A popular guru was arrested Saturday by police in north-western India for allegedly raping a 21-year-old woman. The second such arrest in the country in recent weeks has triggered fears of more rioting by supporters.
Numerous gurus in India attract massive followings, with devotees often making long and arduous pilgrimages to attend their religious teachings
The 70-year-old Falahari Maharaja was arrested for assaulting a woman, a law student, at his hermitage in the city of Alwar, in the state of Rajastan, police spokesman Paras Jain said. The arrest took place in August.
“Our initial investigation has found there is basis to the rape charges against him. We have arrested him and will question him in the case,” Jain said. A court sent Maharaja to a prison for 15 days on Saturday, while the police complete their investigation into the case.
The unnamed woman was allegedly raped when she went to give the guru 3,000 rupees (45 dollars, 38 euros) she had earned for an internship with an attorney in New Delhi on his recommendation.
Local reports said she had been warned by the guru against telling anyone about the assault but broke her silence after another high-profile guru, Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, was sentenced to 20 years in prison last month for raping two disciples.
The scene after riots following the conviction for rape of a religious leader in Panchkula on August 25, 2017
The conviction of a religious leader on rape charges led to mass riots in Panchkula in late August
That decision triggered riots, something authorities will clearly be aware of when making a ruling in this case.
Some religious sects have large followings in India and wield considerable political influence. Their gatherings often attract mass crowds, many of whom will travel from afar to catch a glimpse of their guru (see main photo, above).
High-profile cases of rape in India in the last two years have highlighted the largely subjugated plight of women in the still largely rural and socially conservative country.
Reactions from groups such as the guru-led sects have tended to portray the problem as one fabricated – or at least exaggerated – by the West and its secular incursions into India’s religious social fabric.
Not feeling so good
Also called Falahari Baba, or the one who consumes only fruits, the “godman” Falahari Maharaja has many followers in India and abroad and has been seen in photographs with political leaders and celebrities from across the subcontinent.
The self-proclaimed Hindu holy man checked into a private hospital complaining of “high-blood pressure” after the woman reported him to the police. A medical examination conducted at a government hospital found him to be in good health, police said.
He could face 10 years in prison if found guilty.