The Hindustan Times – After Ram Rahim’s arrest, Dera Sacha Sauda dies a slow death

After the conviction of the group’s leader, Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, the colossal empire is struggling to stay relevant as the number of followers has dwindled and business affected

Hitender Rao

Sirsa-Haryana-India, 10 November 2017. A colossal business empire, worth an estimated Rs 2,100 crore and spread over 800 acres, has come to a virtual standstill. Its manufacturing plants, for aloe vera products, bottled water, car batteries, confectionery, oil-seed expellers, and atta (flour), are shut down. The nearby newspaper office, resort, shopping mall, cinema, petrol pump, restaurant, and hotel are all closed. The streets, too, are empty.

When Hindustan Times visited late last month, there was a lot of gloom and quiet in Sirsa, Haryana at the headquarters of the Dera Sacha Sauda. It started on August 25 when a CBI court convicted the group’s leader, Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, of raping two disciples.

The announcement was greeted with fury: more than 45 persons were reported killed and more than 300 injured in riots across north India. This passionate anger was followed by rapid desertion. Interviews with both followers of Dera and officials of agencies investigating the group confirmed that it is in dire straits.

There are some signs of life though. The group’s much smaller, old base has remained active. Last weekend, the main headquarters was opened to celebrate the birth anniversary of Dera’s founder, Shah Mastana Balochistani. Sirsa police officials estimated that 4,000 people attended.

In general, however, recent months have seen the headquarters empty and the sect’s finances come under serious threat. “Neither are there buyers anymore nor anyone to pitch in with monetary contributions,’’ said Mangat Singh, a Dera follower from Sirsa. Dharampal, who runs a shop that sells Dera products outside the group’s headquarters, was one of the few premis (disciples) seen around last month.

“I worked at a Dera manufacturing unit,” he said. “Since it is shut down now, I look after this shop for couple of hours in the morning and the evening.” Not so long ago, Dera brand shops were full of followers of the sect; when HT visited, most stores, including Dharampal’s, were empty.

‘No one to take a decision’

For those that remain at Sirsa, there is a lack of direction and a struggle to maintain business as usual.

With Ram Rahim in prison and a number of his close aides on the run, Dera lacks a leader. According to the Sirsa police, Vipassana Insan, the chairperson, was unwell for a few weeks. Jasmeet Insaan, Ram Rahim’s son, is reportedly not interested in taking over.

“There was no one to take a decision or run the place though Vipassana is back in action since Sunday,” said a senior Haryana police official familiar with Dera. “The post-verdict violence has done them a lot of damage. A number of cases have been registered against Dera managers. It seems everyone is playing safe right now.”

Hindustan Times was unable to reach any official representatives of Dera for comment, since many appear to be avoiding contact with the press and it is unclear who is currently authorised to speak on behalf of the group.

According to a Haryana intelligence official, the number of people inside the compound has dwindled from 10,000 to only around 800. “There are no followers and there is no one to give directions,’’ said one of the remaining sewadars (volunteers). “There is hardly anything for us to do. It is a strange situation.”

The compound’s hospital, colleges and schools are struggling to function. The intelligence official said that all these institutions are seeing a low turnout, of either students or patients, and have sought the permission of the Punjab and Haryana high court to operate their bank accounts in order to meet day-to-day expenses.

These accounts are the subject of both Dera’s hopes and a grave threat against it. The Punjab and Haryana high court is attempting to quantify the damage caused by the riots and considering whether to hold Dera liable.

Meanwhile, on September 27, the high court directed the Enforcement Directorate and the Income Tax Department to investigate the personal accounts of Ram Rahim and his associates for possible money laundering.

Before it’s too late

Dera’s businesses have been closing, its followers have dwindled, and its savings are in doubt, but one important source of hope remains: politicians.

When the Haryana state assembly met last month, it made a point of paying homage to the Dera followers who were killed in the violence. The sympathetic representatives were from a wide range of political parties, including the BJP, the Congress, and the Indian National Lok Dal. Dera has been an important vote bank for parties for at least a decade.

