Curfew in 10 Punjab districts # www.himalayauk.org (Digital Newsportal)
9 dead, 250 injured as Dera chief conviction sets Haryana on fire
Thousands of supporters of Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, who is the head of Sirsa-based Dera Sacha Sauda, went on the rampage, setting fire to vehicles, buildings and railway stations soon after a special CBI court convicted him in a 2002 rape case. Police responded by opening fire. The unrest which began in Panchkula where the verdict was handed down, spread to other parts of Haryana and Punjab and even New Delhi where a bus and train were set on fire. The Army was called out and curfew was imposed in 10 districts of Punjab’s Malwa region, home to a large number of Dera Sacha Sauda followers, as violence spread to the State.
Twenty-eight people have been killed after large-scale violence in Haryana minutes after a special CBI court convicted Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh in a 15-year old rape case. His followers torched vehicles, TV vans and beat up media persons. Police fired tear gas and gunshots to control the angry supporters.
Self-styled godman Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh was on Friday found guilty in a rape case by a CBI court in Panchkula, triggering widespread violence across Haryana, which left at least 30 people dead and over 250 injured. The quantum of the sentence would be pronounced on Monday. Scores of followers wreaked havoc on the streets and went on the rampage, setting ablaze vehicles, buildings and railway stations. The case dates back to 2002 when the Punjab and Haryana High Court had referred the matter to the CBI after receiving an anonymous letter purportedly written by a sadhvi (woman follower).
In the letter addressed to then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Haryana CM and host of other top institutions, the sadhvi accused the Dera Sacha Sauda chief of raping her and other sadhvis and pleaded for an inquiry. As per a report in the Hindustan Times, Sadhvi said she along with 40-45 other girls had been doing service in the dera for years. She said Ram Rahim had called her into his residence inside the dera, two years after she had become a sadhvi and was threatened before he raped her.
Recounting her ordeal, she said she was repeatedly raped by the dera chief, who boasted that no authority can initiate proceeding against him. In the letter, she wrote that it was only after a point of time that she came to know that other women followers were also sexually exploited before and after her.
Concluding the letter, the woman had sought the intervention of the then prime minister and the courts. She refrained from her revealing her identity, saying that it would invite trouble for her and family members.
Before referring the matter for a CBI investigation, the high court had taken a report on the matter from the District and Sessions Judge of Sirsa. Subsequently, the CBI had succeeded in locating two sadhvis who deposed before a trial court that the dera chief sexually exploited them. In 2008, a CBI court then ordered framing of rape charges against Ram Rahim.
A special CBI court in Panchkula on Friday found Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh guilty in a rape case. He is facing a minimum imprisonment of seven years, and can go up to life imprisonment. Holding the 50-year-old Dera chief guilty of rape, CBI judge Jagdeep Singh said the quantum of sentence would be pronounced on August 28, CBI counsel HPS Verma told reporters outside the court. A former follower had accused Singh of repeatedly raping her inside the Dera campus near Sirsa in Haryana. The incident took place in 1999. An FIR was registered in 2002. The Dera chief and the management of the sect have denied the allegations. CBI filed the charge sheet against the Dera head in Ambala court in July 2007, about five years after the registration of the rape case. The charge sheet mentions 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 the Dera chief too was transferred to Panchkula CBI Court. In July, 2017, the court ordered daily hearing. 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.
Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, who was personally monitoring the situation, appealed to the people to remain calm and not to take the law in their hands. The Chief Minister spoke to Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh and Defence Minister Arun Jaitley to apprise them of the situation. He also spoke to Congress president Sonia Gandhi on the situation in Punjab and informed her of the steps taken by his government to maintain peace in the state.
Police have launched a major crackdown and arrested some supporters of the Dera Sacha Sauda, including a member of its State-level committee, an official spokesperson said.
The Chief Minister said the decision to call out the Army was taken to prevent any loss of life or damage to public/ private property in the 10 districts — Sangrur, Barnala, SAS Nagar (Mohali), Bathinda, Mansa, Ferozepur, Fazilka, Faridkot, Sri Muktsar Sahib and Moga. “The Army was staging flag-march in the curfew-bound areas of Punjab to restore the confidence of the people,” he said.
Army sources in Delhi said six columns of Army personnel were deployed in Panchkula and two columns in Sirsa in Haryana. They said one column of Army personnel was deployed in Punjab’s Mansa and another column in Mukhtsar in the State. – PTI