
As many social media users indicated, something must be wrong with the quality of education in the country if such a cult whose practices go against basic hygiene can still exist.
Also, access to healthcare must be taken into account. This is true not just in rural areas where the cult was found but also everywhere in the country.
Where can people turn to when they face long queues at state hospitals or huge bills at private ones? Quack doctors and shaman practices could flourish because of difficulties in obtaining healthcare services.
But above all, the local authorities cannot avoid responsibility for allowing the potentially harmful cult to have operated in their area. They certainly have to work harder both in monitoring public activities and regaining people’s trust.