Though a self-styled guru and social reformer, Guru Gurmeet Ram Rahim is charged with rape and murder.
Guru Gurmeet Ram Rahim has tremendous following. But with fame came controversies.
In 2002, Ram Rahim was accused of rape and sexual exploitation. An anonymous letter, reportedly written by a sadhvi, alleged sexual exploitation of woman followers in the dera.
Claiming to be a resident of Punjab, the anonymous sadhvi said she was an arts graduate who had been inspired by her parents to become a sadhvi. She said she along with 40-45 other girls was doing service in the dera for years.
Two years after she had become a sadhvi, Ram Rahim called her to his residence inside the dera, where he was watching television with a revolver by his side. She alleged that she was threatened and then raped by him.
The woman alleged she was then repeatedly raped by the dera chief. He reportedly told her that no authority could prosecute him as he enjoyed political clout. She later came to know that other women followers were also exploited before and after her.
She also recounted how a girl from Sangrur was threatened after she shared her ordeal in her neighbourhood after leaving the dera.
The woman concluded the letter by seeking intervention of the then prime minister and the courts. She said she could not share her name as it would then invite trouble for her and her family members.
The letter was addressed to the then prime minister AB Vajpayee as well as the Punjab and Haryana high court tipping them off about the sexual abuse in the dera. That was the start of the investigations into the rape charges. The three-page letter typed in Hindi narrates the ordeal of a dera sadhvi (woman follower) who charged Ram Rahim with sexual exploitation of the sadhvis in the dera.
The letter was also addressed to Union home ministry, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), and the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) besides media offices seeking intervention into wrongdoings in the dera.
While political parties kept mum, the high court took cognisance of the matter and directed the then district and sessions judge in Sirsa, MS Sular, to conduct an inquiry into the matter.
In his detailed report to the High Court, Sular did not rule out the possibility of such acts in the dera. But he said it was next to impossible to gather evidence as nobody there was prepared to speak about the sexual abuse. Secondly, it was impossible to access the hostel where sadhvis were living, without the permission of Ram Rahim or the dera authorities.
As the judge recommended that the matter be investigated through a central agency, the high court converted the complaint into a criminal petition, and passed an order dated September 24, 2002, directing the CBI to investigate the allegations. That marked the beginning of the formal investigations against the dera chief.
CBI Chandigarh registered a case on December 12, 2002, under Section 376 (rape), 506 (criminal intimidation) and 509 (insult to the modesty of woman) of the Indian Penal Code and began formal investigations.
The CBI’s main challenge was to find the sadhvis who had left the dera allegedly due to physical exploitation and convince them to depose against Ram Rahim.
Finally, they managed to trace two victims and filed a chargesheet against him in 2007 in the special CBI court, which was then in the Ambala district courts before being shifted to Panchkula.
The letter went through different twists and turns as the dera tried to use its muscle power to suppress the matter. But the charges were probed by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the verdict in the case will be pronounced by the CBI court in Panchkula on Friday (August 25).
At least three Premis committed suicide in protest through 2011, when the CBI court instructed the Dera Sacha Sauda chief to appear before it every day.
The CBI is also investigating into the alleged murder of a dera disciple, Ranjit Singh, who had reportedly spoken against the dera head. Similarly, a Sirsa-based journalist, Ram Chander Chhatarpati was reportedly done away with as his ‘Poora Sach’ vernacular ran a stinging campaign against the dera’s “unlawful activities”.
But Ram Rahim’s followers say that the cases are all cooked up by the drug mafia who had to suffer huge financial losses due to the de-addiction campaigns conducted by the dera.
Because of his huge following, Ram Rahim enjoys tremendous political clout. Politicians of all shades make a beeline to seek his “blessings” during the elections. In the 2014 assembly elections in Haryana, the dera came out in support of the BJP, a factor which reportedly swung the scales in favour of the saffron party and helped it form the government on its own for the first time.
Even the previous the Congress government enjoyed the dera’s support. In return for the support, Ram Rahim was provided with Z-plus security cover.
Ram Rahim had a major conflict with the Sikh Panthic bodies in 2007 when he allegedly dressed as the 10th Sikh Guru Gobind Singh at a public function in Salabatpura, Bathinda.
The incident triggered widespread violent clashes between radical Sikhs and dera followers in Punjab and Haryana. In February 2008, his cavalcade was attacked in Karnal and Ram Rahim had a narrow escape. Later, a Khalistan Liberation Force (KLF) operative and six others were arrested and sentenced to imprisonment in the case.