Uneasy calm in Punjab, Haryana as Dera Sacha Sauda chief tweets his intention of appearing in court for rape verdict
Haryana’s controversial godman, Gurmeet Ram Rahim, will be appearing in a Panchkula court Friday for the verdict in a 15-year-old rape case against him.
Heading the powerful Dera Sacha Sauda in Sirsa, the VVIP ‘baba’ is the sole accused in the case and till Thursday afternoon when he tweeted his intention of appearing in court, no one was even sure if he would follow the court’s orders of being physically present when the judgment is pronounced.
In his tweet, he has also asked his followers to maintain peace — a much needed message, as over a lakh supporters are squatting on roadsides and parks in Panchkula for the past two days to show solidarity with their ‘pitaji’ (father) for the verdict. Some are openly threatening violence in case of an adverse order, others are maintaining an uneasy quiet.
Other than the fact that this case was the longest rape trial pending in Panchkula district, the self-styled godman has not been to jail, even for a day, in the case ever since it was registered in 2002. At least two sadhvis of his dera have deposed against him accusing him of raping them.
According to the chargesheet filed by the CBI in 2007, Ram Rahim had a gufa (cave) in his dera where he allegedly raped the two women. In the chargesheet, allegations of sexual abuse of other sadhvis were also referred to, but no one complained and the charges could not be substantiated.
Ram Rahim is co-accused in two murder cases as well. Ranjit Singh, once a staunch follower of the dera chief, was murdered in 2002. He had allegedly distributed an anonymous letter of a sadhvi about Ram Rahim raping her. One such letter had reached the Punjab and Haryana high court, which subsequently led to the registration of the rape case.
The other case pertains to the murder of journalist Ram Chander Chhatrapati the same year. He had exposed the alleged illegal activities of the dera. Both cases have been investigated by the CBI and are in advanced stages of trial, with the next hearing slated for September.
Till 2009, the ‘baba’ was appearing in person in these cases. Later, he did it through video-conferencing from a Sirsa courtroom. Even during these virtual appearances, his followers gathered around the Sirsa court in large numbers.
Other than the law and order problem that his supporters pose to the authorities, Ram Rahim faces life threats from Sikhs, whom he rubbed the wrong way in 2007 when advertisements appeared of him dressed like Guru Gobind Singh. It led to violent clashes between dera followers and Sikhs and tension between them continue to date. Ram Rahim, as a result, has been provided with Z-plus security cover.
He also has a massive political clout, derived from lakhs of followers in Haryana and at least four districts of Punjab. Despite the rape charges against him, women constitute a large part of his supporters. Politicians of all parties flock to the dera chief and it is a familiar sight when senior ministers and MLAs wait for hours to meet him. It is believed that his support of a politician or a party can make a big difference to their electoral fortunes.
Unlike other godmen, who wear saffron or white clothes and preach, this man is all colour, literally. He organises rock shows in the dera where he is the lead singer. He makes films featuring himself as ‘Messenger of God’ with a strong nationalist or altruistic message. The films are released in multiplexes and his followers are captive audience.
His dera is also involved in social welfare activities. It has a dedicated disaster management team that reaches everywhere to help the people in distress. Last week dera men were seen at the Muzaffarnagar train tragedy site.
With Ram Rahim back in news, the social media wing of the dera has gone into overdrive, listing the good work done by the baba to ensure that the dera’s image is not dented.