Music video, VIP sessions, devotees in hundreds: it’s ashram as usual for Ram Rahim

Bahaaron phool barsao, mera mehboob aaya hai”, the tune of the immortal Mohammed Rafi song rings out from loudspeakers seconds before Dera Sacha Sauda chief Baba Gurmeet Ram Rahim arrives on the stage at his ashram at Barnawa in Baghpat on the Meerut-Baraut state highway.

Sentenced to life on two separate counts of rape and murder and jailed in Haryana’s Sunaria prison, Rahim is out on parole – coinciding with another round of elections in the state, this time an Adampur bypoll and coming panchayat polls. However, that makes little difference to his followers, men, women and children, around 600 of whom are at the ashram today to listen to his sermon and bhajan, sitting on white sheets, in separate pavilions.

Every few metres are stationed personnel of the Dera’s own security team, keeping a close watch. Mobile phones are a strict no-no, to be deposited at the entrance.

While on parole, Ram Rahim has been holding online sessions, including with Haryana BJP leaders Ranbir Gangwa (the Assembly Deputy Speaker), Renu Bala Gupta (the Karnal Mayor) and Himachal minister Bikram Thakur, and has recorded and released a music video. Every evening, his daily sermons are put up on Facebook.

As per Haryana Prison rules, a convict is entitled to parole of 90 days every year, subject to clearances on his conduct and security clearances from the district administration where he or she would be staying during the parole period. Haryana Prisons Minister Ranjit Singh earlier told The Indian Express it is “the legal right of any convict to be released from the prison on parole or furlough, provided the convict has completed a requisite number of months of the imprisonment”.

The Barnawa ashram was established by Ram Rahim’s “guru” Shah Satnam Singh in 1980. The first Dera Sacha Sauda ashram in UP, it is spread over 100-odd acres. Granted 40-day parole on October 14, Ram Rahim is expected to stay here till the end of the period, i.e. November 24.

The moment Ram Rahim, dressed in a spotless white kurta-pyjama, takes his place on his special chair, he signals the background music to be put off. Pin-drop silence falls on the pandal, where women devotees outnumber the men.

Sandeep Kaur, who works with the Dera Sacha Sauda’s media cell, says the devotee numbers would have been much higher. “Around 500 to 800 of his followers come daily for the bhajans and sermons by Babaji. The numbers are low as the Dera has sent a message to its followers not to come for a darshan of Babaji while he is on parole. Had these been normal times, there would have been huge crowds,” Kaur says.

Ram Rahim starts by asking his devotees to guard against alcohol, meat and infidelity. “Before I start today’s guru mantra, I will appeal to you to take three vows – for abstinence from alcohol, and for marital fidelity and vegetarianism. Without incorporating this in your lifestyle, you cannot attain prosperity and happiness,” he says, adding: “I am ready to discuss with any scientist in the world how following these vows ensures longevity and sound health.”

Ram Rahim adds: “People will see and judge you as per who they are, and hence you should not worry about what opinion they have formed about you, and follow the three vows. With these three and the guru mantra, I guarantee drastic changes in your health as well as prosperity.”

He also tells his devotees not to donate anything to the ashram. “If you need to donate, help the poor or admit victims of road accidents to hospitals, and God will look after you.”

The 3.52-second music video released by the Dera Sacha Sauda chief on parole, written, composed and directed by him, came out on the night of Diwali on YouTube and had been viewed by 42 lakh viewers in a day. Separately, Ram Rahim announced that he had given a new name to his “adopted daughter”, Honeypreet, who had also been accused with him but was exonerated later. “She will be known from now on as Ruhani didi or Ruh di, in the language of millennial youths,” he said.

Among the few to have questioned how Ram Rahim appears to have stepped back into his pre-conviction routine, while on parole, is Delhi Commission for Women chief Swati Maliwal. “Ram Rahim is a rapist and murderer. He is given life imprisonment by the court, but the Haryana government gives him parole whenever they want. He is organising satsang and ruling party leaders attend these meet. I appeal to Haryana government to take back his parole,” she tweeted recently.

Asked about her comment, Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar had said, “I have no role in this… jails have their own rules.”

Sandeep Kaur says they are very strict about who visits Ram Rahim. “No political leader has come to meet Babaji during the present parole. We are strictly following conditions attached to the parole and do not want to violate any law,” Kaur said.

Ram Rahim was first convicted in August 2017 by a special CBI court in Panchkula, and is currently serving a 20-year jail term for raping two of his women disciples at the Dera headquarters in Sirsa. In 2019, Ram Rahim and three others were convicted for the 2002 murder of journalist Ram Chander Chhatrapati. Last year, he, along with four others, was convicted for hatching a conspiracy to kill the Dera’s former manager Ranjit Singh, who was shot dead, also in 2002.

Meanwhile, wrapping up his sermon at the ashram, Ram Rahim tells his gathered devotees: “Have faith in me because I am the chosen one to lead you towards health and prosperity.” His followers break into a bhajan: “Dhan-dhan satguru, tera hi aasra (Blessed are you, the true guru, you are my only hope).”

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