Who is Gurmeet Ram Rahim - Rockstar, Godman and Now Rape Convict?
Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh’s Twitter profile – commanding a following of 3.2 million users – describes him as a "Spiritual saint/Philanthropist/Versatile singer/All-rounder sportsperson/Film director/Actor/Art director/Music director/Writer/Autobiographer”.
His website, which refers to him as 'Saint Dr Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh Ji Insan', is replete with eulogies and divine invocations/references.
On Friday, 25 August, in a hearing by special CBI court in Panchkula, Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh was convicted of raping two women. The court is expected to announce the quantum of punishment on Monday.
There is no doubt that Ram Singh Rahim, self-styled godman chief of the Dera Sacha Sauda (DSS) – one of the biggest deras (which are religious congregations) – is a man of many shades. But what are obviously not referred to in these descriptions are the murkier hues of his personality.
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In 2007, the godman courted controversy when he dressed up in an attire that allegedly resembled that of Sikh Guru Gobind Singh. This continues to attract the ire of many Sikhs till date.
Here, we try to decode the burly, glitzy clothes-wearing godman, fondly referred to as ‘Guruji’ by his followers.
Taking Dera Sacha Sauda to New Heights
Born to a rich landlord in Rajasthan's Sri Ganganagar on 15 August 1967, Rahim did not become a follower of Sikhism, unlike his parents. He took over the Dera Sacha Sauda in 1990, which was established in 1948, at the paltry age of 23. He became its third chief, succeeding Shah Satnam Singh.
The accounting of Rahim's life on his website cites various spiritual and divine encounters in his early life. The website also says that a saint prophesied that "He shall go to Almighty Master" after he attained the age of 23.
A network of ashrams – some occupying several acres of land – have been at the forefront of increasing the support base for the organisation.
The influence is not just confined to India, but extends to the US, the UK, Canada, Australia and the UAE where several Dera branches have been set up.
Ram Rahim’s Support Base And Political Influence
Ram Rahim and his organisation primarily draw support from the rural areas of Punjab and Haryana, and especially among Dalit Sikhs.
The godman has also wielded considerable political influence. Though the DSS calls him "apolitical", the organisation's participation in various elections of various states – including Haryana, Delhi and even Bihar – has been significant.
In the Haryana Assembly polls of 2014, the DSS' political wing Saadh Sangat Rajnitik rallied behind the BJP, and it is said that the godman's influence in various districts of the state helped the party to gain power in a number of constituencies.
BJP's chief Kailash Vijayvargiya even spearheaded a delegation of 40 BJP candidates before the election seeking the godman's support.
Now, How Did ‘Guruji’ Become So Popular?
But what exactly has made Ram Rahim's organisation gain the following of 60 million faithfuls, as has been claimed on the Dera website?
The answer seems to lie in the seamless integration of his glitzy, glamour-oriented image with his organisation's proactive social welfare work that ranges from sanitation drives and disaster relief operations to fighting for the rights of transgenders.
Aditya Insaan, the DSS' official spokesperson locates Ram Rahim's aura in his rockstar image.
And he does seems like quite an active rockstar too, having at least six music albums to his name, all between 2012 and 2015 – Chashma Yaar Ka (2012), Network Tera Love Ka (2012), Highway Love Charger (2014), Lov Rab Se (2013), Insan (2012) and Thank You For That (2012).
And if that was not enough, there are also five movies (three of which are part of the Messenger of God franchise) in which he has assumed not just the actor's role, but also those of the director and the music composer. The sixth one (part of the Messenger of God franchise) is in the pipeline.
The organisation's work during the Uttarakhand and Jammu & Kashmir flash floods of 2013 and 2014 respectively have been widely talked about. And so has been the case with various sanitation drives and blood donation camps (that have been organised not just in India, but also abroad).
Rape And Murder Accusations
While on one hand Ram Rahim is revered by thousands, on the other, his name has also figured in rape and murder cases. The rape case for which the verdict will be delivered on Friday dates back to 2002, based on the complaints of two sadhvis who said that they were sexually exploited by the godman at the sect's headquarters in Haryana's Sirsa.
The killing of DSS member Ranjit Singh on 10 July 2002 made the case even murkier, with Ram Rahim being named as an accused. Ranjit was believed to have been involved in the drafting of an anonymous letter making rape allegations against the DSS chief.
Around the same time, Ram Chander Chattrapati, a Sirsa-based journalist who reported on the nefarious happenings within the DSS, was also murdered.
Ram Rahim And His 'Divine Interventions'
The countless supporters of Ram Rahim display a kind of faith in him which is absolute.
This is exemplified by an experience that one of his followers recounts:
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