Indian actor arrested for imitating popular religious leader

AP News
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Posted: Jan 13, 2016 9:07 AM

NEW DELHI (AP) — An Indian comic actor was arrested Wednesday after he imitated the hugely popular but controversial leader of a religious sect.

The Press Trust of India news agency said Kiku Sharda appeared before a magistrate in the northern state of Haryana. He was accused of hurting religious sensibilities, which can be punished by up to three years' imprisonment.

Sharda had imitated Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, the flamboyant leader of the Dera Sacha Sauda sect, during a television appearance in December. He has apologized for hurting the feelings of the sect's followers.

"I'm only an actor. I was given a script and I was doing my job," Sharda told reporters. "I've already apologized and I apologize again."

Religion is a sensitive subject in India, a multicultural country of 1.3 billion people, but Sharda's arrest prompted an outpouring of protest on social media.

Sharda gained popularity on the television show "Comedy Nights with Kapil."

Singh, the religious leader, has starred in several self-made music videos, in which he can be seen riding motorcycles dressed in over-the-top costumes. He also regularly performs at rock concerts for thousands of cheering followers.

However, he faces allegations of rape and murder and accusations that he ordered hundreds of followers to be castrated.

His sect has a massive following in the northern states of Punjab and Haryana and he wields considerable political clout in the region.