By Prakash Singh
n Indian court on
Aug. 28 sentenced a
leader to a total of 20
years in prison for
raping two of his
devotees, days after his follow-
ers went on a rampage that left
The riots broke out on Aug. 25
when Gurmeet Ram Rahim
Singh, 50, was convicted of raping the two women at the
sprawling headquarters of his
hugely popular Dera Sacha
Sauda sect in Haryana in a case
that dates back to 1999.
“He has been sentenced for
10 plus 10, which is a total of 20
years of imprisonment,” said
Abhishek Dayal, spokesman for
India’s Central Bureau of
Investigation (CBI), after the
“I have the judgement which
details the sentence.”
A lawyer for the victims earli-
er told AFP that Singh had been
sentenced to 10 years in jail. In
fact, he was given two consecu-
tive 10-year sentences.
Authorities had imposed a
security clampdown on the city
of Rohtak where Singh is being
held due to fears of a repeat of
the Aug. 25 violence, when tens
of thousands of his supporters
set fire to cars and clashed with
Prime Minister Narendra
Modi condemned the violence
but his ruling Bharatiya Janata
Party, which is also in power in
Haryana, was criticized for failing to anticipate the riots.
Police were taking no chances
Aug. 28 in Rohtak, where mobile
internet has been cut, roads barricaded with barbed wire and
soldiers deployed to man checkpoints.
More than 100 of Singh’s senior loyalists had 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”
against the guru’s devotees
should they again resort to vio-
“If the situation so arises that
(we) need to use firearms, my
officers have complete authori-
ty,” the police chief told broad-
A judge was flown in by heli-
copter to sentence the spiritual
leader, known as the “guru in
bling” for his penchant for
The rape case was brought
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 federal
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.
Utsav Singh Bains, a lawyer
for the victims, said there could
be dozens more cases of abuse
involving women at the sect.
“We believe there are at least
48 more victims who were sexu-
ally abused and who may have
been killed or are too scared to
come out and testify against
Ram Rahim,” he told AFP by
Singh also stood trial for con-
spiracy over the murder in 2002
of a journalist investigating the
rape allegations. He denied the
charge and the case is ongoing.
Over the weekend thousands
of followers congregated in the
spiritual headquarters of his sect
at Sirsa, despite calls from police
and troops for them to disperse.
Devotees eventually began
trickling out one by one from
the compound Aug. 27, under
the supervision of hundreds of
soldiers and riot police.
Modi said on Aug. 27 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,” he said
in his monthly radio address.
“Those who take law in their
hands or take to violence will
not be spared, whoever they
Haryana authorities came
under fire grossly underestimating the risk posed by the army of
devotees after violent protests
in many parts of the northern
state on Aug. 25.
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 sect describes itself as
a social welfare and spiritual
organization 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.
INDIA ABROAD September 8, 2017 26 INDIA
Indian court sentences Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh for 20 years for rape amid tight security
Accusations include rape, murder, religious antagonization
By Abhaya Srivastava
— NEW DELHI
Gurmeet Ram Rahim
Singh inspired extraor-
dinary devotion in India, where
huge crowds flocked to hear his
teachings — even after he was
accused of rape in a high-profile
case that ended in conviction.
Singh counted film stars,
cricketers and politicians
among his legions of supporters.
But the most devoted were
the vast numbers of ordinary
Indians, many of them poor,
who flocked to the sprawling
headquarters of his controversial sect in Haryana to hear his
There, delirious devotees
were said to weep with joy and
fall at his feet for blessings.
They called Singh “pita-ji”,
or “revered father”, and said his
message of living simply and
eschewing meat and alcohol
had changed their lives.
That Singh’s own life was far
from simple did not seem to
50-year-old was dubbed the
“guru in bling” for his flamboyant wardrobe, which included
trousers emblazoned with
He travelled in a convoy of
SUVs, starred in pop videos and
even launched his own
“Messenger of God” movie
franchise in which he per-
formed miracles, preached to
thousands and beat up gang-
sters — all while singing and
In the latest, “MSG — The
Warrior Lion Heart”, he played
a secret agent fighting aliens
and UFOs. That spawned a line
of merchandise including T-shirts, caps and other insignia
emblazoned with Singh’s smiling face.
But the razzamatazz of his
showbusiness career concealed
a darker side to Singh’s story.
In 2002 an anonymous letter
was sent to then prime minister
Atal Bihari Vajpayee accusing
the guru of repeatedly raping
the sender and several other
women at the headquarters of
his sect in Haryana.
A judge asked the Central
Bureau of Investigations 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 their complaint.
A local journalist who had
covered the case was later
killed. Singh still faces a conspiracy charge for alleged
involvement, which he denies.
He is also being investigated
for allegedly persuading up to
400 of his followers to undergo
Despite the charges he faced,
Dark History Behind India’s ‘Guru in Bling’
Continued on page 28