India

Lurid tales of India's rapist guru

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Despite serious criminal charges against him, Singh became the "rockstar baba", acting in films and performing rock concerts

Until his conviction and arrest on Friday for rape, Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh appeared invincible.

But now, sent to prison for 20 years, the controversial Indian guru's fall from grace is complete and lurid details of his life are emerging, writes the BBC's Geeta Pandey in Delhi.

The first whiff of scandal in Singh's sprawling compound in the northern state of Haryana came in 2002 when one of his female disciples wrote an anonymous letter accusing him of rape.

In the letter, addressed to then PM Atal Behari Vajpayee, she described her plight in detail.

"Maharaj (Singh) took me in his embrace and said that he loved me from the core of his heart. He also said that he wanted to make love with me," she wrote in the letter.

"He told me that at the time of becoming his disciple, I had dedicated my wealth, body and soul to him and he had accepted my offering. When I objected he said, 'There is no doubt that I am God'."

She alleged that he threatened to kill her, saying that since her family members were his "devoted followers with blind faith in him", they wouldn't go against him.

And if they did, he said, it would be a futile exercise since he enjoyed "considerable influence with governments" and politicians and that he would have them sacked from their jobs and get them killed too.

The letter writer alleged that she was raped repeatedly over three years, that she was not the only one being exploited, and that if "the press or some government agency" investigated her allegations, "40 to 50 girls living in the Dera Sacha Sauda campus would come forward to reveal the truth".

It was this letter that resulted in the Punjab and Haryana High Court asking India's federal police, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), to conduct an investigation, which eventually led to Singh's conviction and sentencing.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Singh claims to have 60 million followers

"He's a very powerful man and it took the CBI and courts 15 years to bring him to justice," Utsav Singh Bains, lawyer to the two rape survivors, told the BBC.

"The women are in hiding, they are living under constant fear. They have been threatened and intimidated, every dirty trick in the book was applied against them, still they have braved it out.

"Now that he's been convicted and jailed, the threat of intimidation is reduced, we are going to appeal in the court and ask that the CBI investigate other charges of rape," Mr Bains said.

Singh is also an accused in the murder case of Ram Chander Chhatrapati, the editor of a local Haryana newspaper Poora Sach (Whole Truth), who was shot dead just weeks after he published the explosive letter. Lawyers say a judgement in the case is expected in the next few months. Singh has denied the allegation against him.

But despite serious criminal charges against him, until his conviction, Singh led an enviable life, amassing massive wealth and picking up millions of new followers.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Anshul Chhatrapati holds a photo of his journalist father Ram Chander Chhatrapati who was killed after he published in his newspaper a letter which accused Singh of rape
Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption After Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh's conviction on Friday, his followers turned violent

Known as the "guru of bling" because of his love for outlandish outfits and jewellery, Singh became the "rockstar baba", acting in films, performing rock concerts, rubbing shoulders with the high and mighty in India.

As a show of strength, he arrived in court on Friday in a cavalcade of more than 100 cars, as tens of thousands of supporters gathered in nearby towns praying for him to be acquitted and threatening to "wipe India off the world map" if he were convicted.

After the guilty verdict, as he was flown to prison in a nearby town in a helicopter, the presence of a young woman with him raised many eyebrows.

Singh claims that this is his adopted daughter, Honeypreet Insan, even though some have questioned the nature of their relationship.

The two are often pictured together in public and on her Facebook page, she describes him as her "best friend", her "father" and her "bro".

Since Friday's violence by his supporters when some 38 people were killed, his political connections have also come under scrutiny.

With tens of millions of followers, he had the ability to influence poll outcomes and was courted by India's main political parties, Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Image copyright Courtesy: Honeypreet Insan
Image caption Singh is often seen with Honeypreet Insan and on her Facebook page, she describes him as her "best friend", her "father" and her "bro"

In 2007, he supported Congress, but in recent years, he has thrown his lot behind the BJP and in the run up to the 2014 Haryana state assembly elections, he issued a statement asking his followers to vote for the BJP.

Since the party's win, he's been photographed with Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar on a number of occasions and in October 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi praised him at an election rally in Sirsa, the town where his campus is headquartered.

A few days later, Mr Modi followed it up with a tweet praising him for taking part in a campaign to clean up India.

The extent of Singh's political influence can be gauged from the fact that he was provided what is known as the "Z-plus security" - a category reserved only for the most prominent politicians in the country.

But on Monday, reports coming in from the court described Singh as a broken man who begged for forgiveness and wept profusely.

The judge was unmoved and sentenced him to two 10-year jail terms which are to run consecutively, not concurrently.

Singh's lawyers have said they will appeal against his conviction. Lawyers opposing him have said they will ask for an increase in his sentence.

The fight is expected to go on in higher courts.

Related Topics