Why Ram Rahim Singh really went to jail

Shiv Visvanathan
Shiv VisvanathanSep 03, 2017 | 10:39

Why Ram Rahim Singh really went to jail

Akira Kurosawa’s film Rashomon is a classic movie, almost a stereotypical equivalent for multiple narratives. A murder is retold through three perspectives capturing in a brilliant style the multi-sidedness of any story. One senses this same variety in the reports on Dera Sacha leader Gurmeet Ram Rahim.

For many people, the very idea of the rise of Ram Rahim is intolerable. The politically correct secularist sees him as an abomination, something to be erased or eradicated. The very act of Ram Rahim in secularising his name, by pluralising it, leaves the secularist empty-headed and enviously wondering how he could garner such support.


A meeting of rationalists would not fill a room but a Ram Rahim gathering acquires a festive air, a touch of an electronic Kumbh and Woodstock rolled together. The secularists shrug him off as a part of superstitious India, premodern in its idioms, but modern in its desires. Letting him enter the citizenship of philosophy is sacrilege to the secular mind, which wants almost inevitably for a battle for equality to be Marxist rather than a millenarian dream of fantastic desire and technology.

Another silence one observes is the silence of democracy. Votaries of democracy hate to admit to the idea of religious groups as vote-banks. One senses that the rise of the BJP could not have been possible without the equivalent use of cults and sects, which have served as amiable votebanks for its political ambition.


The mutual reciprocity between these groups becomes a symptom of power as the government instructs the CBI to go slow on such investigations. These religious groups have such a tacit understanding with those in power that they almost form an informal annexe to power which allow these communities, a protected existence.

An acute observer of Indian politics once noted that the satsang and the shakha are siblings in power. Both pretend to be part of the informal economy of power realising the seamless between formal and informal as far as power is concerned. The guru and the neta are the smug siblings in power.


At a third level the Ram Rahim controversy is treated strictly as a governance issue. The first question one asks is what was the Khattar regime is doing? This is an illustration of governance playing Rip Van Winkle because Ram Rahim and the Khattar regime have been hand in glove. The BJP knew that Ram Rahim provided the vote-banks it needed for political victory.

What is interesting is commentators in media wax hoarse about the fiction of the rule of law only to bring out Pandora’s box of exceptions. Ram Rahim’s case has been dragging on for nearly two decades. Suddenly the CBI pursues it vigorously, and commentators even commend it for its pursuit of justice. The Orwellian dictum — some are more equal than others (at least most of the time) — illustrates the norms of democracy. It is odd that we appeal to an abstract universality, to equality before the law when the law hardly works this way.

The BJP high command, gossip says, has placed the regime under scrutiny. It is a bit like the Samizdat joke about a dissenter who states that Khrushchev, the Soviet leader, was an alcoholic. The story goes that the dissenter was punished not for libel or his opposition but for revealing a state secret. In fact, friendly commentators are now trying to square the circle, claiming that the BJP government in Haryana should be commended for trying to solve the problem in the least confrontationist way. The sins of omission now become its professed strategy.




By now one senses what is being imposed on us is not the Ram Rahim story but Ram Rahim as a construct where each interested group has its own Ram Rahim. A friend of mine, an anthropologist, asked me whether my secular friends would have supported Ram Rahim if he was more Marxist than millenarian, or if he had spouted World Bank indicators than talked about the fantasies of equality.

My friend was basically asking why should equality be articulated in secular, cosmopolitan terms and not in the language of vernacular or religion where metaphors of equality may be more evocative. He also asked why justice should be abstract. Why should equality be in terms of number and not meaning? Otherwise, equality merely becomes a dull equalisation and all utopias tend to be virtually the same.


I asked him whether justice had been done. He answered Ram Rahim deserved to go to jail for rape. The evidence was clear and the heroism and persistence of the victim were moving. That said, he argued, it does not answer why so many people followed Ram Rahim. Were they being conned, were they illiterate, unsophisticated or was the Dera Sacha saying a middle class equality ignores marginals?

We have equality for well-behaved citizens who look alike. Do we have equality for the sex worker, the transgender or by extension the tribal and the nomad, all those whose ways of life and livelihood are at right angles to modernity. He said justice as formal procedure had been fulfiled, but justice as a discourse, as a knowledge system open to other voices and other knowledges was still inadequate.

In arresting Ram Rahim, justice worked because one had a vested interest in protecting the rules of the game, protecting the sanctity of categories like security, law, and order, secularism, electoral democracy. Ram Rahim, guilty in one sense, was sacrificed to these categories. There was a failure of storytelling. Law and order is often confused with the rule of law.

I think democracy and justice in India need to think of a new relationship between equality and diversity. To do that, we need a new language beyond the current categories of political theory. Ram Rahim, demonic, surreal, fantastic and silly as he was, was a threat to these procrustean categories. His crime was rape but his real sin was being a threat to the discourses of our time.

(Courtesy of Mail Today.)

Last updated: September 04, 2017 | 11:52
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