The Mes­sen­ger of Evil

GURMEET RAM RAHIM SINGH, 50

India Today - - OTHER NEWS MAKER - —Asit Jolly

For rear­ing a sor­did cult of crime, sex­ual vi­o­lence and ill-got­ten wealth un­til the law caught up with him

Hamein maarna apne aap ko maarne ke barabar hai (to kill me is akin to killing your­self).’ The men­ac­ing tagline of the Dera Sacha Sauda chief ’s cin­e­matic de­but, MSG: The Mes­sen­ger of God, in Jan­uary 2015, was meant to be a warn­ing: “Don’t mess with me!” Years be­fore that, Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh had mock­ingly said to a young sad­hvi af­ter he raped her: “There is no doubt that I am God.” It took 15 years, over 200 court hear­ings and the de­ter­mi­na­tion of two women (his own fol­low­ers; one a mi­nor) to bring down Singh, the un­ques­tioned lord of 70 mil­lion dot­ing ad­her­ents and a sprawl­ing em­pire, the worth of which is still to be prop­erly as­sessed.

Twenty-seven years af­ter he as­sumed the lead­er­ship of Dera Sacha Sauda, based in Haryana’s Sirsa, and ac­cu­mu­lated sig­nif­i­cant po­lit­i­cal mus­cle across Pun­jab and Haryana, Singh stood all alone in­side the makeshift CBI spe­cial court at Ro­htak’s Su­naria Jail on Au­gust 28. “The con­vict did not even spare his own pi­ous dis­ci­ples and acted like a wild beast. He does not de­serve any mercy,” said Jagdeep Singh, the judge, hand­ing down the sen­tence—20 years of hard labour and a Rs 30.2 lakh fine for two counts of rape and crim­i­nal in­tim­i­da­tion; an ad­di­tional four years of jail time if he failed to de­posit the pre­scribed fine.

But there is a lot more in store for Singh in 2018. He is also charged with two counts of con­spir­acy and mur­der—that of jour­nal­ist Ram Chan­dra Ch­ha­tra­p­ati and Ran­jit Singh, once a mem­ber of his co­terie at the dera. In­ves­ti­gated by the CBI, the mur­der tri­als as also charges of or­der­ing the forcible cas­tra­tion of some 400 of his dis­ci­ples are at an ad­vanced stage. Singh’s spec­tac­u­lar rise and abrupt fall from grace is in­ex­tri­ca­bly en­meshed with a dis­turb­ing so­ci­o­log­i­cal re­al­ity. Pun­jab, Haryana and most other north In­dian states have wit­nessed a grow­ing ‘dera cul­ture’—self-styled god­men head­ing sects with fol­low­ings tran­scend­ing re­li­gion and caste, but in­vari­ably from the eco­nomic and so­cial mar­gins of so­ci­ety. The ris­ing num­ber of fol­low­ers points to the ab­ject fail­ure of both the state and main­stream re­li­gion to guar­an­tee even a ba­sic modicum of dig­nity and se­cu­rity.

With over 3,000 de­ras in Pun­jab alone, glib-talk­ing gu­rus—many with shades of Gurmeet Singh’s gar­ish mix of buf­foon­ery and show­man­ship—have no dearth of gullible faith­ful.

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