The Media Feeding Frenzy Over Dera Chief’s Conviction Is A Bit Over-The-Top

The Media Feeding Frenzy Over Dera Chief’s Conviction Is A Bit Over-The-TopFollowers of Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh outside the Dera Sacha Sauda ashram in Sirsa. (MONEY SHARMA/AFP/Getty Images) 
Snapshot
  • Is the shouting and screaming in national media over the conviction of Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh partly related to the fact that he supported the BJP in the last election?

There is something troubling about the way the media and politicians have reacted to the conviction of Dera Sacha Sauda chief, Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, for the rape of two women, by a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) court on 25 August.

That justice has been done to the wronged women despite attempts at intimidation and pressure is worth noting and lauding. But the case has been given such a high billing, and the media commentary on “godmen” has been so over-the-top (hashtags like #NoMercyForMSG and #RamRahimJailTime have been bandied about), that one can’t remember when we got so bloodthirsty about a man getting justice for his crimes.

And despite the loss of 38 lives in police firing after the Dera’s supporters got violent, we had the Punjab Chief Minister, Amarinder Singh, ruling out compensation for the relatives of those killed. So the families of alleged wrongdoers will bear the brunt of the state’s cussedness.

It is fair to criticise the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government for handling the situation ineptly, possibly with one eye on the Dera vote bank that helped it win the last assembly election. But why do we hear so few words of sympathy for the Dera people killed, however misguided their anger and violence may have been.

Are we forgetting that there are two sets of victims here? One was the women who were wronged by Gurmeet Singh, and they got justice with his conviction and sentencing. But surely lakhs of Dera supporters, who were equally betrayed by their leader’s crimes, also needed some empathy? Did they get bullets because the state was goaded into overcompensating for its earlier pusillanimity in dealing with the followers?

For the average Dera supporter, Gurmeet Singh – despite his serious personal failings – was a source of empowerment. But the Punjab and Haryana High Court had no qualms about ordering the attachment of all Dera properties to compensate for the damage done by its followers. Nobody will object to this, assuming this becomes the norm in all cases, where people destroy public or private property during mob violence.

But when did we last seen the courts recover dues from the organisations behind rampaging mobs?

But did they recover any dues from Sikhs, who went on the rampage in several places in 2007 in protest against Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh?

Did we see the Muslim mobs who torched Kaliachak police station in West Bengal last year pay for the damage they caused? Did the organisations which instigated the rioting were given any punishment?

Did any of the organisations backing the Kashmiri youths, who destroyed police stations, dumped police vehicles in the Jhelum, and pelted stones at policemen and security forces ever get taken to task?

In August 2012, the Mumbai police was roughed up by a Muslim mob when it could well have opened fire and worsened the situation. But when similar kid-glove treatment was shown to the Dera’s followers a few days ago, it was seen as “surrender” to the mob by the Punjab and Haryana High Court.

The High Court was livid after the Haryana government allowed Dera supporters to gather in Panchkula before the conviction, and alleged that “it was a political surrender just to allure the vote bank.” But how did the court come to this conclusion? How did it decide that the state was trying to shield the Dera when it claimed that the violence was the result of anti-social elements, who had infiltrated the Dera crowd? The court’s comment: “It appears to be an intelligent way to say that Dera had not done anything.”

There is a reason why media all over the world treats wrongdoing by religious leaders and priests with caution: it’s because some respect should be shown for the anguish felt by the followers of the church, mosque or gurudwara, whose priests may have gone astray. Conscious efforts are made to spare devotees’ feelings even while the culprit himself is hauled up for his crimes.

Despite repeatedly hearing stories of Catholic priests being involved in paedophilia all over the world, we deliberately treat the story with caution since we know that millions of ordinary people believe in the church. When Sister Abhaya of Kerala was murdered for reportedly being in the know of an illicit relationship between two priests and a nun, the story did not get the kind of high-decibel billing anywhere in India. Nor did the book by Sister Jesme, who wrote about rampant sexual misconduct among priests, get the kind of attention it deserved. An Indian priest, extradited from here to the US to face punishment for sexually abusing two women while on deputation to the US, was deported to India after a year of imprisonment. He was quietly rehabilitated by the church in India, after the Vatican revoked the suspension in his case. More recently, the Vatican has been criticised for not defrocking priests, who had indulged in sexual misconduct on the claim that some of the sexcapades were consensual.

A few days ago, an India Today TV sting on maulvis and maulanas who perform nikah halala for a fee generated almost no outrage in the national media beyond the channel that aired the clips. Nikah halala requires a wife divorced by her husband under Islamic law to marry another man and possibly consummate the relationship before reconciling with her former husband. Clerics take advantage of hapless women due to this peculiar requirement.

Muslim clerics have indulged in rape and exploitation of women and boys from places as varied as Bijnore in Uttar Pradesh and Yorkshire in UK, but this was no reason to raise a hue and cry in the media.

In the UK, over 1,400 teenage girls were sexually abused in Rotherham, largely by Muslim gangs, but the police turned a blind eye for fear that they would be accused of Islamophobia.

One wonders if the shouting and screaming in national media over the conviction of Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh is partly related to the fact that he supported the BJP in the last election.

Jagannathan is Editorial Director, Swarajya. He tweets at @TheJaggi.
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