New Delhi,August 25 (The Hindu/IANS): At least 30 people were killed when protesters went on the rampage following the arrest of a popular Hindu Godman in Haryana in North India on Friday.
Thousands of supporters of Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, who is the head of Sirsa-based Dera Sacha Sauda, went on the rampage, setting fire to vehicles, buildings and railway stations soon after a special CBI court convicted him in a 2002 rape case. Police responded by opening fire. The unrest which began in Panchkula where the verdict was handed down, spread to other parts of Haryana and Punjab and even New Delhi where a bus and train were set on fire.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted” “The instances of violence today are deeply distressing. I strongly condemn the violence & urge everyone to maintain peace. The law & order situation is being closely monitored. I reviewed the situation with the NSA & Home Secretary. Urged officials to work round the clock to restore normalcy and provide all possible assistance that is required.”
Seen as an convict under law, treated as a god by his millions of followers, courted by politicians and political parties, protected by the police with Z-plus security cover and targeted by Sikh radicals, Dera Sacha Sauda sect chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, is as controversial as he is colorful.
The sect chief, who turned 50 on the same day when the country marked 70 years of Independence, was convicted of rape by a CBI court in Panchkula on Friday, leading to some violence by his supporters. He has two shades to his personality as the head of the cash-rich Dera Sacha Sauda (DSS) sect — one of leader of social causes and another for controversies. He led an enigmatic life of ultra-luxury and pomp in public appearances
The sect has under its belt several Guinness World Records, including largest blood donation camps in 2003, 2004 and 2010; has rehabilitated prostitutes, transgenders, alcoholics and drug addicts; and carried out disaster relief — from the December 2004 Tsumani and Gujarat earthquake to flash floods in Uttarakhand.
The social activities of the sect — from blood donation camps to running educational institutions and carrying out social welfare measures, have made it popular among millions of its followers, mostly from the poorers sections of the oppressed castes in society.
The DSS claims that it has over 7 crore followers across the country and abroad. A vast majority of these are in Haryana, Punjab and Rajasthan.
Who is Gurmit Ram Rahim Singh
The sect chief enjoys Z-plus security cover from the Haryana government, despite having been charged by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on two counts of murder conspiracy and one count of rape and sexual exploitation of a ‘sadhvi’ (female disciple), IANS says.
Addressed as ‘Saint Dr Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh Ji Insan’ on the DSS official website, the sect chief has been involved in a major controversy with the Sikh community since April 2007 after he attired himself on the lines of 10th Sikh guru, Gobind Singh, during a ceremony. His action led to large scale violence in Punjab, Haryana, Jammu and other places.
Given the threat to his life, especially from Sikh radicals, Singh moves around in a fleet of bulletproof Land Cruisers and Mercedes SUVs and other luxury vehicles, and flies in private helicopters and aircraft.
He has survived assassination attempts in the past.
Wherever he goes, his followers, in thousands, reach that place much before him. At times, this brings normal life in cities and towns to a halt.
In the last few years, the sect chief has taken a fancy for films, He has acted in, directed, written and produced three films, figuring as the hero in them. All films had multi-crore budgets and released in 4,000-plus screens across the country.
He has sung songs in these films and has released albums like “Highway Love Charger” — unleashing his ‘rockstar’ avatar. His other music albums include “Network Tere Love Da”, “Thank U for That” and “Insan — one who lives for others”.
(The featured picture at the top shows the violence unleashed by protesters i Panchkula.Photo: The Hindu).