Ram Rahim Singh, a politically powerful religious teacher and head of the Haryana-based Dera Sacha Sauda (DSS), has been found guilty on charges of rape.
Both the nationally dominant Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the opposition Congress Party, which have requested and received support from the DSS in the past, are looking to distance themselves from the religious organization in light of the verdict.
Ram Rahim’s followers did not take the news lightly; they have convulsed the state in rioting and nearly 40 have lost their lives (thus far) in altercations with police forces. As of this writing, nearly 30,000 followers are encamped at their headquarters and are refusing to disband.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
While he did not single out the DSS, Indian Prime Minster Narendra Modi implicitly condemned the actions of the group in his monthly radio address Mann Ki Baat.
“Violence in the name of faith will not be tolerated,” he said. “In the Constitution given to us by Dr. Baba Saheb Ambedkar, there is every provision for ensuring justice for each and every person. I want to assure my countrymen that people who take the law into their own hands are on the path of violent suppression.”
Delhi has requested that the Haryana government provide Judge Jagdeep Singh, who presided over the case, with adequate security as conditions on the ground remain tense. The Home Ministry said that it will monitor the situation and provide central government forces if intelligence indicates that they are necessary.
The guru became a significant player in regional politics by turning his believers into a dependable vote bank.
The DSS supported the ruling BJP in the 2014 general election and in the Haryana assembly elections. Congress governments and politicians have also sought favors from Ram Rahim in the past. The Dera recommended voting for the Congress Party in 2007.
BJP Member of Parliament Sakshi Maharaj attracted controversy by questioning the court’s guilty verdict. “Gurmeet Ram Rahim is a noble soul,” he said. “This is a conspiracy to defame Indian culture and the holy people.”
Congress politicians quickly seized on the remarks and demanded that Maharaj be disciplined. Pankaj Chaturvedi told ANI that Maharaj’s comments have offended women and the PM should “take stern action against him.”
Kailash Vijaywargiya, a BJP leader, quickly sought to distance the party from Maharaj by briefing the media that these were Maharaj’s personal views and did not reflect the party line.
The Dera Sacha Sauda calls itself a social welfare and spiritual organization committed to “humanitarianism and selfless service to others.”
It was established on April 29, 1948, by Beparawah Mastana Ji Maharaj and counts 60 million people as followers. Ram Rahim took control of the group in 1990. Most followers are Dalits but Sikhs, Muslims and Christians form sizable minorities.