In amongst all the coverage of the spectacular downfall of the self-styled Indian “godman”, Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, one voice has been absent: that of his many hundreds of thousands of devoted followers.
His claim to have 60 million devotees around the world is probably an exaggeration, but there is no doubt that a huge number of people draw inspiration from this man who claimed to be a divine being.
“He is like my parents, in fact more than my parents,” Saroj Yadav told me as we sat in her family’s large house on the outskirts of Sirsa, a town in the northern Indian state of Haryana, where guru Ram Rahim’s vast headquarters complex, or “Dera”, is based.
The mother of three was visibly upset as we talked about the role the guru has played in her life and that of her large extended family.
“I have been a follower for 25 years. Three generations of my family have been his followers. I sent my children to the school and colleges in the Dera,” she told me.
Guru Ram Rahim’s devotees became notorious worldwide after thousands of them went on the rampage when he was convicted on Friday of two charges of rape. They attacked media vehicles and official buildings, and torched trains, buses and railway stations.
Violence spilled out across north India, and in the battle with the police that followed, almost 40 people were killed and more than 200 injured.
Saroj shakes her head sadly when I mention the unrest. These were a tiny minority of renegades, she insists. She says her family, like the vast majority of the guru’s…