Written by Pallavi Singhal
It was exactly two years ago, when the violence that was sparked by the conviction of Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim on August 25, 2017, by the special CBI court in two cases of rape and the consequent sentence of 20 years in jail, shook the city to its core while the state witnessed its biggest administration failure.
While violence had erupted in various parts of the state, it was especially significant for Panchkula, as it became the epicentre of all violence owing to the presence of the CBI court here. The city suffered losses of Rs 10.57 crore. As many as 38 people were killed and more than 250 were injured.
Those whose properties, including vehicles, were damaged during the violence have not yet received the compensation as the Punjab and Haryana High Court is yet to delve into the legal question whether the Dera Sacha Sauda should be made to pay the costs.
The Dera’s properties have already been attached — the properties cannot be sold or transferred on orders of the High Court which is hearing a public interest litigation pertaining to the violence and cases registered by the police. The government has already received the claims for compensation from the affected but is waiting for the court’s decision.
A number of vehicles and public property was damaged by the followers forcing the deployed forces to open fire, leading to death of a number of Dera followers. A total number of 177 FIRs were registered in Panchkula following the violence. Among the FIRs, 17 cases are those involving conspiracy. The lead case at the Sector 5 police station had been registered on orders of the High Court on the basis of a news report.
The biggest administration failure was that more than one lakh followers had been allowed to enter the city before the court verdict.
Sanjay Chauhan, a lawyer residing in Sector 2, said, “There was total chaos and suspension of law and order as the police allowed the Dera Sacha Sauda followers to enter and take over the streets of Panchkula. There was a complicity of the authorities too as otherwise Section 144 was imposed. It was an unprecedented situation and due to it, the people had to install entry and exist gates in their sectors. The sort of madness that was seen during the time, even after the presence of a number of security forces from both Chandigarh and Panchkula can only mean they were not ready. The only question that comes to mind is will they ever be?”
While residents claim the police could have done better, police officials say they did all in their power to take necessary action and even opened fire when it was required.
A police officer who was posted in Sector 20 at the time said he had issued challans and confiscated at least 50 vehicles himself. “We had been on toes for at least a week before it all started. We were checking buses and many other vehicles going in the city. The followers had already been told to hide their intention of coming to the city from us but after sometime we realised that there was a pattern and started pulling them out. On August 25, we did not let any vehicle cross the border but they entered the city on foot, not from one but several locations. We had tried our best.”
Another police official, who was in the front line then, said, “The followers had started coming in from August 22 itself. Initially, we tried to stop them, but when we failed, we gave them a place in Sector 23 to stay and assemble. It was on 24th and 25th that they moved near Tau Devi Lal stadium. We could not do much because their number was far more than the police in town. On 25th, after the verdict was given, they started attacking the journalists present at the spot to cover and lighting fire to their vehicles. It was then that the military and police started firing.”
As many as 240 FIRs were registered after the violence on August 25 in Chandigarh and Panchkula. Out of a total of 177, which were registered in Panchkula, the maximum have been investigated by the police but their trials are still pending in the court.
The FIRs that still haven’t been investigated include FIRs against the main conspirators of the violence such as Aditya Insan, who is allegedly the mastermind behind all that happened on this day two years ago.
Appeals for bail/parole
While many reports on Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim asking for parole have floated, he hasn’t been given one yet. A fear of violence breaking out yet again can be cited as one of the main reasons.
While a prisoner is granted parole after completing two years in prison, Gurmeet Ram Rahim had moved his parole application much in advance which was turned down by the Punjab and Haryana High Court.
However, the BJP government has said every prisoner has the right to parole and supported his application. The move comes right before the Assembly elections in the state. The ground for parole is being cited under the Haryana Good Conduct Prisoners (Temporary Release) Act, where the state government can release a prisoner on parole or furlough in certain cases, including a family member’s death or severe ill health, a marriage of an immediate family member, construction of a house, agricultural activity or for any other sufficient cause if the state government is satisfied. Death, medical emergency and marriage remain common grounds in almost all states.
Police added sedition charges in 10 cases against Dera Sacha Sauda followers
By Saurabh Prashar
In 10 FIRs out of a total of 177 lodged in Panchkula, the police had slapped sedition charges against followers of Dera Sacha Sauda after the violence broke out following the conviction of Dera head Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh on August 25, 2017. Later, the state government gave the prosecution sanction for prosecuting the Dera followers for sedition in two cases. In five cases, the Panchkula district court has automatically dropped the sedition charges. In the remaining three cases, decision on the sedition charges is yet to be taken.
A member of SIT said, “In 152 cases out of 177, chargesheets were filed in various courts. In 25 cases, chargesheets will be filed shortly.”
A senior SIT officer said, “Two cases in which sedition charges still stand include the FIR number 345, which named Dera spokesman Aditya Insaan and local dera leader Surinder Dhiman Insaan. Later, the names of foster daughter of Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, Priyanka Taneja, known as Honeypreet, and nine others were added to the FIR. In these two cases, detailed chargesheets were filed and the two cases are still under trial.”
Spokesman Aditya Insaan, who was declared a proclaimed offender and a reward of Rs 5 lakh was announced on him, is still absconding. Despite its so-called serious efforts, the Haryana Police has failed to arrest him. Apart from Aditya Insaan, three other Dera followers too are still absconding and reward of Rs 2 lakh were announced on their heads.
Vipassana Insann, Dera administrator, against whom once Haryana Police had launched a massive manhunt in connection with FIR number 345, is not arrested till now. She has joined the police investigation and questioned thrice by a special investigation team (SIT) constituted for probing the violence-related cases.
In seven of the cases of rioting, violence, assault and damage of public property, over 55 Dera Sacha Sauda followers have been acquitted in the last two years, putting a question mark on the efficiency of the probe agencies.