Panchkula: A special CBI court here today convicted Dera Sacha Sauda head Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh in a rape case, in a verdict pronounced amid unprecedented security cover, over 15 years after an anonymous sexual exploitation complaint was registered against him.
The CBI judge Jagdeep Singh while holding the 50-year-old Dera chief guilty of rape said the quantum of sentence will be pronounced on August 28, CBI counsel HPS Verma told reporters outside the court.
The punishment can be a jail term not less than seven years but may even extend to life imprisonment. Ram Rahim reached the court in Panchkula, a tiny satellite town of Chandigarh, over five hours after he left the sect-headquarters at Sirsa by road at about 9:am. Sirsa is about 260 km from Chandigarh.
Army personnel and central paramilitary forces took positions around the CBI court complex in Panchkula, even as the area close to the complex was sealed.
As tension mounted, the Punjab and Haryana High Court directed officers of the Haryana government to use weapons or force, if required, to tackle the situation arising out of the verdict.
The sexual exploitation case was registered against the Dera chief in December 2002 by the CBI on the directions of the Punjab and Haryana High Court after an anonymous letter was written to the then Chief Justice about the alleged sexual exploitation of two ‘sadhvis’ (female followers) by him. The Dera chief, however, has denied these charges.
The case was registered eight months after the then chief justice received the letter. Ram Rahim is also an accused in two murder cases.
The Dera chief, who enjoys ‘Z’ category security, travelled in a convoy that included several SUVs to reach Panchkula.
As the Dera head left the sect headquarters at Sirsa, some of the followers standing on the roadside turned hysterical and held up the cavalcade for a few minutes.
The followers, mostly young men, squatted on the road just in front of the cavalcade. However, the police immediately evicted them following which the Dera chief continued his onward journey to Panchkula.
The Dera chief is accompanied by a number of his own security guards in the cavalcade. Amid tension ahead of the verdict, the Dera head earlier appealed to his followers to maintain calm and peace.
Tens of thousands of ‘premis’, what Dera followers are popularly known, have descended on Panchkula, which has virtually turned into a security fortress.
A large number of Dera followers were also camping in Sirsa where authorities clamped curfew from 10 pm yesterday. Army has been called in Sirsa as well to deal with any law order situation.
Prohibitory orders have already been clamped in Punjab, Haryana and Chandigarh.
Security agencies in Punjab, Haryana and Chandigarh have been on their toes ahead of the verdict. “At the sect headquarters at Sirsa, police and paramilitary forces took out a flag march past midnight to enforce the curfew clamped at 10 PM (yesterday) for an indefinite period,” Sirsa SP Ashwin Shenvi said.
The Dera followers could be seen occupying parks, roads and other available places like under the flyovers to pitch their tents.
However, authorities said that they had sealed the road leading to the district court complex and nobody was being allowed on that route.
Authorities used loud speakers to appeal to followers to move out of Panchkula. A Dera spokesperson had yesterday claimed that around five lakh followers have arrived in the sect headquarters.
CBI filed the chargesheet against the Dera head in Ambala court in July 2007 about five years after the registration of the rape case. The chargesheet mentions about sexual exploitation of two ‘Sadhvis’ (women followers) between 1999 and 2001.
The Special CBI court framed charges against Ram Rahim under sections 376 (rape) and 506 (criminal intimidation) of the IPC in September 2008.
Between 2009 and 2010, the two complainants recorded their statements before the court. The Special CBI court shifted from Ambala to Panchkula and the case against Dera chief WAS also transferred to Panchkula CBI Court.
In July 2017, the court ordered daily hearing and arguments of prosecution and defence were concluded on August 17, 2017.
The judge fixed August 25 as the date for pronouncement of the verdict and Ram Rahim was directed to appear in person before the court the same day.