Christians in India fear attacks after rape conviction for 'wild beast' Guru Grummet Ram Rahim Singh
Christians in the northern Indian district of Haryana and the Punjab are living in fear of attack from followers of the infamous Guru Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, who was convicted of rape on Friday.
Judge Jagdeep Singh sentenced the controversial Indian leader of the Dera Sacha Sauda sect to 20 years imprisonment for the sexual assault of two of his female followers, saying Guru Gurmeet deserved the 'maximum punishment' because he had 'projected himself as a godman and taken undue advantage of his position and authority'.
The judge called him a 'wild beast' who deserved no leniency, adding that that the assault of his disciples was 'custodial rape' and he 'deserved maximum punishment'.
The self-styled holy man was found guilty of sexually assaulting two female followers from 1999 to 2002, with prosecutors calling for a life sentence.
A lawyer for the victims said '40-50 women' had come forward with allegations of rape.
Now the lead officer for the British Asian Christian Association in India, Pastor Harjot Singh, has warned that Christians are being targeted and described the mood among Christians in the states of Haryana and the Punjab, where a series of riots have erupted in recent days.
'On hearing about the conviction, followers of Gurmeet rioted in Panchkula [in the Haryana district]. 32 people were killed by fanatical zealots of the sect and an estimated 350 were injured with further riots expected. Rampagers smashed cars, homes and businesses and then set them alight.
'Christian leaders were warned about attacks on churches should Guru Gurmeet be convicted. The men who made the threats were very serious and extra police protection was provided to religious buildings which prevented a crises...
'I call upon Christians across the world to pray for a restoration of peace in India and an end to the unnecessary violence we have seen in recent days.'
Gurmeet, who claims a global following of around 60 million followers of a sect that he took over when he was 23, is due to undergo a court hearing next month regarding allegations of two murders of whistleblowers who first revealed rape allegations against Gurmeet.
During his reign as leader of the sect, Gurmeet has been accused of mocking Sikh and Hindu figures and has even been accused of forcing followers to undergo castration to 'get closer to god'.
Wilson Chowdhry, the chairman of the British Pakistani Christian Association said: 'It seems incredulous that religious leaders could have such power and authority enabling them to thwart justice for so long.
'Guru Gurmreet used the adoration of his followers to propel himself to a god-like status, a position he used to coerce young women into a cycle of sexual abuse based on fear of physical and economic ramifications, or being ostracized by their own families - his devotees.
'He expounded virtues of chastity, humility, modesty and self-sacrifice yet himself lived a glamorous, self-aggrandizing and frivolous life. Unchecked by Government officials and with no authoritative or guiding body to restrain his egotistical proclivity he became a danger to the people he was meant to serve.
'Guru Gurmreet's followers mainly consists of downtrodden, deprived members of the lower castes in India, people disenfranchised by a hierarchical culture in which conventional politics and faith fail them. Their vulnerable position leads them to join unconventional faiths and groups where they find acceptance and perceived equality.'