Emboldened by Monday’s court ruling, more rape survivors may come forward to file cases against Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh. Photo: AFP

The two 10-year jail terms awarded to a self-styled Indian “godman” on Monday for raping two inmates (sadhvis) of his hermitage were too light and too late, critics say. They want him to serve life terms of 14 years for each of the cases.

Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, 50, the spiritual leader of Dera Saacha Sauda (“Camp True Deal”), abused two girls who worshipped him like a god and stood guard outside the cave where he slept.  The repeated assaults took place at the sect’s headquarters in Sirsa, Haryana, 15 years ago.

Ram Rahim even tried to make the girls believe these acts purified them. All female inmates of the hermitage called him Pitaji (“father”) and they used the code word Pitaji’s maafi (“father’s pardon”) for rapes he committed.

He was no saint or social reformer. He was a hedonist who loved dressing up in costumes, rode custom-made cars and bikes, played the super-hero in his own films and entertained followers with his dances and songs in live shows.

Ram Rahim, who has over 500,000 followers, was able to fetch their votes to help put parties in power. In return, he enjoyed those parties’ patronage and protection

This rocking baba enjoyed so much clout that mainstream political parties remained tight-lipped when he was convicted for rape by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) court last week in Panchkula city in Haryana.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government, which rules Haryana, had so much faith in Ram Rahim and his followers that they ignored intelligence reports of violence his conviction was predicted to trigger.

After he was convicted on Friday, state police simply watched as his followers set fire to parked vehicles and government offices, entered residential areas to molest women and clashed with security forces. Three hours of rioting left 30 people dead, most of them from outside Panchkula.

Ram Rahim may face fresh charges of inciting his followers to indulge in violence at Panchkula. Emboldened by Monday’s court ruling, however, more rape victims may come forward to file cases against him. The two former sadhvis whom he raped want to see the high court revise its sentencing to make Ram Rahim serve life terms.

Meanwhile, Anshul, the son of journalist Ram Chander Chhatrapati – who is alleged to have been killed by Ram Rahim’s men for exposing the sadhvis’ rapes – is currently pressing his case in Panchkula’s CBI court.

Monday’s ruling is a stern warning to all those who masquerade as holy men to prey on women. It also underlines the need to delink politics from religion and to rein in fake gurus who are a law unto themselves. Ram Rahim, who has over 500,000 followers, was able to fetch their votes to help put parties in power. In return, he enjoyed those parties’ patronage and protection.

Hailing from Gurusar Modia village in the Ganganagar district of Rajasthan, near where it borders both Punjab and Haryana, was a different man at 23 when he took over the reins of Dera. Clad in white, he used to visit villages in the Punjab-Haryana-Rajashthan tri-junction to help dalits (lower-caste Indians) kick the habit of drug and alcohol abuse. As his organization grew, he reinvented himself to appeal to a wider section of followers.

The case of Asaram Bapu

The Supreme Court has criticized the BJP-ruled Gujarat government for going slow in a rape case involving another self-styled “godman” Asaram Bapu, who is 76. The court wants the government to explain why a woman, who accused him of rape, has not been questioned yet.

Bapu is lodged in a jail in BJP-ruled Rajasthan for allegedly raping a 16-year-old schoolgirl at his hermitage in 2013. He has also been booked for allegedly raping two sisters at a hermitage in Surat, Gujarat.

If the BJP continues to pander to the Ram Rahims and Asaram Bapus of the world, justice will not be served and greater unrest will surely follow.

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