What is the alleged Sadhvi rape case against Dera Sacha Sauda head Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh?
In 2002, a Dera Sacha Sauda sadhvi sent an anonymous letter to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee accusing Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh of raping her and other sadhvis. She accused the Dera chief of warning her not to talk about the incident, boasting of the clout he had with politicians in Punjab and Haryana. Taking suo motu cognizance of the letter, Punjab and Haryana High Court referred the matter to CBI for an inquiry on September 24, 2002.
CBI questioned 18 sadhvis who had left the Dera, some of whom told investigators that the Dera chief and his followers were “very dangerous people”. Two of the women accused the Dera chief of rape. One of them said she had been raped in order that she may be “purified”. CBI filed a chargesheet on July 30, 2007. A special CBI court in Panchkula will pronounce its verdict in the case on August 25.
The Dera chief is also an accused in the murders of Dera follower Ranjit Singh (whose family alleges that he was killed on suspicion of involvement in the anonymous sadhvi’s letter) and journalist Ram Chander Chattrapati (who wrote extensively on “illegal activities” in the Dera). Ranjit was murdered on July 10, 2002; Chattrapati, who was shot at on October 23, 2002, died in hospital after about a month. Ram Rahim verdict: Sale of petrol in bottles, cans banned in parts of Punjab. Read.
Why are Punjab and Haryana tense?
Both states, in which a large number of Dera followers reside, fear largescale violence if the verdict goes against the Dera chief. Dera followers, who are called “premis”, have already gathered in their thousands in Panchkula, at the headquarters of the sect in Sirsa, and at its deras in Punjab and Haryana to express solidarity with Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh in case of a conviction. The Dera has a massive base of followers across Punjab, Haryana and other states, most of whom are Dalits. The Dera’s official website boasts of 60 million “faithful followers” around the world. Punjab has an additional reason to worry because it has been witness to bloody clashes between Sikhs and Dera followers earlier. Punjab fears a face-off irrespective of which side finds the reason to celebrate.
What is the history of the standoff between Sikhs and Dera Sacha Sauda?
Sikh institutions nurse a grouse against the Dera for weaning away a section of Sikhs. The Dera draws its support from Dalit Sikhs who feel discriminated against by upper-caste Sikhs. The Dera has repeatedly used its followers’ base to wield political influence. Following a massive clash between Sikhs and Dera followers in May 2007 after the Dera chief allegedly imitated Guru Gobind Singh, the Dera accused the then ruling Shiromani Akali Dal, which also controlled the Akal Takht and SGPC, of targeting its followers because the Dera had supported the Congress in the elections.
How have political parties reacted to the build-up of tension?
The Congress and Shiromani Akali Dal in Punjab, as well as parties in Haryana, have banked on the Dera for political support that is often seen as having the ability to tilt the scales in one or the other direction. In the February 4 elections this year, the Dera supported SAD nominees in Malwa. It did not swing the SAD’s fortunes, but it did damage the prospects of the Aam Aadmi Party to a significant extent. Chief Minister Amarinder Singh has declared that his government would deal with any law and order problem with an iron hand. The BJP government in Haryana has not so far held any talks with the Dera to defuse a potential conflagration. The Dera had supported the BJP in the 2014 Assembly elections.