New Delhi: A special CBI court on Monday (August 28) sentenced Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh to 20 years in prison – 10 years each for two rape cases that will run consecutively and not concurrently, as was earlier understood. The sentencing hearing was held in Sunaria jail, Rohtak. A special court was set up in the jail premises to prevent a repeat of the violence which was witnessed following the announcement of the conviction of the Dera head on Friday.
The CBI court also fined the Dera chief Rs 30 lakh for three separate offences including attempt to murder and criminal intimidation. The court allowed him a separate cell, but no attendants or special facilities After the verdict, 50-year-old Singh was seen weeping profusely as he sat on the floor outside the courtroom. He was then forcibly taken away by security personnel.
Judge Jagdeep Singh, along with the court staff, was flown in from Chandigarh by helicopter earlier in the morning. Rohtak was placed on high alert for the hearing. Rohtak deputy commissioner Atul Kumar had earlier declared that shoot at sight orders have been issued. He added that a three-tier security ring has been put in place around Sunaria district jail, where Singh is lodged, with 4,000 security personnel manning the area.
“We will not allow anyone to create any sort of trouble in Rohtak. Anyone breaking law or indulging in acts of violence or arson will himself be responsible for his fate. Anyone creating trouble will be given a warning first and if he still pays no heed, then he will have to face the bullet,” he had said.
TV channels reported that Singh broke down in court and pleaded for leniency before the judge announced his sentence. His followers set ablaze two cars in Phoolka area of Haryana’s Sirsa while the sentencing hearing was in session, ANI reported. While the CBI asked for life imprisonment, his lawyer asked for leniency because of his social work record.
On August 25, Singh was convicted of raping two female followers. The sections he was convicted under entail a minimum punishment of seven years and a maximum of life imprisonment.
After Singh was convicted on Friday, his followers, who had gathered in large numbers outside the court in Panchkula, Haryana, turned violent, destroying property, and burning media OB vans and burning buses. Violence spread to other parts of Haryana, as well as Punjab and Delhi. Thirty one people died in the clashes that ensued with the police and over 250 were injured. The Centre and Haryana government were widely criticised, including by the Punjab and Haryana high court, for allowing crowds to gather despite knowing what may happen.
The rape Singh has been convicted of dates back to 1999. A case was filed in 2002, when an anonymous letter written by the complainant reached the Punjab and Haryana high court and then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The complainant said in her letter:
One night, at about 10 pm, I was called by Guru Maharaj to his gufa (den). I found him … with a revolver lying next to his pillow. He told me that as I, a sadhvi, had dedicated my mind and body to the ‘seva‘ of the guru, he, the guru, wanted to claim his due. When I protested, he told me that I should have no doubt he indeed was god. ‘Didn’t Lord Krishna make love to his gopis every night? Yet people regard him as god,’ he told me. When I was still not convinced, he told me he could shoot me here and now and no one would raise a finger, not even my parents. ‘The chief ministers of Punjab and Haryana and many central ministers come and touch my feet. I can get your family members removed from their jobs and get them killed if you protest,’ he told me.
There are about 40 unmarried women between 35-40 years of age in the ashram regarded as devis. We are not allowed to even look at another man, have to keep our heads covered with a white dupatta … But our life here is worse than that of prostitutes. Even if our parents call we are not allowed to talk to them without the guru’s permission. If any sadhvi goes back home and tells her family members about what has happened to her, goondas from the deras threaten the family members with death threats, forcing them to keep quiet. If you get the sadhvis of the dera medically examined you will learn that they are not sadhvis….
Singh is also accused in the murder of journalist Ram Chander Chhatrapati, who exposed the rape accusations against Singh in his newspaper Poora Sachh. The police had refused to name Singh in the original FIR; the case was transferred to the CBI after Chhatrapati’s son filed a petition in the Punjab and Haryana high court. The case is now being heard in the same CBI court in Panchkula that found Singh guilt of rape.
Also read: Why Do People Go to the Dera?
Dera Sacha Sauda has close to 50 million followers worldwide, according to some estimates, many of whom are from ‘lower’ caste and marginalised backgrounds. Singh is known as a ‘Rockstar Baba’ – he has produced three films about himself starring himself, where he fights bad guys, sings and rides a flying motorcycle.