Why are Sikhs against the MSG film

The guru as a rapist

Once again last week India offered a bizarre tragedy, as if proving that any category of political and social logic can be overturned at any time.

The focus was on Ram Rahim Singh, a bearded guru who appears in his own films with bright t-shirts over his bulging beer belly, chasing through the air, storming the Himalayas with motorcycles on meter-thick tires and laughing, throwing nuclear bombs like candy at the enemy. The punch line: The films are part of an endless series under the title MSG - Messenger Sent by God.

God's messenger in court

It also fits in with the fact that this Divine Messenger was convicted on Friday by a court in a suburb of Chandigarh for rape against two young women. But how is it explained that a majority of the hundreds of thousands of followers who had traveled to the court hearing to provide moral support to their guru - were women?

But were it women who, after the conviction became known, got caught up in a mass hysteria and smashed everything that came in their way? And how can it be explained that all 36 deaths and the vast majority of the injured were Sacha Sauda followers, as the sect of Ram Rahim is called?

To this day - from my distance to the events - it can only be stated that the vast majority of the supporters sat outside the police cordon in a disciplined manner before the court verdict, that their own or inflicted agents provocateurs threw self-made incendiary bombs at buildings and cars and that the security forces overreacted by joining in live ammunition shot into the crowd.

Meaningful mass campaigns

Undoubtedly, there was a shock effect, because the Sacha Sauda Dera (Dera means something like ashram in Punjabi) was not previously known for inciting its followers to violence. The deafening noise and smoke of the MSG films is so weird that they seem more like a satire and make viewers laugh.

Dera became known through mass campaigns with which Rahim addressed public concerns in a way that was effective for the public and yet sensible: vaccination campaigns, mass deployments to help after natural disasters, or to clean up entire cities. I remember writing in an Indian Ocean column five years ago about the premis (Prem - 'love' - is an honorary title of Rahim), which poured into the capital by the thousands and cleaned the streets from everywhere, armed with brooms.

It is undisputed that these spectacular actions also stem from the MSG's greed for publicity. It takes hold of almost every guru as soon as his followers' numbers (and revenues) go up. Nevertheless, the relationship between guru and disciple is based on a quasi-spiritual dimension. It is the real belief that the guru is a messenger from God.

Sworn communities

And as is so often the case, God's prophet himself soon becomes a Messiah with godlike attributes. The spiritual nourishment from this relationship may be meager, but it provides the followers with the common roof of a sworn community. This also applies physically: like other large Deras in northern India - there are said to be over three thousand such organizations - the Sacha Sauda also owns large amounts of land.

In the ashrams of Sacha Sauda there are huge sleeping quarters, canteens, kitchens for thousands of visitors, parks, children's playgrounds, and of course meditation halls (which in this case also serve as cinemas). Most Deras are religiously neutral, and so you can also find Hindu and Buddhist temples, churches, or mosques there. Gurmeet Singh's stage name Ram Rahim is an old Sufi formula that combines the name of the Hindu god Ram and the Islamic Rahim.

Of course, there is a good deal of marketing calculus behind this in order to attract people from all faiths. But for Dera supporters, an egalitarian motive often plays a role. In a country through which there are so many and deep social rifts, it is a blessing to be part of a community in which all are equal, united by belief in the guru, with a name he has bestowed, united in the joint Sewa, the volunteer work in and outside the Ashram.

Nevertheless, the social upheavals are also reflected in these movements. Osho and Satya Sai Baba had a primarily international audience, Amritananda Ma is aimed at the lower middle class, Jaggi Vasudev and Shri Sri Ravishankar recruit their followers from the English-speaking elite.

Unconditional identification

And Ram Rahim? He comes from a Dalit caste among the Sikhs. And it is mainly Dalits from the Panjab who make up the core of his following. This fact explains that with the premis the cohesion - and thus the guru who forms the bracket - is particularly strong. The Dera is physical protection, it means solidarity and equality, even between the sexes. The media omnipresence of one's own guru is a reason for pride, even if it comes about thanks to bizarre film escapades - or through sexual violence.

The crime of rape shows particularly clearly how far this identification with the guru can go. Looking at the Indian guru scene from this perspective, one might think that rape of young women and men is a popular form of initiation. In addition to Ram Rahim, a number of gurus have landed on trial in recent years. In addition, the number of unreported cases on this taboo subject is strikingly high, be it among swamis or in families.

Political instrumentalization

This also shows the behavior of politics towards these religious movements and their heads. Numerous gurus enjoy political protection. Ram Rahim's two victims had to fight and seek police protection for fifteen years to get their rights. And as with other gurus on trial, witnesses have mysteriously died.

This applies to all parties with the exception of the communists, with the BJP having a special affinity for the guru cult. This thrives particularly well in a Hindu biotope, even if the Swamis are emphatically secular. After last week's riots, BJP politicians immediately came forward, recognizing that Ram Rahim's conviction was a judicial and media attack on Hindu symbols. First the riots and then the brutal police reaction silenced them.

But as always in the notoriously pampered Indian democracy, electoral considerations are behind the complicity between politics and religion. After all, gurus can influence millions of supporters when they vote, and they can be compensated for this with clandestine protection from state organs.

Father's pardon

In the end, even in this contradicting and tragic incident, a certain logic emerges: a desperate gesture of solidarity with the guru brings over a hundred thousand people to the city; the sentence triggers a mass hysterical surge; the police, obliged by the politicians to exercise restraint, reacted in panic and took up arms.

And the numerous women who worship a rapist as God? Ram Rahim supporters put it on record, according to the Internet newspaper The Ladies ’Finger, that in their circles sexual abuse is a ... privilege. The word is Pitaji Maafi: Father's pardon. "Imagine a world", The Ladies Finger concludes her contribution, "where two-hundred-thousand people take to the streets to support rape survivors instead of rapists."