Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, the self-styled guru of the Dera Sacha Saudu, has been sentenced to 20 years in jail after being convicted of rape.
He was handed 10 years of RI each in the two rape cases.
The Dera Sacha Sauda is a spiritual cult established in 1948 in Haryana. It has over 46 ashrams across India with centres in countries like the US and Canada. According to certain estimates, there are 60 million followers of this organization in the world.
The leader of Dera Sacha Sauda, Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, has been a controversial figure in India. He took over as the head of the group in 1990. In 2002, a female follower of the group allegedly wrote to then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, accusing Singh of raping her. On September 2002, a CBI probe was launched into the claim. Additionally, in 2002, murder charges were filed against Singh in connection to the death of Ram Chander Chhatra, a journalist who wrote about the group. After 14 years, Singh was convicted of rape by a special CBI court in Panchkula.
Violence erupted in Haryana and Punjab after his conviction. At least 31 people died in the ensuing clashes as his supporters took the streets.
Security was considerably increased in the town of Panchkula prior to the sentencing. Thousands of paramilitary troops and anti-riot police have blocked off all roads in the area in Rohtak. Arrangements were also made to ensure that the Army would be able to reach the town within an hour of being notified.
Justice Jagdeep Singh was flown in a chopper to deliver the verdict. He was the one who had sentenced Singh as well. According to reports, both sides had 10 minutes to make their final arguments before the sentencing. Singh repeatedly broke down in tear as the verdict was read. He will be serving 20 years in jail. He has also been ordered to pay Rs 55,000, Rs 10,000 and Rs 5000, to each of the three rape victims.
Supporters of the group are being strictly monitored and there have been no reports of riots or violence in the initial hours after the sentencing.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi condemned the violence during the most recent taping of his radio show. He said, “I had said it from the Red Fort (in Independence Day speech) that in the name of faith, violence will not be tolerated. Whether the faith is religious, political or in favor of an individual or a tradition, nobody has the right to take the law into his own hands in the name of faith.”
Our assessment is that Singh’s sentencing shows that citizens of the nation should be considered above the law. It is important for democracies like India not to succumb to the rule of the mob and follow the rule of the law.