Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh: 10 things about India's controversial spiritual leader and 'guru of bling'

India's self-styled guru and spiritual leader Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh poses prior to the release of his film MSG Messenger Of God II in New Delhi on Sept 14, 2015.
India's self-styled guru and spiritual leader Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh poses prior to the release of his film MSG Messenger Of God II in New Delhi on Sept 14, 2015. PHOTO: EPA

NEW DELHI - India's controversial spiritual leader Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, whose rape conviction triggered deadly protests, was sentenced to 20 years in jail on Monday (Aug 28).

Thousands of riot police have been deployed to the northern states of Haryana and Punjab, where tens of thousands of his followers went on an angry rampage on Friday after the court verdict.

The 50-year-old self-styled godman, leader of Dera Sacha Sauda sect, claims to have supernatural powers and some 60 million followers worldwide.

Here are 10 things about the guru and his sect:

1. Singh became leader of the sect in 1990 when he was barely 23 years old

The sect describes itself as a social welfare and spiritual organisation, and is behind numerous welfare activities, including sanitation and blood donation drives, as well as diabetes and cholesterol screening campaigns.

Its website says the sect has undertaken 133 social welfare activities like "helping in road accidents, working for the protection of daughters from heinous fetal murder and solemnising the marriages of harlots by inspiring them to quit this abhorrent profession." Hence the guru is hailed as a social reformer among his devoted followers.

2. He has followers in many countries

Under his leadership, the sect extended its influence beyond India to countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and the United Arab Emirates.

Its headquarters in Sirsa, Haryana, spread across nearly 404ha, and include schools, sports facilities, a hospital and a cinema hall.

3. He is the 'guru of bling'


GurmeetRam Rahim Singh gestures during a conference to promote his 2015 film MSG: The Messenger Of God. PHOTO: AFP

He has attracted cult-like followings with his eccentric and larger-than-life personality. Nicknamed "guru of bling", he wears outlandish clothes with flashy jewellery and sometimes bright headgear, and he loves riding oversized motorcycles.

He describes himself on Twitter as "Spiritual Saint/Philanthropist/Versatile Singer/Allrounder Sportsperson/Film Director/Actor/Art Director/Music Director/Writer/Lyricist/Autobiographer/DOP."

4. He stars in self-produced music videos and movies

In his films, he has superhero-like qualities, performing motorcycle stunts and killing ghosts and aliens. His 2015 film MSG: The Messenger Of God shows him performing miracles, preaching to thousands and beating up gangsters while singing and dancing.

He claimed the movie spreads social awareness, but some Sikh groups accused him of portraying himself as God and a Sikh guru, and protests against the release of the film broke out in the Sikh-dominated state of Punjab .

5. He calls himself 'Rockstar Baba'

He has produced several music albums, and he claims to have invented "religious rock", said Huffington Post. He believes he is "packaging a spiritual message in a modern wrapper" and has held rock concerts notorious for daredevil stunts, like singing while being suspended 9m above the ground on a moving crane, said the report.

"I started rapping and singing fast songs to lure youth away from the fast music that leads them to drugs," he was once quoted as saying.

6. He holds 57 world records

These records include 19 Guinness Book of Records for feats such as finger painting, vegetable mosaics and oil lamp displays. He is also an avid sportsman, with interest in sports including volleyball, lawn tennis, cricket, football, billiard, table tennis and water polo.

7. Like other large religious sects in India, the Dera Sacha Sauda wields power


Supporters of Indian religious leader Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singhthrow stones at security forces next to burning vehicles during clashes in Panchkula on Aug 25, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

Local politicians regularly visit the sect's headquarters, eager to offer support to Singh to help nurture their own political ambitions. The guru enjoys political patronage from several local politicians, including Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar and other ministers of the state government.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi also offered support for the guru. In a 2014 tweet, he applauded the sect's efforts to take part in a campaign by the government to clean up the streets. During the most recent election, Mr Modi also thanked the group for its contribution to the country.

8. The rape case against Singh stems from a three-page anonymous letter written in 2002 by a follower

The letter, addressed to a local and national authorities, accused the guru of rampant sexual misconduct with followers at his ashram in Sirsa. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) opened an investigation and 18 followers were questioned.

It took years to trace the alleged victims and it was not until 2007 that two women came forward and filed charges. One victim reported that "when she entered the Dera chief's sprawling chamber, the doors automatically closed and she found him watching a pornographic movie on a big screen".

9. He is also being investigated for two homicide cases

He is accused of murdering Sirsa-based journalist Ram Chander Chatrapati who had written about the Dera's activities. Chatrapati was shot on Oct, 2001. Singh is also accused of killing sect manager Ranjit Singh in July 2002.

10. In 2015, he was accused of encouraging 400 followers to undergo castration so that they could get closer to God

A victim reportedly claimed that the castrations began around 2000 in Haryana in a hospital run by the sect.

SOURCES: REUTERS, WASHINGTON POST, NEW YORK TIMES, ECONOMIC TIMES.