Paramilitary forces have been deployed as thousands of Dera Sacha Sauda followers descend on Punjab.
With less than two days to go for the CBI court in Panchkula to pronounce its verdict in the rape case in which Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh is an accused, security in Haryana and Punjab, and joint capital Chandigarh, has been beefed up. The Centre has rushed in additional companies of paramilitary forces to meet any exigency should the supporters of the controversial ‘godman’ resort to violence in the event of an unfavourable judgment.
The alleged rape dates back to 1999, when the victim, who was an inmate of the Dera ashram in Sirsa, claims to have been sexually assaulted by Singh. But it was only in April 2002 that an anonymous complaint by the victim reached the Punjab and Haryana high court. In May 2002, the high court directed the Sirsa district and sessions judge to probe the matter and in September the case was handed over to the CBI.
In December that year, the CBI booked Singh for rape, criminal intimidation and acts intended to insult the modesty of a woman. Five years later, in July 2007, the chargesheet was filed, with the trial beginning in August 2008. The arguments were completed last week on August 17, with the court set to pronounce its order on August 25
The situation is particularly tense in Panchkula as a large number of Dera followers have begun descending at the organisation’s Naam Charcha Ghar ahead of the judgement. The court has directed Singh to be present when the order is passed.
A number of the Dera followers have also reportedly occupied parks, roads and sidewalks in the city. The police and administration are tense as the Dera claims to have over 6 crore followers in the country and abroad, and lakhs could take to the streets in protest if Singh is convicted.
The Haryana government had on Tuesday imposed prohibitory orders under Section 144 of the CrPC until August 25 to avert any incident of violence. About 97 CRPF companies will be deployed in Panchkula on August 25, a stadium in Sector 16 of Chandigarh has also been designated as a temporary jail in case the situation warrants the detention of Dera followers.
Forces deployed in Sirsa
A large police contingent has also been deployed around the Dera headquarters in Sirsa and other other premises of the group in the two states. In addition to state police personnel, ten companies of central forces have already been deployed, with more expected to arrive over the next two days.
The police have also intensified the checking of vehicles and people moving towards the Dera headquarters, and a large number of sticks and other items that can be used as weapons have been seized.
Dera supporters allegedly stockpiling fuel, sharp-edged objects
Meanwhile, the Punjab director general of police for law and order has sent a note to all senior police officers to warn them that Dera followers are storing fuel and objects that can be used as weapons.
“It has come to the notice that Dera Sacha Sauda premise have started storing petrol, diesel in drums at Naam Charcha Ghars in district Faridkot. They have stored sharp edged weapons and stones on the roof of Naam Charcha ghars. On August 25, if the hon’ble court would give verdict against Gurmeet Ram Rahim, head of Dera Sacha Sauda, Sirsa then devotees can use petrol and weapons to harm/ destroy the government/ public properties.”
The note has also urged all the officers to “deploy sufficient manpower and to make adequate law and order arrangements to ensure that all necessary steps including preventive and precautionary (steps) are taken” to ensure that no untoward incident occurs.
No stranger to controversies
The Dera chief is no stranger to controversies and has had a chequered past.
1991: One of his first trysts with the law was in connection with the disappearance of his driver, Faqir Chand, who went missing in 1991. The CBI had probed the case but filed a closure report in which Singh was acquitted in December 2010.
1999: The Dera chief was accused of sexually exploiting his women followers. The complaint by one follower led to the current case.
2002: Singh was accused of murdering Haryana-based journalist Ram Chander Chhatrapati. The case is under trial.
2007: Singh was accused of imitating the 10th Sikh guru, Guru Gobind Singh, by appearing in similar attire, but was acquitted in the matter in August 2014.
2014: The Punjab and Haryana high court directed the CBI to probe allegations that Singh forcibly castrated nearly 400 followers. The CBI probe is underway, with 10 alleged victims being identified.
2016: A complaint was filed by a Vishwa Hindu Parishad activist with the Moga police alleging that Singh ‘imitated’ Lord Vishnu.