NEW DELHI – An Indian court sentenced Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, a controversial guru whose rape conviction sparked deadly clashes last week, to 20 years in prison.
The self-styled holy man was found guilty of sexually assaulting two female followers from 1999 to 2002.
The special court of India’s Central Bureau of Investigation delivered the sentence near New Delhi on Monday.
Judge Jagdeep Singh, who sentenced Singh, called him a “wild beast” who deserved no leniency.
In a strongly-worded order, Judge Singh said the convict deserved the “maximum punishment” because he had “projected himself as a Godman and taken undue advantage of his position and authority”.
Singh, nicknamed the “Rockstar baba” and “Guru of bling” for his lavish appearance, denied the charges.
After sentencing, Singh was immediately escorted out of the room for a medical examination. He received a jail uniform and was allotted a cell in jail, the Times of India reported.
To avoid similar violence seen last week, in which at least 38 people died, the sentencing procedure was held within the premises of a district jail in Sunaria, near Rohtak, out the outskirts of New Delhi.
Prosecutors had called for a life sentence while Singh’s defense team argued leniency should be shown. They characterized the controversial guru as a social worker.
Tens of thousands of followers of Singh, who calls himself Saint Dr. Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh Ji Insan, gathered near a courthouse in Panchkula after a court ruling was handed down Friday. The members of the Dera Sacha Sauda sect rioted, burned vehicles and government offices, attacked journalists and fought an estimated 6,000 police officers in the city.
India has many gurus who say they have mystical powers, but Singh has been linked to controversy. He was tried for conspiracy to murder a journalist in 2002, and in 2015 reportedly advocated that 400 of his followers undergo castration to get closer to God.
Controversial leader of the Dera Sacha Sauda sect claims to have 60 million followers around the world. He took over the sect – which describes itself as “a non-profit social welfare and spiritual organisation” – when he was 23.
He has performed at rock concerts, appeared in films and even has his own line of food products.