Panchkula: Along the pavements on the Kalka-Shimla highway that lead to the town of Panchkula, among a hundred thousand Dera Sacha Sauda followers was Kirpal Singh, who likens self-styled godman and rape convict Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh to the saintly founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak.
He says he has seen Singh perform an act of miracle. Back in 2012, Kirpal Singh, who hails from a small hamlet near Bathinda in Punjab—a state that is grappling with drug addiction—found his son unconscious after overdosing on intravenous drugs. Singh claims that no doctor or rehabilitation centre could rid his son of the addiction. Guided by a fellow villager, Singh turned to the Dera.
“Babaji (Singh) is my god. My son was cured in three weeks and he has never looked at drugs again. He now serves at the Dera’s specialty hospital in Sirsa, for which he is paid a salary,” Kirpal Singh said.
Kirpal Singh’s faith was echoed in the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) special court by defence counsel on Monday, who urged justice Jagdeep Singh to show leniency because, he said, the self-styled godman is a “philanthropist.”
Kirpal Singh is not alone—ironically, two rape survivors are now having to face the collective wrath of thousands of women who believe the man they call their “father” has been wronged by the law. Women who lined up to catch a glimpse of Singh see him as a champion of women’s rights.
As evidence, a spokesperson for Singh said that in 2010, 1,400 men at Dera Sacha Sauda agreed to marry sex workers in order to rehabilitate the women.
“A man who is capable of getting sex workers who were forced into prostitution married to the members of the Dera itself, can’t do what he has been accused of doing. He has always protected women in a way that even the police have not,” Aditya Insan, spokesperson of the Dera Sacha Sauda said in Panchkula.
His reputation notwithstanding, the faith that his followers show in Singh has proved to be a money-spinner for the Dera.
“When Singh started out and people started queuing up, he started charging Rs1,000 per person for darshan (an audience). That amount went up to Rs5,000, then Rs10,000. Before his conviction, it was anywhere between Rs50,000-75,000 per person. People come to see him despite that. This and the money that they get from other entities keeps their economy running,” said a senior Haryana state government official, requesting anonymity.
The money, the official said, was used purely to finance Singh’s luxurious lifestyle.
“His cars, his gufa (‘cave’), his outfits and his films are all sponsored by the darshan money. There have been complaints of ill-treatment at the hands of Singh’s bhakts (followers), but those voices have been silenced,” the official added.
Dera representatives, however, claimed that every paisa collected had been returned to the people by way of jobs for those who had sought shelter at the ashrams.
The Dera’s campuses across Haryana are cities unto themselves—with hospitals, de-addiction centres, ashrams, theatres that screen special MSG (Messenger of God) films and shops selling MSG merchandise.
“These charges are baseless and are an attempt to defame Pitaji. The sheer number of people was testimony to the fact that he has only worked for the welfare of the people. People are gainfully employed and have a good life at the ashrams,” Aditya Insan added.