The Congress received its support in the assembly polls of Punjab, in 2007, and Haryana, in 2009. Then, in Haryana in 2014, it was the BJP that received Dera’s support. In Punjab in 2012 and 2017, it was the Shiromani Akali Dal.

The diverse array of politicians who have depended on the group is the only indication of its strength. And now, it’s only hope.

http://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/dera-sacha-sauda-dies-a-slow-death/story-w5msdlIcy68QaAZvbu8MjM.html

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The Asian Age – Papa and I are innocent, says Honeypreet; likely to surrender today

Honeypreet said that false news is being spread about her relationship with her foster father and added that the relation was ‘pious’.

New Delhi, 3 October 2017. The adopted daughter of self-styled god man Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, Honeypreet Insan, has cried foul and downplayed all allegations framed against her.

Reportedly, Honeypreet is likely to surrender before a court on Tuesday after being on the run for over a month.

While talking to a Hindi news channel, Insan said that false news is being spread about her relationship with her foster father and described the bond she shared with the Dera Sacha Sauda chief as “pious”.

“I am scared, I cannot believe that people are saying such foul things about me. I am depressed. My father is innocent and so am I. I am sure that one day the real truth will come out in the open. I urge people to not believe in these hoax reports. Nothing which is being assumed about me and my father is true,” she told the news channel.

Honeypreet added that she had slipped into depression post the conviction of Ram Rahim and that it took her a while to muster courage and come out in the open, to air her views.

She also criticized reports of her inciting riots in Sirsa and in other parts of Haryana and Punjab.

“I cannot believe that I am being dubbed a traitor. We have been making films on patriotism and they are calling us traitors. The allegations are not true. They accuse me of being involved in riots, but do they have any evidence against me? I don’t know why my name has been brought into this.

I was in the chopper with papa (Ram Rahim) when he was being taken to jail. We were not even aware of any unrest. My movement was being monitored, how could I have instigated riots?,” she said.

Honeypreet is wanted by the police in connection with the violence that broke out in Panchkula, in August, the day a court there held Ram Rahim guilty on charges of rape.

The Delhi High Court, on 26 September, rejected the transit anticipatory bail plea of Insan.

For almost 40 days, Haryana Police has been tracking leads on Honeypreet in UP, Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan.

http://www.asianage.com/india/crime/031017/honeypreet-likely-to-surrender-today-denies-allegations-of-illicit-relations-with-dera-chief.html

The Times of India – Haryana cops killed 36 people in a day, yet there’s no outrage

Robin David

Chandigarh, 24 September 2017. Sixteen-year-old Lovepreet Singh, a resident of Theri village in Punjab’s Muktsar district, had accompanied his aunt to Panchkula just for fun. He was killed in police firing in the rioting that followed Dera Sacha Sauda head Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh’s rape conviction on August 25.

Lovepreet’s father Kaka Singh is a devout Sikh and says his son wasn’t even a dera follower. The aunt was. The last thing this village shopkeeper would have wanted was to see his son die for a faith he did not understand or care for.

Angrej Kaur, 60, of Madheer village was an ardent dera follower. She had gone to Panchkula on August 23 for a glimpse of Gurmeet; her husband, a mason, had stayed back. Kaur sustained serious injuries in the August 25 violence and died in a hospital in Chandigarh.

Lovepreet and Angrej Kaur were among the 36 people killed in police firing in Panchkula that day. Barely a month later, their names seem to have become forgotten footnotes in Haryana government records.

There is not even a whimper of protest for those who were shot dead by the police. The justification seems to be that most of the dead were dera followers who had turned violent in support of a rape convict.

Many choose to ignore the fact that 36 is among the highest number of people killed in independent India in a single episode of police shooting at civilians in a riot. Haryana police virtually made history in Panchkula.

The Haryana government and state BJP leaders say that had dera followers been stopped from congregating in Panchkula, there was a possibility that Gurmeet would have refused to leave his headquarters in Sirsa and surrounded himself with his followers.

According to the government, any attempt to smoke him out of the 750-acre campus would have led to even higher casualties.

But former UP DGP Prakash Singh says smoking out Gurmeet from his headquarters and allowing people to gather in Panchkula are two different things and can’t be equated.

