The northern Indian state of Haryana was put on high alert on Friday for the launch of a controversial film featuring the head of a religious sect who claims to be a messenger of God. The film MSG - The Messenger
opened in approximately 3,000 theaters across the country with major bookings seen in Haryana, the base of the sect Dera Sacha Sauda (Dera). The sect claims to have 50 million followers across the world. Police have been deployed at all the theaters in Haryana and authorities have instituted a special order prohibiting the gathering of five or more people within 200 meters of theaters. The heavy security measures come in the wake of protests by various Sikh groups who have sought a ban on the movie. Sikhs and Dera supporters have clashed repeatedly in recent years over perceived religious insults against each other.
The movie is banned in Punjab, which has a majority Sikh population. Haryana too saw simmering tensions over the release of the film as some areas have substantial Sikh populations. “We are making sure that there is no breach of the peace in the region. Additional paramilitary forces have also been called,” Yashpal Singal, the Haryana police director-general, told ucanews.com. Thus far, the screenings have been peaceful, he said. “We don’t want any violence. We have our fingers crossed,” he added. In the 250-million rupee (US$16,000) film, sect leader Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh is presented as the savior of the world in an elaborate Bollywood-style manner. He is also shown performing miracles and curing terminal diseases. The movie, which was scheduled for release on January 16, ran into trouble after censors refused to clear the film over the way the sect leader was projected in the movie. However, the film was given its certificate last week. “The movie is running in packed theaters in Delhi and surrounding regions. The movie focuses on positivity in society and is against the menace of drugs affecting the youth,” Aditya Insan, a sect spokesperson told ucanews.com. Insan said that there is “no depiction symbolic or otherwise against any religion or caste. There is no intentional or wrongful depiction.” Speaking about opposition to the movie, he said “the law will deal with trouble makers”. In a last-ditch effort to stall the movie, Jagdish Singh Jhinda, president of the Haryana Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee (HSGMC), on Thursday filed a petition in the Punjab and Haryana High Court seeking a ban on screenings saying its release could lead to instability in the region. However, the court dismissed the petition saying that “people have to learn to live with so many religions and faiths…. Seculars cannot become panicky [on such issues].” The sect head has long been embroiled in scandal and is currently facing trial in cases of murder and sexual exploitation of his female followers. Last month, the Central Bureau of Investigation, India's top investigation agency, was asked by the Punjab and Haryana High Court to probe him over the alleged forced castration of some 400 "saints" in his sect.
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