Delays in Delhi HC to hear rape case against godman’s nephew lead woman to move SC; asked to take it up

A woman has alleged that Navdeep Singh alias Gaurav, nephew of a self-styled godman popularly referred to as ‘Guruji’, who runs an ashram in south Delhi’s Chhatarpur, raped her

Delays in Delhi HC to hear rape case against godman’s nephew lead woman to move SC; asked to take it up

Ashlin Mathew

The Supreme Court has asked the Delhi High Court to take up for hearing a rape case against Navdeep Singh alias Gaurav, nephew of a self-styled godman popularly referred to as ‘Guruji’, who runs an ashram in south Delhi’s Chhatarpur, before it is taken up in the SC on January 29, 2021.

A two-judge bench of Justices S Abdul Nazeer and Sanjiv Khanna on December 14 ordered the high court to hear the case on January 15, 2021, as the High Court had kept the matter pending during the last two hearings.

The High Court had granted Gaurav protection from coercive action in a case filed against him on the basis of allegations made by a woman, Asha (name changed to protect identity) under Sections 376 (Rape), 354B (Assault or use of criminal force against a woman with intent to disrobe), 493 (Cohabitation caused by a man deceitfully inducing a belief of lawful marriage) and 506 (Punishment for criminal intimidation) of the Indian Penal Code.

Asha has alleged in her Special Leave Petition (SLP) in the apex court that the godman’s supporters were threatening her and her family. Moreover, the intensity of the threats had increased after the HC orders, she contended. The threats included harm to Asha, her two daughters and circulation of explicit photographs and videos that he allegedly had in his possession, she has submitted.

The SLP mentions that Gaurav was granted interim bail even though the Sessions Court judge had noted that he had tampered with evidence at a farmhouse where Asha was allegedly sexually assaulted and he could tamper with other evidence if he was released on bail. Additionally, the SLP alleged that Gaurav had forged the seal and signature of the office of the Assistant Commissioner of Police, Hauz Khas, on a complaint made by Gaurav’s wife.

Asha submitted that the Delhi High Court had granted him interim protection from arrest because the Delhi Police did not file the status report of the case in the court on October 5, 2020 and November 20, 2020, even though the investigating officers had sent her the status report.

What is the case?

Asha’s in-laws were firm believers of Guruji alias Nirmal Singh and she had begun going to the temple called ‘Bade Mandir’ only after her marriage in 2011. She too began to believe in both the Guruji, who had died in 2007, and his nephew Gaurav, who had taken over Guruji’s role. She had first met Gaurav in 2013 at the temple along with her family and he began to pay more attention to her over time, she has contended. Gaurav is married and has children.

According to the petition, Asha’s relationship with her husband and her in-laws began to be strained around 2016-17. It reached a point where Asha and her husband were not cohabiting though they were living in the same house. She later found out that Gaurav had meddled in their family affairs, she contended.

It was during this turbulent phase in Asha’s life that Gaurav allegedly called her in March 2019 to speak about a dream that he had had about Asha and the future of the sect. He allegedly asked Asha to meet him on April 4, 2019, and sent his vehicle to pick her up. She was allegedly taken to a farmhouse, adjacent to the temple, where Gaurav allegedly told Asha that Guruiji had appeared in his dream to tell him that Asha was meant to be his wife, who was ‘destined’ to give birth to a male child, who would take forward Guruji’s legacy.

He allegedly fed her a drugged religious offering, which rendered Asha ‘lifeless and lightheaded’. He then allegedly led her to the next room where he ‘married’ her after chanting shlokas in front of a ‘havan’. After which, he allegedly raped her. Over the next few months, Gaurav would allegedly take Asha to the farmhouse or a nearby hotel where he would assure her that his divorce would be finalised soon.

By September 2019, when Asha’s husband asked about her frequent visits outside home, she admitted to him about her relationship with Gaurav. Soon after, her husband applied for a divorce. However, when Gaurav found out that Asha had informed her husband about their relationship, he allegedly began to avoid her. He subsequently stopped talking to her and began threatening her, she contended.

Worried about the threats, Asha spiralled into depression and anxiety, she contended. It was only after she recovered that she approached the Vikas Puri police station on September 5, 2020 to register the case, she says. In the petition, Asha has alleged that Gaurav misused his position as a godman and sexually assaulted her after drugging her with the religious offering.

When Gaurav heard of the FIR, he applied for anticipatory bail before the Sessions Court claiming that he did not have any relationship with Asha and that the farmhouse did not exist. He contended that Asha and her ex-husband were trying to extort money from him. Contrary to his claims, the investigating officer is said to have found that there was a well-built house with a garden at the location Asha mentioned. He is also said to have recommended custodial interrogation of the godman.

Additionally, Gaurav’s wife filed cases against Asha on September 2, 2020. In this petition, Gaurav mentions that his father was admitted to a hospital on September 3, 2020, which was visited by Asha and her ex-husband. The petition underscores the point that the case was filed on September 2 about the hospitalisation on September 3 and that this has the ACP’s seal. This led Asha to file a forgery case against Gaurav and his wife for misusing the ACP’s seal.

When the case came up for hearing at the Dwarka Sessions Court on September 26, 2020, the special judge rejected Gaurav’s anticipatory bail application, after which he approached Delhi High Court for anticipatory bail. When the case came up for hearing on October 5, the public prosecutor sought time to file the status report, following which the court granted him interim protection from arrest. The investigating officer had already given the status report to Asha, she has contended.

The situation repeated itself at the next hearing on November 20, where the prosecutor submitted that though the status report was ready, she had been unable to file it. It is this delay that prodded Asha to approach the Supreme Court.

At the High Court, Gaurav alleged that the FIR was filed belatedly and that he was being framed by Asha at the insistence of her ex-husband. For both the hearings at the Delhi High court, the public prosecutors were different. After the High Court granted him interim relief, the case was transferred from the Vikas Puri police station to the Crime Branch.

Who is Guruji?

Nirmal Singh, who is known to his followers as Guruji, established a Shiv Mandir in Bhatti Mines area in Chhattarpur. The temple is known to his devotees as the ‘Bada Mandir’ and now houses his tombstone. Nirmal Singh, who hailed from Malerkotla in Punjab, died on May 31, 2007.

While he was alive, he held daily congregations called ‘Sangat’ and his religious sect is known by that name. He is known to have tens of thousands of followers, all of whom visited the temple at Chhatarpur through the week, but especially on the weekends.

Though the Sangat’s website states that he left no successor, his nephew Gaurav had assumed the role of Guriji. Gaurav handles all the funds, the ashram and the temple associated with Sangat. In 2008, after the death of Nirmal Singh, there was a case filed by a devotee in the Delhi High Court regarding management of the ashram. Disputes had risen because there was only one old trustee alive and the devotee alleged that the trust would be mismanaged.

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