A high-profile and controversial Indian guru, Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, who was convicted of rape on Friday, has been sentenced to 20 years in jail and fined 3 million Indian rupees (about $46,000).
The so-called “godman” was ordered to serve 10 years rigorous imprisonment each for raping two of his female followers in 2002. The court has said the sentences will run consecutively, and not concurrently, which means he will have to spend a total of 20 years behind bars.
Known as the “Guru of Bling” and “Rockstar Baba” for his flashy clothes and lifestyle, the millionaire reportedly broke down and asked forgiveness when the judge announced the sentence.
The victims have decided to ask a higher court to demand a tougher punishment. The guru’s lawyers, who asked for a lighter sentence in view of his “humanitarian” work, will also challenge the verdict.
Rape convicts in India face a minimum of seven years jail and a maximum of life term. In rare cases, like the December 2012 gang rape of a medical student that sparked outrage worldwide, death sentences are also handed out.
The guru was convicted on Friday by the special court of India’s premier investigation agency, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). Minutes later, around 100,000 of his followers who had converged around the court in Haryana state’s Panchkula town, went on a rampage. Three hours of violence, arson and clashes between his followers and the security personnel left 38 people dead and over 200 injured.
A senior police officer in Haryana told the press today “tough action will be taken against the rioters.”
To avoid a repeat of Friday’s violence, today security forces were out in the thousands to stop the guru’s followers from resorting to violence. A curfew was imposed in parts of Haryana and Punjab states. The guru’s 100-acre headquarters in Haryana’s Sirsa town, where thousands of his followers have been camping for days, was highly fortified.
A makeshift courtroom was set up in a jail in Rohtak, hundreds of kilometers away, for the sentencing today. The judge was flown in by helicopter.
The trial in the rape cases dragged on for 15 years. The 50-year-old guru, who claims to have millions of followers, is seen as close to several politicians. His victims have been kept under police protection all these years to ensure they were not pressured to drop the charges.
The victims’ lawyer, Utsav Singh Bains, told the press there may be more sexual abuse victims who may have been killed or were too scared to come out and testify against the guru.
Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh is facing even more serious legal trouble ahead, with two murder cases scheduled to be heard in the same court next month.
One case involves the death of a journalist, Ram Chander Chhatrapati, who was shot in 2002 for allegedly exposing the rape cases against the guru. He survived for a few days to name Ram Rahim in his statement to the police.
The guru is also accused in the murder of Ranjit Singh, a member of his sect, Dera Sacha Sauda. Ranjit Singh was allegedly killed for helping expose the sexual abuse of devotees inside the ashram.
Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh is also being investigated for allegedly persuading hundreds of his followers to undergo castration for “purity” and “closeness to God”.