A video of a notorious religious guru who is currently serving lengthy prison terms for murder and rape went viral in India last week.
It shows Dera Sacha Sauda sect leader Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, who is now on parole, slicing a cake with Honeypreet Insan, a young woman he refers to as his adopted daughter. The occasion was the one millionth follower milestone on her Instagram profile.
A different video that showed the guru using a sword to slice another, the much larger cake had gone viral a few days earlier.
Opponents in India questioned why the authorities were granting Singh “frequent release” after the tapes went viral.
Since being found guilty of raping two of his followers in August 2017 and sentenced to 20 years in prison, Singh has been detained at Sunaria jail in the northern state of Haryana. He was given a life sentence for the murder of a journalist in 2019 and then another life sentence for the death of one of his workers in 2002 in 2021.
Singh was given a 21-day vacation in February 2022, a 30-day release in June, and a 40-day parole in October, yet despite being found guilty of such grave offences, he has been out of jail for a total of 131 days over the last 13 months. He was then released for an additional 40 days on January 21.
On social media, however, Singh’s release has been met with shock. People are baffled as to how a man convicted of crimes like rape and murder was allowed to leave jail.
Singh was one of India’s most revered religious figures before his conviction in 2017. Having tens of millions of followers, his expansive head office in the Haryana town of Sirsa, where he was domiciled, received hundreds of pilgrims each year.
Divisional Commissioner Sanjeev Verma, who oversees administration for the Rohtak district and oversees the jail where Singh is being held, declined to respond to questions from the BBC regarding Singh’s parole, claiming that the matter was still under consideration by the court and therefore sub judice.
Mohammad Akil, the director general of prisons, also declined to comment, but he did note that two prior petitions of a similar nature challenging Singh’s release had been dismissed by the courts.
Akshat Bajpai, an attorney for the Supreme Court, claims that obtaining parole is extremely difficult and that it is challenging to comprehend how Singh can do it regularly.
“Drastic measures,” including parole and furlough, are “meant to respond to unique requirements of convicts, such as a death in the family or the marriage of children or relatives, but they are not meant to defy judicial rulings.