“The police brought the situation under control very quickly, but at what cost? Was it avoidable altogether? If they had taken some initial precautions, probably the need for such strict action would not have arisen.”

He adds that bringing Gurmeet out of his lair was difficult but not impossible. “It was not like Bhindranwale being protected by retired generals (inside the Golden Temple)”.

One of the worst cases of rioting in India in recent years was the 2002 post-Godhra violence in Gujarat which claimed nearly 1,000 lives. Between February 28 and March 3, during the peak of the violence, 47 people were shot dead by police across Gujarat. By April 29, this number had reached 109.

In Panchkula, the police reached a third of that number in just about an hour!

A day after the violence , the HC came down hard on the Manohar Lal Khattar government for allowing such a large group of people to gather at one place in the first place.

“It was a political surrender just to allure the vote bank,” observed a full bench of the court during a special hearing. “There is a sea of difference between administrative and political decisions; administrative decisions were paralysed because of political considerations.”

In effect, the state government which was the gatekeeper allowed a very high number of people to gather in a small place, and when they could not control them, they shot and killed 36 people to restore “order”.

The only other country where the police are accused of shooting down too many civilians is the US, with activists and media maintaining a database of killings. According to the Washington Post database, 663 people were shot dead by cops in the US between January 1 and August 31, 2017, a little less than three a day.

In India, roughly two civilians were killed every week in police firing between 2009 and 2015, according to the National Crime Records Bureau. That amounts to 796 killed in six years, by no means a small number.

Incidentally, a month before the bloodshed in Panchkula, Union minister of state for home Hansraj Ahir told the Lok Sabha that Haryana had topped the country in policemen killing civilians (22 deaths) in 2016, even overtaking strife-torn Jammu and Kashmir (16 deaths). The all-India figure was 92 in 2016.

Last year, a committee headed by Prakash Singh submitted its report to the Haryana government on why its police force had failed so miserably in controlling the Jat reservation riots of February 2016 in which 30 people were killed.

“What was lacking was the will to act, the determination to prevent riotous mobs from assembling in the first instance and then dealing with them effectively while they were committing acts of violence, arson, loot or vandalism,” the report observed, adding that the “picture was very dismal and showed deplorable lack of leadership at different levels.”

Reading the report today makes one thing clear. The disaster in Panchkula was foretold.

https://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/On-the-bounce/haryana-cops-killed-36-people-in-a-day-yet-theres-no-outrage/

The Indian Express – Curfew imposed in Sirsa as search underway at Dera headquarters, 41 central force companies keep watch

The operation is being conducted under the supervision of a retired District and Sessions Judge Anil Kumar Singh Panwar, who entered the dera premises at 8:35 am on Friday. However, the police forces had entered the dera early in the morning.

Sukhbir Siwach

Sirsa-Haryana-India, 8 September 2017. The Haryana police and paramilitary forces have begun the search and sanitisation operations inside the Dera Sacha Sauda’s headquarters at Sirsa on Friday morning.

The operation is being conducted under the supervision of a retired District and Sessions Judge Anil Kumar Singh Panwar, who entered the dera premises at 8:35 am on Friday.

However, the police forces had entered the dera early in the morning. Panwar has been appointed as Court Commissioner by the Punjab and Haryana High Court to monitor the search operation.

The sources have hinted that the sanitisation process could easily last a couple of days as the sprawling dera is spread in about 700 acres of land. Over a dozen blacksmiths have also been hired to break the numerous locks inside the Dera.

Forty-one companies of central forces accompanied by sniffer dogs will keep a strict vigil on security inside and outside the dera. Curfew has been imposed in areas surrounding headquarters in Sirsa which will continue till search operations last. Meanwhile, the media and public have been barred to enter the campus.

There is a lot of suspense over a suspected Gufa (cave) inside the dera where the dera chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh had sexually exploited the sadhvis (female followers).

Two victim sadhvis, who had shown courage to speak against the dera chief, had told the court that the baba had raped them inside the gufa of the dera. During one of the court hearings, one victim had identified Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, who had appeared before the court through video conferencing.

