The controversial guru who is already serving a 20-year-prison term for raping two female followers in a Rohtak jail, can still challenge the latest verdict in higher courts of law in India.
Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh and three others were sentenced to life imprisonment by a special court in Panchkula after they were convicted in the murder of journalist Ramchander Chhatrapati. Ram Rahim is already serving 20 years sentence in a rape case and after today he will be serving both the punishments concurrently. This means that the Dera chief will be serving his life imprisonment after completing his 20 years sentence. Earlier in the week, Ram Rahim and the three others were convicted in the case after they appeared before the court through video conferencing.
Special security arrangements were made outside the Panchkula court complex as well as in parts of Haryana, in particular, Panchkula and Sirsa which are home to the headquarters of the controversial Dera Sacha Sauda.
Who is Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh?
51-year-old Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh is the chief of spiritual sect Dera Sacha Sauda which was established by Mastaa Balochistani in April 1948. The Sirsa-based sect has over 46 other ashrams in the country with huge following, with majority of them being Dalits and other backward castes.
In 2015, The Indian Express had ranked Ram Rahim as the 96th most influential Indian in a list of 100.
2002 journalist murder case
A week ago, Special CBI Court judge Jagdeep Singh had convicted Ram Rahim along with Kuldeep Singh, Nirmal Singh and Krishan Lal guilty of murdering journalist Ram Chander Chhatarpati in 2002 for running a story in his newspaper, ‘Poora Sach’, which accused Dera chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh of sexually exploiting his women followers. The statement of self-styled Godman’s former driver, Khatta singh proved crucial; he was a prime witness in the murder case of journalist Ram Chander Chhatarpati for CBI.
E-Judgement, a first for the region but why?
All four were present through video conferencing during the conviction hearing. However, IE reports that Krishan Lal, Kuldeep Singh and Nirmal Singh, were present before court for the pronouncement of the sentence.
Special permission was sought by Haryana government so that the self-styled Dera Sacha Sauda sect head could bear witness to his sentencing along with three others through video conference which marks the first time for the region where the judgment was made in this way.
This was done to avoid any untoward incident in the state which, less than two years ago, had witnessed widespread violence by the followers of the controversial guru who is already serving a 20-year-prison term for raping two female followers in a Rohtak jail. The 51-year-old can still challenge the verdict in higher courts of law in India.
Months following his conviction, his close aide and ‘adopted daughter’ Honeypreet went into hiding with authorities on a wild goose chase trying to track her down. Honeypreet Insaan, whose real name is Priyanka Taneja, was finally tracked down in October 2017 and is in jail for the Panchkula violence and other related cases. However, many higher ranking dera functionaries are still on the run. Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh and Honeypreet also made two films – MSG and its sequel; the Godman made five films starring himself.
This month, Honeypreet was denied the Prison Inmate Phoning System (PISM) phone facility by the Haryana Police as they fear it may lead to violence.
Politics and vote bank ahead of crucial elections
This verdict could affect Haryana politics ahead of the Lok sabha elections and Assembly polls which are just a couple of months away. It will be interesting to see how the politics plays out considering the readymade vote bank in Ram Rahim’s followers.
According to a report by IE, the Dera supported the Congress in 2007 during Assembly polls in Punjab whereas in 2012, it was neutral, and followers could make their own choices. However, in the 2014 Haryana Assembly elections,, the Dera gave its full support to the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP).