INDIA: Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh sentenced to 20 years in jail for rapes (update)


Rohtak (PTI): A special CBI court on Monday sentenced Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh to 20 years in prison after his conviction in two rape cases.

CBI Judge Jagdeep Singh pronounced two sentences of 10 years rigorous imprisonment in each of the two cases that date back to 2002, said defence lawyer S K Garg Narwana.

He said both sentences will run consecutively for a total of 20 years in jail for the flamboyant guru who has millions of followers and counts politicians as well as celebrities as his friends.

Singh also fined him Rs 15 lakh in each of the two cases, of which Rs 14 lakh each would go to the two victims who were part of his sect and were coerced into having sex with him.

The special court said the victims revered the Dera Sacha Sauda chief as God but he committed a breach of the gravest nature and refused any leniency as it sentenced him to 20 years in jail for raping two of his “gullible and blind followers”.
“Having due regard to the peculiar fact and circumstances of the case, the court is of the view that if acts of the convict in sexually exploiting his own female disciples and intimidating them of dire consequences is taken note of, then such kind of persons does not deserve any kind of leniency from the court,” the special judge said in his ruling.

The court added, “Such criminal act of a particular individual / convict who is stated to be heading a religious organisation known as Dera Sacha Sauda having its headquarters at Sirsa are bound to shatter images of pious and sacred, spiritual, social, cultural and religious institutions existing in the country since times immemorial, which in turn reflects irreparable damages caused by the acts of the convict to the heritage of this ancient land.”

Earlier during the arguments, CBI’s advocate told the court that the Dera chief had committed sexual assault on the victim who used to treat him as a father and used to worship him as God and the convict had shattered the faith and exploited both the victims physically and psychologically.

He also said that victims were staying in the premises of Dera under the custody of the convict and his act is not less than “custodial rape.”
He said that Dera chief had projected himself as godman and took undue advantage of his position and committed rape on innocent girls.
“This is not an ordinary case but rarest of rare case which has larger implications for the entire society and accordingly the convict deserves maximum punishment,” the counsel said.
He added that instances of rape by the convict by taking benefit of his privileged position threatening the victims with dire consequences in the event of disclosing the crime to anyone were some of the aggravating factors that must be taken into account while sentencing the convict.

The advocate for the Dera chief had sought leniency while submitting that Singh was 50 years old and suffering from hyper-tension, acute diabetes and sever back-ache problem for last eight years.

He also sought leniency on the ground that his client was into welfare works into the society and there were so many institutions like schools colleges which are being run by the trust under his motivation and thousands of people are employed in various institutions of the trust.

“He is running maximum social work in Haryana specially when the government has failed to do such works. He has motivated people to even marry prostitutes and had played commendable role in drug de-addiction from the society,” the defence advocate said.

The sentence was passed in a special courtroom set up inside the Sunaria jail where the 50-year-old self-proclaimed godman is lodged since last Friday after he was convicted.

Media reports said he broke down and begged for forgiveness with folded hands when the first sentence was passed.

The judge was brought to Rohtak by a helicopter from Chandigarh and landed at a helipad near the jail located on the outskirts of Rohtak.

There were no immediate reports of violence. At least 38 people were killed and hundreds injured on Friday in Haryana and Punjab, which had seen widespread violence by his followers after his conviction on Friday. Most of the dead were shot by police who had opened fire to quell the protests.

To avoid more trouble it was decided that CBI Judge Jagdeep Singh should pronounce the sentence in the jail, rather than bring Ram Rahim back to his court in Panchkula, near Chandigarh.

Singh arrived in Rohtak in a helicopter, landing on a helipad near the jail located on the outskirts of Rohtak.

A multi-layer security cordon manned by police and 23 companies of paramilitary forces was thrown in and around Rohtak and also around the jail. The Army has been kept on standby while all routes to the jail were sealed.

Haryana and Punjab remained on high alert with officials warning that violent miscreants will be shot at sight, describing the security situation as “challenging.”

Ram Rahim was found guilty of rape in a case that stemmed from an anonymous written complaint in April 2002 that he had sexually exploited two female followers. The case was registered by the CBI in December 2002 on the directions of the Punjab and Haryana High Court.

The CBI filed the chargesheet against the Dera head in Ambala court in July 2007. The chargesheet mentions sexual exploitation of two ‘Sadhvis’ (women followers) between 1999 and 2001.

The special CBI court framed charges against Ram Rahim under sections 376 (rape) and 506 (criminal intimidation) of the IPC in September 2008. Between 2009 and 2010, the two complainants recorded their statements before the court.

The special CBI court shifted from Ambala to Panchkula and the case against Dera chief was also transferred to Panchkula CBI Court.

In July 2017, the court ordered daily hearing and arguments of prosecution and defence were concluded on August 17, 2017.

Prohibitory orders under Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), prohibiting assembly of five or more persons, and carrying of firearms and other weapons, are already in place in Rohtak district.

Rohtak Deputy Commissioner Atul Kumar said police will not hesitate to open fire again at those spreading violence.

“It is a challenging situation, but we are prepared”, Kumar told reporters.

“We are prepared to deal with any unscrupulous element who may try to create trouble … if there is any such element who indulges in any act of violence endangering innocent lives, if he does not pay heed to warnings then shoot-at-sight will be used against him. Action will be taken as the situation demands,” he asserted.

“We have clarity of thought, we are not confused. If we feel any person is endangering lives of innocent people and is causing damage to property, then shoot-at-sight will be used (to deal in such a situation),” he said.

Haryana DGP B S Sandhu also said that “maintaining law and order is the top priority for the Haryana Police today.”

Rohtak Range IG, Navdeep Singh Virk said no Dera follower will be allowed to enter Rohtak district or come near the jail.

“For that we have set up special barricades across the entire Rohtak district,” he said.

As a precautionary measure, schools and other educational institutions remained shut in Haryana while these will also remain closed in sensitive districts in Punjab.