“I used to reside at the Girls’ hostel of the Dera and Baba Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh had renamed me as ‘Nazam’…Sadhvis used to perform duty as guard at the door from Girls’s hostel to Gufa from 8 pm to 12 in the night and from 12 in the night till 4 pm,” the Sadhvi had told the court.

She had clarified that by “Gufa”, she meant the place where the dera chief used to reside. She further deposed that in September 1999, she was deputed on duty as guard from 8 pm to 12 in the night outside the gate of the Gufa and at around 10 pm, the Baba came out of the gufa and called her inside the Gufa where he raped her.

However, the dera management has made it clear that there was no Gufa inside the dera and the residential place of the dera chief was called the Gufa.

“The place where the saints used to meditate is called Gufa and in the same manner, the residence of the dera chief was called as Gufa by the dera followers. A place which is being projected as Gufa by the TV channels is actually a way to the dera resort, ” said an official of dera’s media wing.

Curfew imposed in Sirsa as search underway at Dera headquarters, 41 central force companies keep watch

The Hindustan Times – ‘I am going back to Sikhism’: Many disillusioned ‘premis’ renounce Dera

While a few stay loyal, some feel confused in the face of disgrace. Some of the Dera followers say they are waiting for the dust to settle.

Snigdha Poonam

Sirsa-Haryana/Bhatinda-Panjab, 2 September 2017. “I am going back to Sikhism,” said Manjit Singh, a 29-year-old follower of the Dera Sacha Sauda in southern Punjab who is disturbed by Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh’s conviction for raping two disciples 15 years ago.

A Dalit man who operates a bus stand in Salabatpura, Singh joined the sect two years ago, guided by the noble things he had heard about it. “I heard how it rids people of alcoholism, meat consumption, arranges weddings for poor women.

So, I started to visit the Dera. I began to like Baba ji’s preaching,” said Singh, who was himself an alcoholic before he took on the surname ‘Insan’.

“Some friends used to talk about these cases against him, but every time I saw Baba ji, I thought those were complete lies.” Now, Singh said he saw “truth in the charges”. “This morning, I read in the newspaper that 18 girls have been rescued from the Sirsa Dera and sent for medical examination.

Vishwas uth gaya hai (I have lost my faith in him). I can’t trust a godman again.” On August 29, the Akal Takht invited the predominantly Dalit followers of the Dera Sacha Sauda, who have long been marginalised by mainstream Sikhism, back into its fold.

Since the day of Singh’s conviction when thousands of his angry supporters ran riot across Punjab and Haryana, the young, male mob has become the face of a sect that claims a following of 60 million.

While many Dera followers remain loyal to the 70-year-old institution because of its place in their social and economic lives, some feel confused or conflicted in the face of their leader’s disgrace. There are a number of factors that attracted people to Singh’s cult; their reactions to his fall are equally diverse.

“It was after I saw a film of his, the one in which he plays an adivasi in Chhattisgarh, that I became inspired to follow him,” said 21-year-old Pooja Insan, who was leaving the sect’s Sirsa headquarters on August 30 with her mother at the urging of Haryana police.

Enraptured by Singh’s larger-than-life movie persona in MSG 2, Pooja persuaded her mother to travel from their home in Rohtak to the Dera’s Sirsa estate within days of the film’s release in 2015. “We felt so good.

We were first given the naam (Insan), then there was a satsang and dance performances by children.” Since then, she has visited the Dera at least once a month. Now headed back home, Pooja and her mother said they didn’t know if they were ever coming back.

“We didn’t know anything about the rape charges. We have never spent a night inside the Dera. We don’t want to be a part of any controversy,” she said.

Ramji Insaan, a 35-year-old engineer, isn’t a recent follower. Like most Dalit families in Bajeka village of Haryana, he has followed the sect since its founding in 1946. “I took the name 15 years ago. The Dera is a big part of the village’s life. Hundreds of young men are employed by it.”

Since August 25, the day of Singh’s conviction by a CBI court, though, most of them have been avoiding the subject.

