Of Protests and Delayed Arrests: Violence in the Name of Babas

The Quint takes a look at the times violence has broken out in the name of India’s many godmen.

3 min read
Of Protests and Delayed Arrests: Violence in the Name of Babas

The conviction of Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh in a 2002 rape case by a CBI court triggered large-scale violence and arson by his supporters (known as ‘premis’) leaving 38 people dead so far.

A special CBI judge will pronounce the sentence against Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh on Monday afternoon.

The Quint takes a look at the times violence has broken out in the name of India’s many godmen, whether over their arrests or controversial remarks.


Sant Rampal

Much like Ram Rahim’s case, Sant Rampal’s expected arrival at the Panchkula court in September 2014 saw the police on edge after hundreds of his followers gathered to protest against his arrest in a murder case.

Rampal’s followers have historically been known for creating disruptions every time their leader was slated for a hearing in the murder case. In July 2014, thousands of his followers went on a rampage at a Hisar court that was hearing the case and disrupted the proceedings.

By 2014, Rampal had evaded arrest 42 times, and was given ‘exemption from arrest’ after his followers repeatedly caused disruptions. By the time he was arrested on 19 November 2014, his followers had delayed the event by over two weeks, forming human chains and lying on railway tracks to stop the police from entering his Satlok Ashram in Hisar.


A controversial self-styled godman, Nithyanada came under the media's radar when a Kannada TV Channel aired an interview with one of his followers who was allegedly raped by him.

Arathi Rao, a follower of Nithyananda, told the news channel that he had repeatedly raped her and threatened her against revealing it to anybody.

Following the channel's expose, several of Nithyananda's followers came forward with similar charges, forcing the then CM of Karnataka Sadananda Gowda to order his arrest.

Meanwhile, the violence in the ashram spiralled out of control when several other followers of Nithyananda evicted a journalist from the ashram, allegedly beating him up.


Asaram Bapu

Protesting Asaram Bapu’s arrest on 1 September 2013, several of his followers clashed with the police and journalists outside his Jodhpur ashram, with over thirteen people being detained for the violence.

Attacking the journalists, the violent mob allegedly snatched away mics and cameras, injuring the reporters who had arrived to cover the event.

Bapu was charged with the rape of a 16-year-old girl in his ashram, after she lodged a complaint with Jodhpur police on 20 August 2013.

Ashutosh Maharaj

The founder of Divya Jyoti Jagriti Sanstha, a spiritual non-profit organisation, Ashutosh Maharaj was often involved in clashes with conservative Sikhs who opposed his teachings, citing religious sentiments.

In December 2009, a violent clash ensued between Sikh protesters and the police over Maharaj's religious conference in Ludhiana, leaving one dead.

The police had reportedly opened fire on the protesters who had descended upon the venue with lathis and swords.

Following the violence, curfew was imposed in five police station areas in the city for over two days.

Maharaj died on 29 January 2014.


Sarathi Baba

A self-styled godman from Odisha, Sarathi Baba courted controversy when a TV channel broadcast a report on 4 August 2015, which showed him dressed in jeans and t-shirt, entering the lobby of a Hyderabad hotel with a girl in tow.

On 5 August, a group of Sarathi Baba’s supporters organised a press conference in Bhubaneshwar in defence of the Baba, denying the photographs that were aired on TV channels, stating that he had done no wrong.

However, a women’s rights group surrounded the press conference, demanding the baba’s arrest, ultimately forcing the police to come and save the organisers of the press meet. The ensuing clashes between protesters and the police delayed the arrest of Sarathi Baba, who was finally taken into police custody from his ashram on 8 August, 2015.

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