WITH POLICE and the government in Haryana on high alert after 38 people were killed in violence triggered by followers of the Dera Sacha Sauda at Panchkula and Sirsa three days ago, a CBI special court Monday sentenced the sect’s chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh to 20 years of rigorous imprisonment for the rape of two women followers between 1999 and 2001.
“The sentences shall not run concurrent. It means he shall remain inside the jail for 20 years. The court has also imposed a fine of Rs 30 lakh on the Dera chief, Rs 15 lakh in each of the two cases, which will be payable to the victims,” said H P S Verma, CBI counsel.
Defence lawyer S K Garg Narwana said that he would appeal the verdict in High Court. While the prosecution argued for the maximum sentence, the defence cited the Dera’s involvement in social service to plead for leniency, said lawyers.
CBI judge Jagdeep Singh, who was flown to Rohtak from Panchkula in a helicopter as a security measure, delivered the sentence inside a makeshift court room at the Sunaria jail, where Gurmeet Ram Rahim is lodged. Following the sentencing, the Dera broke down, according to reports from the jail.
Later, Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar summoned an emergency meeting of top officials and issued an appeal to people, especially Dera followers, to maintain peace. Unlike Friday, when the verdict against Ram Rahim triggered violence in Haryana, and parts of Punjab and Delhi, Monday’s sentencing was greeted by a tense calm with many of the Dera camps under police control and hundreds of followers leaving the sect’s base in Sirsa.
Even as security forces conducted flag marches in sensitive districts of both states, there were two incidents of vehicles being burnt in Sirsa, but the circumstances surrounding them were unclear.
Officials said that 37 companies of paramilitary forces were deployed in Haryana, and four in Punjab. The Army was out in Panchkula and Sirsa, where a curfew imposed on Friday will continue until Tuesday morning. Internet services in Punjab and Haryana, which have remained suspended since Thursday, will also be restored on Tuesday.
Police in Rohtak said they made preventive arrests and issued shoot-at-sight orders, with prohibitory orders in place and no movement of people allowed in a 10-km radius around the jail.
Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh said his government would will review the situation on Tuesday before taking any decision on lifting the curfews in some parts of the state. He also held a high-level meeting with administration and police officials before meeting the Governor.
The case against Gurmeet Ram Rahim was registered in December 2002 by the CBI on the directions of the High Court after the then Chief Justice received an anonymous letter about the alleged sexual exploitation of the two women followers.
Gurmeet Ram Rahim denied the charges but in July 2007, the CBI filed a chargesheet in the Ambala court, which accused him of sexually exploiting the two women between 1999 and 2001. The CBI special court then framed charges against Ram Rahim under Sections 376 (rape) and 506 (criminal intimidation) of the IPC in September 2008. Subsequently, the court was shifted from Ambala to Panchkula.