Guru’s rape case: religious sects must be better controlled
In the wake of deadly riots this week in India by followers of celebrity godman ‘Saint’ Dr Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, 50,the Hindustan Times said in an op-ed yesterday that the authorities need to take a look cults such as his that become ‘almost uncontrollable’.
According to the BBC, at least 23 people were been killed in violent protests over the the guru’s rape conviction in north India. Angry supporters rampaged through Panchkula town, near Chandigarh, and about 2,500 of Singh’s followers were arrested.
Earlier, his devotees smashed cars and set media vans alight, protesting he was innocent.
More than 200,000 of his followers had flocked to the Chandigarh area ahead of Friday’s verdict.
Singh, who claims he has millions of disciples, was found guilty of raping two women at the headquarters of his sect, known as Dera Sacha Sauda, in 2002. Thousands of army, police and paramilitary forces were deployed. They fired tear-gas canisters and water cannon into the crowd to try to restore control.
Curfews have been imposed in several areas of Chandigarh city and across the state of Punjab, and Internet services were suspended.
Violence also spread to the capital, Delhi, where two train coaches were set on fire, according to reports.
Singh, 50, was taken into protective custody by the army following the conviction. The court is expected to sentence him on Monday.
The Hindustan Times said that the scenes that followed his conviction:
The scenes were very much like those in his much hyped films … there was such a violent frenzy from his followers that a massive mobilisation by the state had to be undertaken, with trains, schools and telephony being disrupted. Despite appeals for calm, his supporters continued their rampage after the verdict was announced. But the larger question is how these cults are allowed to become a law unto themselves and how it is that they seem to feel a sense of entitlement that they are above the law.
The paper pointed out that, in an earlier case, when the police tried to enter the ashram of a spiritual leader in Punjab who had been long dead but stored in a deep freezer by his followers in the belief that he was in deep meditation, they found themselves facing heavily armed supporters who held them off.
This sort of pile up of weapons is not uncommon in these ashrams, and they seem to stay under the radar of the authorities until it is too late. Often, the misdemeanors of these so-called godmen are kept under wraps thanks to the enormous political clout many of them have. In the case of Ram Rahim Singh, he issued calls to his lakhs of followers to support a particular political party in the last round of assembly elections in Punjab.
However, whether they enjoy popular support or not, they cannot be unaccountable to the law … Many of these cults have set up establishments on encroached land and that, too, hardly ever attracts any opprobrium. There have been mysterious deaths in many of them and allegations of sexual misconduct as in the case of Asaram Bapu who is now behind bars.
If Ram Rahim Singh was as keen as he seemed to be that his followers should not create such a public nuisance on his account, he should have reined them in. The fact that the supporters were out in full force was indication that this had at least the tacit approval of Ram Rahim Singh. The authorities need to take a look at how such cults become almost uncontrollable and stop them from any unlawful activity like stockpiling arms from inception. Deploying the resources of the state to ensure peace over one man’s conviction seems not just a huge waste but inefficiency in managing law and order in the first place.
Who is Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh?
The controversial leader of the Dera Sacha Sauda sect, which claims to have 60 million followers around the world, took control of the sect – which describes itself as “a non-profit social welfare and spiritual organisation” – when he was 23
He performs at rock concerts, acts in films and even has his own line of food products.
He is known as “rockstar baba” and “guru of bling” because of his shiny, colourful clothes.
He as been accused of mocking Sikh and Hindu figures, and as been investigated for murder and rape, charges he denies
Has been also been accused of forcing followers to undergo castration to “get closer to God”.
Earlier this year he was awarded a doctorate from the UK-based University of World Records:
Hat tip: BarrieJohn