India's controversial 'bling guru' has been charged with forcibly castrating 400 followers of his sect, according to police.
Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh and two doctors – Pankaj Garg and M P Singh – have been accused of carrying out the surgery on its Dera Sacha Sauda members at its Sirsa base, in India's northern Haryana state.
The 50-year-old guru, who claims to have more than 60 million followers around the world, is already serving a 20-year jail term for two rape cases after being sentenced last August, which led to riots which claimed the lives of dozens.
Singh and his doctors are charged with criminal conspiracy, voluntarily causing hurt using dangerous weapons and criminal intimidation, according to court papers lodged by India's Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on Thursday (1 February).
CBI spokesman Abhishek Dayal told reporters that "around 400 male devotes" in the year 2000 at the sect's headquarters "were castrated at Dera under the false claim made by Ram Rahim Singh that castration would lead to realisation of god through him and thus they were emasculated through surgeries done at the behest of Singh".
Singh has previously refuted the charge of mass castration. He has told the Times of India this accusation was "100% false. I never asked anyone to do so".
The flamboyant Indian spiritual leader is known as 'the guru in bling' for his colourful clothes, ornate jewellery and appearances in a half a dozen music videos. He is also known as Rockstar Baba.
The move follows the guru's conviction for the rape of two female followers last summer, by a court in Panchkula in Haryana.
More than 200,000 of his followers flocked to the town at the end of the trial on 28 August last year. As the guilty verdict filtered onto the streets the Indian army was forced to use water cannons as the angry crowds threw stones, torched vehicles and set fire to government buildings. Dozens died and hundreds more were injured as a result of the rioting.
A curfew was imposed in three of Punjab's largest cities as hundreds of incidents of violence were reported.
Delhi, the Indian capital, was placed on high alert, with several reports of arson caused by the guru's followers across the city.
Singh, one of the most powerful men in India, is head of the 70-year-old sect from its ashram headquarters on a sprawling, 1,000-acre Haryana property that includes a hotel, cinema, cricket stadium and schools.
Gurus play an important role in the sub-continent, enlightening the lives of many of the poorest Indians in the country, often acting as their political and spiritual voice, but few have attracted the amount of attention that Singh has in recent years.
He was just 23 years old when he took over the sect. Based out of northern India, the sect runs 46 centres across India and the world.
Members follows the teachings of Mastana Balochistani, who founded the group in 1948. On its website the group describes itself as a "social welfare and spiritual organisation that preaches and practices humanitarianism and selfless services to others".
The group promotes the power of meditation as well as a diet eschewing meat, eggs and fish. The sect is also against drugs and alcohol.