Indian guru jailed for rape and murder allowed 131 days of parole in 13 months, sparking outrage
Disgraced Indian guru Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh was in 2017 sentenced to 20 years in jail for raping two women followers and subsequently got another two life terms in prison for murdering two people, including a journalist who exposed his rampant sexual abuse.
But the high-profile leader of the Dera Sacha Sauda sect, a religious cult with one million followers worldwide, has been out of prison on parole for 131 days in the past 13 months.
During his recent parole, he held celebrations with a young woman, whom he calls his “adopted daughter”, and showy videos of these festivities went viral after being released on social media.
The videos sparked public outrage in India.
In one of the videos, he is seen cutting a cake with Honeypreet Insan, his “adopted daughter”, to mark her Instagram account reaching one million followers. In another video, Singh can be seen cutting a large cake with a sword.
The videos made headlines in the country, with critics asking why the authorities allowed Singh “frequent parole”. On social media, many, too, wondered how Singh could get out of jail.
Since August 2017, Singh has been held at Sunaria jail in the northern state of Haryana for raping two of his followers in 2002. He was sentenced to 20 years in jail.
Ram Chander Chhatrapati was shot outside his home in 2002, after the local newspaper he ran published an anonymous letter describing widespread sexual abuse by Singh at his luxurious sect headquarters in the state of Punjab.
Three of Singh’s close aides were also convicted and sentenced to life in jail over the murder.
In 2021, Singh received another life sentence for the murder of his employee Ranjit Singh, who was shot in a village in Kurukshetra, Haryana in July 2002. He was reportedly murdered because Singh suspected he circulated an anonymous letter that revealed the sexual exploitation of women followers in the sect.
Four other individuals were convicted for the murder and received life sentences.
Despite the life terms and severity of his crimes, Singh has been out of jail frequently.
In February 2022, he was granted a 21-day furlough. In that same year, he was granted parole in June for 30 days and 40 days in October.
On Jan 21, 2023, Singh was let out for another 40 days.
It is not known why he was granted parole.
On Jan 24, New Delhi Television reported that Singh had said in his bail application that he wanted to attend an event to mark the birth anniversary of Dera Sacha Sauda’s former chief Shah Satnam Singh on Jan 25.
In a video, Singh was heard saying: “Got a chance after five years to celebrate like this, so I should cut at least five cakes. This is the first cake.”
Sikhism’s highest religious organisation, the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), has filed a petition in court challenging his parole, saying “it sends a wrong message to society”.
SGPC general secretary Gurcharan Singh Grewal told the BBC that Singh was “a disgrace” and his presence outside jail was “bad for society”.
However, an official from the Dera Sacha Sauda sect told the BBC that “parole is a right of all prisoners, it’s a human right”.
“He’s spending his time in spiritual discourse, he’s working hard to address problems of people, working on the de-addiction programme,” said the official, claiming that 100,000 people every day were quitting drugs because of Singh.
Until his conviction in 2017, Singh was one of India’s most influential religious leaders.
He was known as the “guru of bling” because of his love for outlandish outfits and jewellery. He was also called “rockstar baba” as he has acted in films he made, held his own rock concerts, and rubbed shoulders with the who’s who of India.
For years, Singh was courted by the country’s main political parties, including the governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), for his ability to influence election outcomes by asking his followers to vote for one party or the other.
He has thrown his lot behind the BJP in recent years. In the run-up to the 2014 Haryana state assembly election, Singh urged his followers to vote for the party, which went on to win the election.
His influence has not waned, it seems, even after being sent to jail.
The BBC said reports showed that Singh has been holding virtual meetings with tens of thousands of followers in his ashram in Barnawa, in Uttar Pradesh.
Opposition parties began accusing the BJP of having a hand in the parole.
The party’s chief spokesman in Haryana, Mr Sanjay Sharma, denied that the BJP or its government had any role in granting Singh parole.
“The individuals who visit him or attend his discourses do it because they have faith in him. We don’t have a soft corner for him, we let the law take its own course,” Mr Sharma told the BBC.
He added that “it’s the jail authorities or the district administration that approve parole” and that “it’s all being done within the ambit of the law”.
Divisional commissioner Sanjeev Verma, head of administration of Rohtak district where the jail housing Singh is located, refused to answer the BBC’s questions on his parole. He said the matter was in court.
Director general of prisons Mohammad Akil also refused to speak, but said two earlier petitions against Singh’s parole were thrown out by the courts.