“That was my introduction to him, and I was inducted as a young sadhu (priest),” said Chauhan. “My devotion just grew in that environment, where we looked at him as God, and were made to believe everything about him was divine. Even the language we were to use to refer to him was full of God-like reverence. Many like me had internalised it.”
“One can call it brainwash, in a way. They slowly roped me in, starting with involving me in seva (service) like cleaning or serving in the canteen.”
In 2002, two women sent an anonymous letter to the Indian prime minister at the time, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, stating in detail how Singh – a man his devotees called “guruji (teacher)” or “pitaji (father)” – had raped them. In a series of investigations, news outlets reported how Singh created a harem of sorts, wherein he would have sex with his female devotees and afterwards, some would be married off to male devotees within the dera. The rape by Singh was referred to as “maafi” or an act of pardon. The accusation blew the lid on a series of other serious allegations. It took the government 15 years to convict Singh of rape, after which he was sentenced to 20 years in jail. His arrest for rape in 2017 led to deadly violence across north Haryana, which killed at least 30 people and left over 200 injured. That same year, investigators found a “sex cave” – a private area in Singh’s personal residence where women and children were allegedly sexually exploited – and mass graves at his headquarters.
“We looked at him as God, and were made to believe everything about him was divine. Even the language we were to use to refer to him was full of God-like reverence. Many like me had internalised it.”
“I, along with other priests, used to hear of operations from other senior management of the dera. These men would claim they’re going for an operation, and when they came out, guruji would hug them, there would be fanfare, and he would give them his personal belongings as gifts, like they were special.” For a long time, Chauhan had no idea that these “operations” were actually castrations. “All I was told is that I will be closer to God after that, that my heart will be completely devoted to him, and that it was just a small operation,” he said. “A lot of things were hidden. But we didn’t question this because our faith was blind.” Chauhan recalled how around 400–500 men went in for these surgeries in 1999. “We later found out that some of those men in the upper management were instructed to talk highly about the procedure, about how it brought them closer to God, and how clear the world looked to them after. They didn’t mention the medical side of it at all.”And then, when Chauhan accompanied Singh on a trip, Singh asked him to visit the doctors from the dera and tell them that the guruji had told him, “Tum par rehmat ho gayi hai (You’re being blessed).” Chauhan was 17. When Chauhan went to the hospital, he said he found 20 other men and boys – some were minors – awaiting their turn to be operated on, too. Chauhan recalled he was handed a bottle of spiked Pepsi, which numbed his senses. “But I could still figure out what was happening to me,” he said. “They then gave me an injection on my private parts. But I was so out of it that I couldn’t even object.” When the surgery started, Chauhan threw up and then passed out.
Chauhan said he was castrated when he was 20 years old, without having been properly informed about the surgery, how it was to be performed, and its repercussions.
The next morning, when he came to, he had excruciating pain in his genital area. “It was like someone was ripping my insides out,” said Chauhan. He knew something was wrong. Three days later, when a medical assistant removed his bandages, Chauhan looked down. “I didn’t have my testicles. They were gone,” he said. “That was the moment my love for guruji also died. I knew I had to leave. I had been wronged.”
“All I was told is that I will be closer to God after that, that my heart will be completely devoted to him. A lot of things were hidden. But we didn’t question this because our faith was blind.”
The next morning, when Chauhan came to, he had excruciating pain in his genital area. “It was like someone was ripping my insides out,” he said. “When I looked down at my genitals, I didn’t have my testicles. They were gone. That was the moment my love for guruji also died.”
Seven other followers of the dera also recorded statements, confirming they, too, were castrated, while a few others testified in 2015 that they agreed to the castrations willingly.
“My parents didn’t eat for two days after I told them. But I also told them that I’m not dead yet, and I can still take care of them.”
At first, Chauhan and his family would tell every member of their village, Tohana, to just ostracise them for everyone’s safety. But as charges mounted against Singh, his influence started to wane, and so did the threat of danger from his cult. Although it appears Singh will be in jail for the rest of his life, Chauhan believes that a life term isn’t enough to pay for everything Singh had done. “He’s a monster, an international terrorist,” Chauhan said. “He’s committed crimes against humanity. If I talk about punishment, even hanging won’t suffice. He should be made an example of so that self-proclaimed godmen would think a thousand times before committing such crimes.” Follow Pallavi Pundir on Twitter.
“I feel like I lost my youth, and my zeal to do so much in life. This monster enslaved me in such a way that I didn’t even know I was enslaved.”