“We are waiting and watching,” said Ramji, playing cards with his friends under a shed in the village. Asked if he is going to return to the Dera for the usual satsang, he said, “Abhi kuch nahi kah sakte. Aage dekhenge (Can’t say anything now, will see how things go).”

http://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/i-am-going-back-to-sikhism-many-disillusioned-premis-renounce-dera/story-UCNkWkdB0TnuJS6WPdHDSN.html

The Hindu – Dera through the Punjab lens

There is a need to urgently address disquiet over multiple crises

Amandeep Singh Sandhu

Op/Ed, 30 August 2017. It was a decade ago that the shroud of banality ‘Saint Dr. Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh Insaan’ spun fell on Punjab, in particular the Sikh community. I saw it first-hand in the summer of 2007 when my mother lay dying from stage IV cancer in Mandi Dabwali, south Punjab, 40 km from Sirsa where he is the head of a Dera.

Soon after Baisakhi that year, Gurmeet Singh, whose rise remains shrouded in mystery and who was already charged with rape and accused in the murder of journalist Ramchandra Chhatrapati, had imitated the tenth Sikh Guru Gobind Singh’s clothing and ritual Khande di Pahul while conducting the initiation for the followers of his cult, the Dera Sacha Sauda.

The Sikh faith disallows the use of the term Sacha Sauda and anyone dressing up as a guru, the term because it is associated with the first guru, Guru Nanak. When he was younger, Guru Nanak’s father gave him some money for trade, which he used instead to feed the poor and hungry.

When his father asked if the deal was good, he answered it was a true deal, a sacha sauda. Though no one knows how Guru Gobind had dressed in the year 1699 at the inauguration of the Khalsa, the 20th century painter Sobha Singh had formalised the look of some of the gurus and the Sikh community had accepted the pictorial representation as an article of faith.

When the self-styled godman parodied this, the Sikhs reacted. The Dera followers, called Premis (lovers), were at war against the Sikhs. The police stepped in. Curfew was imposed.

Desperately and helplessly trapped, I could not leave my mother’s side. Punjab remained frozen for weeks. The community took this matter to its own court, the Akal Takht.

The rise of Gurmeet

In the last decade, the rise of the banality of Gurmeet Singh has known no bounds. He has taken on every available moniker, saint, doctor, Ram, Rahim, Insaan, and parrots messages of peace and harmony while leading a degenerate life.

He has amassed Guinness world records for the largest vegetable mosaic, highest number of birthday greetings, eye scan and blood donation camps. His biography lists over 50 talents in the arts and sports. His atrocious self-promotional movies succeeded at the box office and further established the strength of numbers of his followers.

Owing to his reach in the political constituencies of south Punjab and Haryana, political parties of all hues, the Akalis, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress, have patronised him.

Groups of Sikhs and Premis clashed, there were attempts on his life, but he seemed above the law, a power not only unto himself but a power broker in Haryana and Punjab.

In autumn 2015, the State froze over incidents of sacrilege of the Sikh Holy Book.

Again Gurmeet Singh was involved, for two reasons: one was his Dera’s alleged involvement in the stealing of a Granth Sahib from Burj Jawahar Singh Wala village, random posters appearing in villages saying the Dera would target the Sikhs; the second was the Akal Takht, under the influence of then Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal-controlled Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, finally pardoning Gurmeet Singh for the incidents of 2007, even though he never presented himself to the Takht.

When Sikhs protested, the Akal Takht revoked the pardon but the anger of community against their institutions falling prey to the shenanigans of politicians led to the Sarbat Khalsa (plenary meeting) which remained inconclusive. Even the probes into the 150-odd incidents of sacrilege remained inconclusive.

Change in the air

Yet, something remarkable was unfolding. Whether it is river waters or lack of disclosure of the reasons to conduct Operation Blue Star or justice for victims of the anti-Sikh carnage of 1984 or probe into extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances during the militancy period of 1978-93, the Indian state has spectacularly failed in any attempt towards truth and reconciliation in a post-conflict Punjab society.

But defying the dominant perception of the nation, even as the State was inflicted with desecrations, the people of Punjab, including Hindus and Muslims, curled up in anger. There were some provocations, but they were minor.

