Indian comedian Kiku Sharda has been arrested for mimicking a popular religious guru.
The actor has been sent to judicial custody for two weeks for allegedly hurting the “religious sentiments” of Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh’s followers.
Sharda mimicked the guru in a TV appearance on 27 December.
The comedian has apologised, saying he was “really very, very sorry” and he “did not want to hurt anyone’s sentiments” through his act.
“I have a lot of respect for Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singhji. The look [on the show] wasn’t deliberate; it just happened to match [the guru’s looks]. We didn’t plan it as a spoof on him. It’s a coincidence, and it is unfortunate. I am sorry that people felt hurt,” he told the Hindustan Times newspaper.
But a spokesperson from the guru’s ashram told the CNN-IBN news channel that “you cannot commit a crime and apologise. The law has no such provision”.
He has published half a dozen music videos and regularly performs at rock concerts, which are attended by tens of thousands of followers.
In his 2014 hit number Highway Love Charger, which has been viewed more than two million times on YouTube, the guru is seen singing and dancing in multi-coloured pyjamas and a top that is embellished with glittering sequins and stones.
He’s also played himself in two films – Messenger of God and Messenger of God 2 – where he performed daredevil stunts, riding bikes and taking on villains.
The Dera Sacha Sauda website claims it is a “social welfare and spiritual organisation that preaches and practices humanitarianism and selfless services to others”.
The sect claims to have more than 50 million followers around the world and says it campaigns against female foeticide and for reforms for sex workers, as well as running schools and several hospitals.
In recent months, the Dera chief has been mired in controversy, with allegations that he forced 400 followers to undergo castrations so that they could get “closer to God” and is also accused of rape and murder – charges a spokesman for the sect has denied.
He has also been opposed by mainstream Sikh leaders, who accuse him of insulting and belittling their faith.
Some comedians have criticised Sharda’s arrest.
“This seems like an overreaction to a comic act. This will definitely discourage new stand-up comedians,” actor and comedian Sunil Paul said.
However he urged his colleagues “to be careful while mimicking people who have millions of followers”.