The Messenger of Evil
GURMEET RAM RAHIM SINGH, 50
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.