On 1 May 2015, as Nepal was trying to pull itself together in the wake of the 25 April earthquake and its continuing aftershocks, the country was greeted by an unexpected visitor: Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh Insan. In the midst of the chaos that followed the disaster, and the ensuing squabbles that took place at all levels of the government regarding aid and relief management, the brief presence and quick exit of the chief of the Dera Sacha Sauda appeared to have gone unnoticed. The Dera Sacha Sauda is a “socio-spiritual” organisation based in Sirsa in Haryana that claims to have over 50 million followers all over the world. It is actively involved in diverse activities such as helping people “quit homosexuality,” curbing alcohol and drug use and rescuing sex workers by finding “young eligible bachelors” willing to marry them.
Better known for the movie, MSG: The Messenger, which was released earlier this year—and in which he played director, writer, actor, singer, stuntsman and more importantly, himself—Ram Rahim, along with a contingent of nearly 1000 volunteers, reached Nepal on 1 May to assist in the wide scale relief effort. According to Aditya Insan, a DSS spokesperson whom I spoke to over the phone, the organisation chose to send a contingent to Nepal instead of getting relief material delivered to the country because, in times of disaster, when arterial supply lines are choked, “relief never reaches the last mile.” As a result, the DSS brought its door-to-door relief model, presumably, to reach the worst-affected areas and to ensure the efficient delivery of its supplies through appropriate channels. A press release that was published in The Telegraph on 15 May claims to have done just that: “volunteers, under the guidance and directions of Saint Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh Ji Insan, provided tireless services, to restore normalcy in the affected areas of Nepal.”
What the press release neglected to mention, however, is that Ram Rahim had to be given special permission by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to enter Nepal, due to a pending list of criminal cases against him. These cases include charges for the rape of female volunteers within his organisation, the murder of a journalist for publishing news against the DSS, and abetment of the castration of 400 men to bring them “closer to god.” When I asked Insan about these cases, he appeared to believe that they were the work of those who were threatened by the Dera’s position on alcohol and drugs. He told me over email, “There is no Saint, leader, philanthrope or social worker in the history of mankind who has de-addicted 50 million plus people, created world records in blood, organ and eye donation, planted millions of trees, rescued women from forced prostitution and undertaken the mammoth 111 simultaneous humanitarian endeavors.Yet, if the powerful vested interests are trying to defame us with baseless accusations, the liberal intelligentsia ought to see through those designs.”
The DSS website states that 59 vehicles, which included “34 truckloads of foodgrains and rehabilitation material, 2 mobile hospitals with ultra modern medical facilities, 5 ambulances, 1 fire brigade, 9 buses and 8 Innovas,” were dispatched by the organisation to Nepal on 30 April. Insan told me that, “We distributed the entire relief material that we had brought to Nepal, including trucks originally intended for Bihar.” However, according to documents released by the Department of Customs in Nepal, on 4 May, only one pickup van belonging to the DSS was recorded as having gone to Nuwakot, one of Nepal’s 75 districts, which is about 75 kilometres northwest of Kathmandu. Beyond that it was difficult to confirm, given the lack of data with the Nepalese authorities, the number of volunteers, vehicles, or the quantity of relief that reached the district. I could find no records to verify the DSS’s claims either at customs, which is meant to keep track of all vehicles carrying relief items that enter the country, or at the administration’s office at Bidur, the district headquarters of Nuwakot, which was coordinating aid efforts in that area. The most that I could gather were anecdotes from locals and administrators in the area who told me that they had seen at least 20 to 25 trucks and around 1000 uniformed volunteers setting up tents and distributing relief.
The contents of the trucks are unknown, although the DSS website claims that the “Revered Saint Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh Ji Insan HIMSELF [emphasis theirs]” along with 1000 volunteers of Shah Satnam Green S Welfare Force Wing, a unit that works specifically on disaster relief, distributed Milk powder, turmeric powder, Red chili powder, Candle, Sugar, Rice, Wheat Flour, Salt, Matchsticks, Refined Edible Oil, Plates, Cooker and other essential items to the earthquake victims.” When I spoke to the inhabitants of Peepaltar village in Nuwakot, where the DSS had gone for distribution, they seemed bemused. Not everyone had received a relief package, and they indicated that the primary concern of the baba and his volunteers appeared to be getting pictures of themselves clicked as they held blankets and pressure cookers once the tents had been set up, each of which bore the hand painted sign “MSG.” Ram Rahim’s Twitter feed is replete with these images and videos that show the villagers receiving their relief packages from the volunteers, who, the website declared, “have been the true angels for the victims of natural calamities.”