Dera Sacha Sauda Chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh was on Friday convicted by a CBI court in a 14-year-old rape case. The Dera chief was found guilty of raping two women followers, the court said. The quantum of punishment will be announced on August 28.
Anticipating trouble from the Dera chief's followers, the governments in Haryana and Punjab are on alert. In fact, according to agency reports, the Punjab Government has imposed Section 144 across the entire state with immediate effect and shut all schools and colleges on August 25.
Here are the details of the case that has two states on the tenterhooks:
According to Indian Express, a sadhvi from the Dera Sacha Sauda wrote an anonymous letter to then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 2002. In the letter, the sadhvi alleged that Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh had raped her and other sadhvis, after which he warned her to keep quiet and boasted of his political clout in Haryana and Punjab. According to the national daily, the Punjab and Haryana High Court took suo motu cognisance of the letter and referred the matter to the CBI for an enquiry in September that year.
After the CBI questioned a number of sadhvis who had left the Dera, two of the women who were questioned accused the Dera chief of raping of them, the report said. Subsequently, the CBI filed a chargesheet on July 30, 2007.
According to the Hindustan Times, CBI officials have said that they have concrete evidence against the self-styled godman. The report added that the statements of the two sadhvis who have alleged that the Dera chief had raped them have been recorded before a magistrate under section 164 CrPC, which makes them admissible as evidence.
Citing sources, the national daily said that Khatta Singh, who was once the Dera chief's close associate and driver, was also a witness against Singh.
As reported earlier, on August 17 this year, the special CBI court of Panchkula concluded hearing in the case but reserved pronouncing the verdict for August 25.
For the August 17 hearing, Singh was recused from appearing in person at Panchkula by the court. The Dera chief had cited medical reasons for not attending court in person.
The hearing has been going on since 2007.
What did the anonymous letter say
The anonymous letter that started the whole affair alleged that the Dera chief had exploited between 35 to 40 other Sadhvis, according to the HT report.
The letter, according to the national daily, described how the alleged victim was asked to meet the Dera chief in his room late one night. Upon entering his room, she found that a pornographic film was playing on the television and a firearm was lying near the bed. The Dera chief was seated on his bed. The letter alleged that the Dera chief raped her that night and that the assaults continued for the next three years.
Accused of murder
Aside from the rape case, the Dera chief is also an accused in the murders of Ranjit Singh, a Dera follower whose family alleges that he was murdered for being suspected of involvement in the anonymous letter sent to PM Vajpayee, and journalist Ram Chander Chattrapati, who wrote extensively regarding the self-styled godman, according to the Indian Express.
Larger than life godman
Always a crowd-puller as far as his flock goes, even after being convicted in the rape case, the Dera chief will have the support of thousands of his followers who were set to register their presence in Panchkula. According to Hindustan Times, close to 50,000 Dera Sacha Sauda followers had converged in Panchkula ahead of the CBI verdict.
Some of his followers are close to fanatical. A February 2016 Business Standard report illustrates this fanaticism: "For many, this sighting of the Dera Sacha Sauda chief is the realisation of a dream, one that will help them sleep peacefully. Gurpreet Singh, a slight man in his late 20s, tells me that this is the moment people like him wait for. 'Guruji has blessed me,' he says with easy conviction. 'Only good things will happen now.'"
Singh, according to the report, has enjoyed the status of a larger-than-life figure whose crusades against drugs, alcohol, and prostitution have made him a cult hero. Speaking to Business Standard, one of his followers had said, "There is nothing that Guruji cannot do. He has the power to change everything."