Social media rage turned to black flags, large gatherings took place, local gurdwaras supported the protesters, but Punjab displayed extraordinary restraint.

It did not spiral into violence. Once could be an exception but Punjab repeated it last week. The Dera Premi incidents in Panchkula left 38 dead and damage to properties in Haryana but not in Punjab.

Punjab is sending out a signal: it is shunning violence. Do not mistake this shunning of violence as an absence of disquiet. I see my mother in Punjab, multiple maladies, desperately waiting for medication and healing, which remains unavailable.

The disquiet looms large in its agrarian and industrial crises, the utter lack of social and economic healing despite the change of governments.

Now that the courts have acted, locked away one Baba, the next step should be to strengthen the people’s belief in systems of justice and address other long-standing grievances. It is only by establishing systems of individual and social justice that we can address post-conflict societies.

Amandeep Sandhu is working on a book on Punjab

http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/dera-through-the-punjab-lens/article19582459.ece

BBC News – How a divided India fuelled the rise of the gurus

Soutik Biswas India correspondent

New Delhi, 25 August 2017. The followers of a popular Indian guru* in northern India have rampaged through towns, vandalising property, setting railway stations on fire, smashing cars, setting media vans alight and clashing with security forces. Several lives have been lost in the violence.

They are angry because a court found Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh guilty of raping two women at the headquarters of his religious group, known as Dera Sacha Sauda, in 2002.

To his millions of supporters, mostly underprivileged, lower caste men and women, Singh is a protean leader of his flock. He mutates effortlessly from spiritual leader to flashy entertainer.

He talks about a life lived in “reasonable restraint”, but himself lives opulently. The guru of bling, as some call him, is the main actor in garish, self-produced films and the lead singer in noisy open air concerts packed to the gills by a captive audience of devoted follower-fans.

His first music album was curiously titled Highway Love Charger and apparently sold millions of copies.

The guru’s social outreach is equally intriguing. Singh runs charities, and so-called movements to promote blood, eye and cadaver donations.

He campaigns for vegetarianism. But he also makes gay men sign declarations vowing to “give up homosexual behaviour” under his “holy guidance”, and was once accused of forcing followers to undergo castration to “get closer to god”.

A journalist who visited the sprawling headquarters of Singh’s dera, a religious group, Punjab has more than 100 of them, told me she was struck by buildings with human ear-shaped windows and high turquoise walls topped with multi-coloured fruit-shaped water tanks.

“It seemed to me,” she told me, “that he’s a guru who lives out his dreams and fantasies, movie star, rock singer, do-gooder, political influencer, through his group and his devotees. In the process, he also helps his followers to dream big.”

India has always had gurus for as longer as one can remember. There are global gurus like the flamboyant Maharishi Mahesh Yogi to whom the Beatles turned to for spiritual salvation in the 1960s. And there are domestic gurus for rich and poor with huge followings.

The gurus count politicians, film and cricket stars, bureaucrats and ordinary people among their devotees. They run schools and hospitals. They peddle influence as superstitious politicians run to them for advice and votes of their devotees.

Proximity to a guru legitimises a politician and adds to his power. Gurus like Singh virtually run parallel states, providing services to followers.

The 50-year-old Singh, who will be sentenced on Monday, is one of the more controversial ones. In the past, gurus – or “godmen” as they are called in India, have been accused of murder, rape, trafficking, assault, sexual abuse and fraud.

Singh himself has been accused of mocking Sikh and Hindu figures, and investigated for murder and rape. Although the bulk of his devotees are lower caste, poor and underprivileged, his core group include highly-educated professional followers.

Many believe that millions of people flock to the dozens of religious groups like Singh’s because they feel that mainstream politics and religion have failed them. In what they feel is an increasingly inequitable world, they feel let down by their politicians and priests, and turn to gurus and shamans for succour.

“In many ways the rise of gurus like Singh tells us something about how conventional politics and religion have been failing a large number of people. So they turn to unconventional religion to seek some dignity and quality.

Such groups have arisen in many parts of the democratic, modern world. They find equality by sharing common spaces and ceremonies with millions of fellow followers,” sociologist Shiv Visvanathan told me.

