It's a well-known fact that you need the hide of a rhino to be a politician in India, impervious to all accusations of collusion, maladministration or impropriety. You could spew hatred against someone one day and shake hands with him/her the next. "There are neither friends nor enemies... nothing's permanent in politics" some politicians often say as a smug excuse to their shifting moral compasses and alliances of convenience. Recently, however, when a state burned because a "godman" was convicted of rape, it showed the world how pathetic the state of affairs really is and how "normal" injustice, vandalism and systemic violence has become in India these days.
Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, leader of the Dera Sacha Sauda, is known for his outrageous outfits, his "Guinness World Records", his fleet of luxury cars and the power he wields over lakhs of fanatical followers in Punjab and Haryana, who view him as their "Pitaji" (father). The reality, however, is murky.
What message is the government sending? Will a rape survivor from a small village in Haryana testify against a man who is praised by Prime Minister Modi himself?
Unbeknownst to many, "Pitaji" had been raping female disciples inside his "cave" for years. 15 years ago. Ram Chander Chhatrapati, a journalist published an anonymous letter in the daily Poora Sachh, exposing the man, many worshipped as a god. He paid the price and was shot dead.
The letter revealed what was just the tip of the iceberg. Allegations of systemic rape under the disgusting guise of "Pitaji's Maafi" (cleansing) of his Sadhvis came to light. Reports of Illegal arms training and forced castrations surfaced too. Amidst threats and intimidation, two girls testified. One girl's brother was killed in the quest for justice. The complainants said Gurmeet had bragged about how untouchable he was and the political clout he enjoyed.
He wasn't wrong. The "Guru of Bling" has had politicians of all hues cosy up to him, fall prostrate before him, gift his organisation lakhs of rupees, grant him Z+ security and invite him to various events.
What message is the government is sending? Will a rape survivor from a small village in Haryana testify against a man who is praised by Prime Minister Modi himself?
Brazen babas exist because of state patronage. Sant Rampal, Asaram Bapu, the late Ashutosh Maharaj, Nithyananda, Gurmeet Singh and their ilk have unleashed terror because they know very well that they can give successive governments the one thing they want more than anything—votes. It is with this impunity that they murder, thrash journalists, disrupt trains, attack cops and burn vehicles.
But, this is all common nowadays isn't it? That's scary! The fact that these incidents pop up so often and brushed under the carpet or overshadowed by a more heinous crime should shake us to the core. It means that our "democracy", "equality amongst diversity" and other platitudes that we throw around are a bloody joke and that no government is "for the people" but for criminals who can help them hold on to power.
Politicians through cleverly worded responses have pussyfooted around the issue and managed not to ruffle any feathers. Elections await after all.
BJP leader Sakshi Maharaj defended the rapist, saying "Who is right? The crores of people who see Rahim as a God or that girl who filed a complaint?" Rajya Sabha MP, Subramanian Swamy has said that Gurmeet was framed. Politicians through cleverly worded responses have pussyfooted around the issue and managed not to ruffle any feathers. Elections await after all.
The question before all of us isn't about why the state machinery failed, why lakhs of people were allowed to assemble illegally with petrol bombs or the minute details of Sec.144 (though they are pertinent questions). The larger question is "Where are we headed to, as a nation?"
We live in times when people are killed for their dietary choices, forced to chant "Jai Shri Ram" and when a "godman" goes to his rape conviction hearing in a 200-car cavalcade. Political parties that have colluded with influential people to prolong their hold on power have signed the death sentence for innocent journalists, activists, Dalits and women. They've sent out a clear message to common citizens that anything's possible if you're influential enough and that the rule of law is selective.
There will be many more Gurmeets and more atrocities to come. The way India reacts to them will determine her future.