‘Guru of bling’ handed 20 years for double rape

In this file photo dated Oct. 5, 2016, the convicted Indian guru who calls himself Dr. Saint Gurmeet Singh Ram Rahim Insan, center, greets followers as he arrives for a press conference ahead of the release of his movie. (AP)
Updated 28 August 2017

‘Guru of bling’ handed 20 years for double rape

NEW DELHI: On Friday, he had stood defiantly in court when he was convicted of rape, and unleashed his supporters on to northern India’s streets in a deadly rampage. On Monday, the flamboyant guru Baba Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh broke down and begged for a pardon as he was jailed for 20 years and fined 3 million rupees ($47,000), virtually ending the guru’s spiritual career.
A judge at a special court set up in Rohtak jail in Haryana state sentenced Singh, 48, to two consecutive 10-year terms for raping two female followers in 2002 at the headquarters of his Dera Sacha Sauda (DSS) sect.
A lawyer for the victims said 50 women had come forward with allegations of rape and they wanted further investigations. “We believe there are at least 48 more victims who were sexually abused and who may have been killed or are too scared to come out and testify,” lawyer Utsav Singh Bains said.
Prosecutors had called for a life sentence, a call supported by Jagmati Sangwan, a women’s rights activist in Rohtak.
“Considering that Baba calls himself a holy man and is politically connected, the punishment given to him is less than the crime. He should have got a life term.”
However, Sangwan said: “In the larger context, this is a great victory for Indian democracy.”
Singh, known as the “guru of bling,” claims to have 60 million followers, thousands of whom took to the streets in violent protests when he was convicted on Friday at a court in Panchkula. At least 38 people died and more than 200 were injured as the protesters smashed cars, set fire to buses and attacked police officers.
There was no repeat when Singh was sentenced on Monday, but security authorities took no chances. Twenty-three battalions of paramilitary forces were deployed around Rohtak jail and the army was on standby. The prison was transformed into a fortress, with journalists banned within a 1.5km radius and the roads lined with barbed-wire barricades.
All schools and colleges in the area were shut down and Internet access was suspended throughout the region.
There was also heavy security outside Singh’s 1,000-acre compound in Sirsa, Haryana. Thousands of his supporters were still inside the DSS headquarters, despite many opting to leave following a tense standoff with soldiers.
“The situation in the DSS headquarters remains tense, and no supporter of the guru is willing to talk,” said Surendra Singh, a local journalist in Rohtak who has been covering the court cases since last week.
“But the supporters of the guru are in a state of disbelief at what has happened to the holy man.”
Women’s rights activist Sangwan accused the Haryana state government of shielding the guru.
“It’s sad that Haryana Education Minister Ram Bilash Sharma refused to impose Section 144 on Friday to restrict the large congregation, arguing that the law does not apply to the devotees, it applies to common people.”
She is planning to hold a march on Tuesday with other activists to press for the resignation of the state government.
There is also a question mark over the future of Dera Sacha Sauda. The court has ordered seizure of its property to recover the cost of damage caused by Friday’s riots.
“With political pressures building, there are many members who might leave,” said Ronki Ram of Panjab University’s political science department.
“In the past, sects like Dera Sacha Sauda have survived crises like this, but nothing can be said with certainty.”


Five dead, three missing after Jakarta floods

Updated 26 February 2020

Five dead, three missing after Jakarta floods

  • The muddy deluge inundated the presidential palace, a major hospital and entire neighborhoods across Jakarta on Tuesday
  • Floodwaters reached more than a meter (three feet) in some parts of the capital but were receding by Wednesday

JAKARTA: Five people were killed, three more are missing and thousands are unable to return to their waterlogged homes after floods submerged parts of Indonesia’s capital, officials said Wednesday.

The muddy deluge inundated the presidential palace, a major hospital and entire neighborhoods across Jakarta on Tuesday, only weeks after 70 residents of the low-lying megacity died in some of the deadliest flooding in memory.

Two teenagers were among the five people drowned or electrocuted in hard-hit parts of the city, Indonesia’s national disaster agency said.

“The joint rescue team is still searching” for three other possible victims, agency spokesman Agus Wibowo told AFP, adding that nearly 20,000 people were staying in emergency shelters.

Floodwaters reached more than a meter (three feet) in some parts of the capital but were receding by Wednesday, a day after rescuers combed drenched districts in pontoon boats to locate vulnerable residents.

Parts of the city had ground to a halt as thousands of buildings were swamped, sparking power outages and disrupting commuter trains.

Jakarta, a sprawling city beleaguered by massive traffic jams and poor infrastructure, is prone to flooding during the annual wet season.

Indonesian president Joko Widodo last year unveiled plans to relocate the capital to an as yet unbuilt city on Borneo island.