Not without reason Singh’s followers share a common invented surname, Insan (Human), as opposed to an individual surname which reveals your caste and place in society.

Clearly, the rise of the gurus and religious groups tells us how deeply divided and hierarchical India remains. Friday’s violence once again showed how such gurus can end up running a parallel state, and the seeming powerlessness of the state itself.

  • Guru means bringer of light into darkness, the Bling Guru did the opposite !

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-41052605

The Hindu – The man who exposed Dera chief paid with his life

Suvojit Bagchi

Kolkata, 28 August 2017. On Monday when the court decides the quantum of punishment to Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, the family of one man, killed long back, would be praying for “maximum punishment” to the guilty.

The man, Ramchandra Chhatrapati, a Hindi language journalist from Sirsa, on the western border of Haryana, was the first to publish the anonymous complaint of one of the female followers of Ram Rahim Singh.

The report was eventually sent to many papers, officials and politicians. The complaint-letter, now a public document and circulating on the social media, explained how the self-styled godman exploited women.

Basis for verdict

It was on the basis of this letter, that was subsequently published in newspapers, along with other evidence, that the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) judge Jagdeep Singh finally held Ram Rahim Singh guilty on Friday.

“We hope that maximum punishment will be given to Ram Rahim Singh,” said Anshul Chhatrpati, the eldest son of Ramchandra Chhatrapati.

Fatally shot

Within months of publishing the anonymous letter of the female follower, known to Ramchandra, in 2002, he was fatally shot on October 24 of the same year. The letter was published in Mr Chhatrapati’s four-page Hindi eveninger, Poora Sach [Complete Truth]. Mr. Chhatrapati, who suffered five gunshot wounds, died on November 21 in hospital.

http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/the-man-who-exposed-dera-chief-paid-with-his-life/article19572098.ece

Dawn – Indian court sentences controversial guru to 20 years in prison on rape charges

Rohtak-Haryana-India, 28 August 2017. An Indian court on Monday sentenced the controversial and hugely popular spiritual leader Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh to two consecutive 10-year terms in prison for the rape of two women followers.

The sentence was pronounced amid intense security at a prison in the northern town of Rohtak, where the guru, who calls himself Dr Saint Gurmeet Singh Ram Rahim Insan, has been in a prison since his conviction on Friday.

Tens of thousands of his supporters set fire to cars and clashed with security forces, that left 38 dead, in the northern state of Haryana just minutes after Singh was found guilty of raping two of his followers.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi condemned the violence but his ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, which is also in power in Haryana, was criticised for failing to anticipate the riots.

More than 100 of Singh’s senior loyalists have been placed in detention as a precautionary measure, said Rohtak police chief Navdeep Singh Virk.

He said his officers would use “whatever force is required” to resist the guru’s devotees should they again resort to violence.

“If the situation so arises that (we) need to use firearms, my officers have complete authority,” the police chief told broadcaster NDTV.

A judge was flown by helicopter to sentence the 50-year-old spiritual leader known as the “guru in bling” for his penchant for bejewelled costumes.

The rape case was brought against him after an anonymous letter was sent to then-prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 2002 accusing Singh of repeatedly raping the sender and several other women in the sect.

A judge asked the Central Bureau of Investigation to look into the accusations, but it took years to trace the alleged victims and it was not until 2007 that two women came forward and filed charges.

An estimated 200,000 members of Singh’s Dera Sacha Sauda movement had gathered in the city of Panchkula in a show of support a day before his guilty verdict.

Violent protests followed across his power base in Haryana which borders New Delhi, with police deploying tear gas and water cannon.

Modi said on Sunday it was “natural to be worried” as the violence even briefly reached the capital New Delhi.

“Violence is not acceptable in the nation, in any form,” Modi said in his monthly radio address.

“Those who take law in their hands or take to violence will not be spared, whoever they are.” Followers of the self-styled “godman” continue to insist upon his innocence.

India has been rocked by numerous scandals involving popular ascetics claiming to possess mystical powers.

Singh’s Dera Sacha Sauda sect describes itself as a social welfare and spiritual organisation but he is no stranger to controversy.

In 2015 he was accused of encouraging 400 followers to undergo castration at his ashram so they could get closer to god.

He also stood trial for conspiracy over the murder of a journalist in 2002.

https://www.dawn.com/news/1354485/indian-court-sentences-controversial-guru-to-20-years-in-prison-on-rape-charges

The News – Indian city barricaded as ‘rape guru’ awaits sentencing

Sirsa-Haryana-India, 27 August 2017. Supporters of an Indian guru ended a tense standoff with soldiers Sunday after the “godman” was convicted of rape, but authorities are bracing for more trouble on the eve of his sentencing after rioting by devotees left 36 dead.

Thousands of followers of Ram Rahim Singh had congregated in the spiritual headquarters of his sect in the northern state of Haryana over the weekend and refused to leave, despite calls from police and troops for them to disperse.

Singh´s loyalists had gone on a rampage in many other parts of the state after the court decision Friday.

On Sunday, followers began trickling out from the compound in the town of Sirsa one by one under army guard.

Hundreds of soldiers and riot police had blocked approaches to the premises spread over 1,000 acres (404 hectares) and were urging those holed up inside to surrender peacefully.

A curfew imposed in Sirsa, where soldiers patrolled empty streets, was briefly lifted Sunday morning to allow Singh´s followers to leave the headquarters as spiritual anthems blared from megaphones.

Indian authorities have been on high alert since rioting and arson broke out minutes after Singh, who has starred in films and claims to have 50 million followers, was found guilty of raping two of his devotees.

Police said at least 36 people were killed as tens of thousands of followers took to the streets, attacking television vans and setting fire to dozens of vehicles.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said Sunday it was “natural to be worried” as the violence even briefly reached the capital New Delhi.

“Violence is not acceptable in the nation, in any form,” Modi said in his monthly radio address.

“Those who take law in their hands or take to violence will not be spared, whoever they are.”

But his ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, which is also in power in Haryana, has come under heavy fire for failing to prevent the outbreak of violence and allowing the 50-year-old guru to travel in a luxury chopper to jail.

Critics say state authorities grossly underestimated the risk posed by the 200,000-strong army of Singh devotees who poured onto the streets vowing to defend their spiritual leader who they consider innocent.

Father can do no sin” [bold]

Authorities are taking no such chances ahead of Monday, when Singh will be sentenced in a prison-side court hearing in Rohtak. He could face a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

The city has been heavily fortified ahead of the ruling, with roads blocked by barbed wire and residents warned to stay indoors.

“We have made multi-layered arrangements so that nobody is able to reach the venue (prison) or enter Rohtak district itself,” police deputy inspector general Navdeep Singh Virk told Indian broadcaster NDTV.

“I am fully confident everything will go on peacefully and there will be no untoward incident tomorrow (Monday).”

As a precautionary measure, all senior members of Singh´s Dera Sacha Sauda sect have been placed under “preventive detention”, he added.

The guilty verdict, and police response to the rioting that followed, enraged many of Singh´s supporters.

“Our father can never do any sin,” said devotee Trilok Insaan at a shop in Sirsa adorned with posters of a heavily-bearded Singh.

“This is a conspiracy. Authorities issued a ‘shoot at sight’ order at innocent devotees, which is totally wrong.”

India has been rocked by numerous scandals involving popular ascetics claiming to possess mystical powers, and Singh is no stranger to controversy.

He is known as the “guru in bling” because of his penchant for bejewelled costumes, and is often seen sporting flamboyant leather jackets and riding customised superbikes.

In 2015 he started a film franchise portraying him as MSG or the ‘Messenger of God’, performing miracles, preaching to thousands and beating up gangsters while singing and dancing.

His last flick ‘MSG – The Warrior Lion Heart’ was released last year, with the guru playing a secret agent fighting aliens and UFOs.

But he has previously been accused of encouraging 400 followers to undergo castration at his ashram so they could get closer to god.

He also stood trial for conspiracy over the murder of a journalist in 2002.

https://www.thenews.com.pk/latest/226378-Indian-city-barricaded-as-rape-guru-awaits-sentencing