Ram Rahim's release on parole ahead of polls indicates extent to which BJP can go to get votes

Gurmeet Ram Rahim, convicted of rape and murder, was released on a 40-day parole ahead of by-polls and panchayat elections in Haryana even as many political prisoners languish in jail for years

Representative Image (social media)
Representative Image (social media)

Amarabati Bhattacharyya

Gurmeet Ram Rahim, the chief Dera Sacha Sauda, was released on a 40-day parole on Saturday. This becomes the sixth time the rape and murder convict has been given time off jail.

Ram Rahim was convicted of raping two of his disciples at his ashram in 2017, and murdering two journalists and the manager of his ashram in 2002 and 2021 respectively.

A parole is conditional release – a limited period of time wherein a prisoner is released, contingent upon good behaviour or familial emergency, and is evaluated by authorities, in this case, the Haryana government.

As per the Haryana Good Conduct Prisoner (Temporary Release) Act, 1988, parole is granted after a convict serves at least one year of the sentence. Ram Rahim, who was sentenced to a 20-year jail term in 2017 and later, life-imprisonment in 2021, has already been out on parole several times – prior to his current release, he was released twice this year and thrice last year.

Upon release, he is usually seen delivering speeches to his followers and disciples on topics such as the “correct way to live as a Hindu” and the “precarity of Hinduism in the country at the moment”.

In a live session streamed on YouTube on Monday, Ram Rahim says: “We are forgetting our tradition and breaking away from our Hindu ideals. Stop following outsiders, you must follow your sect leaders and you must follow tradition.”

Coincidentally, his release is always effected in close proximity to some major election. This time, his release came just before the Adampur by-election and panchayat polls in Haryana to be held on November 3. In February, he was released right before the Punjab Assembly elections.

While many believe that he is freed from jail deliberately in view of such elections, Rahim, who exercises considerable influence on the people of his state, has denied the presence of any political messages in his religious speeches and brushed off allegations about his involvement with the BJP. 

Congress leader Udit Raj tweeted on the day of the release: “Dera chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim was given 40 days parole in view of the by-election in Adampur. Why doesn't the BJP make Ram Rahim contest the election so that he doesn't have to take secret votes?”

Rahul Shivshankar, editor-in-chief of Times Now took to Twitter and commented on the hypocrisy of the Centre when it comes to advocating women’s rights and granting parole to Ram Rahim. “Convicted rapist and murderer Gurmeet Ram Rahim out on 40-day parole. He had earlier been released for a month in June, and before that, for three weeks in Feb. In 2021, he was out on parole thrice. What a mockery of the slogan beti bachao [campaign]” he posted.

“With repeated parole, the imprisonment of Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim has become a joke, it is not a real arrest,” said journalist and author, Jagtar Singh.

Rapist and murderer Ram Rahim’s repeated release from jail begets several questions around the nature of his release which appears farcical at present, as opposed to the imprisonment of scores of political prisoners who are behind bars awaiting trial on trumped up charges. Since 2014, various activists, authors, journalists, etc have been put in custody, with many of them being denied basic amenities, let alone parole or furlough.

These arrests form part of the larger paradigm of surveillance and punishment against those who have voiced their opinions, in any form or capacity, against the ruling regime. For instance, former student of Jawaharlal Nehru University and prominent activist, Umar Khalid, has been imprisoned for over two years under the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) in connection with his alleged involvement in the Delhi riots case. Despite repeated pleas, he has been denied bail.

“His [Khalid’s] arrest is completely illegal, it is sheer injustice; he has been incarcerated simply for asking people to respond to hate with love. His arrest is riddled with inconsistencies and misrepresentation,” says the organiser of social media campaign Free Umar Khalid, adding, “He is behind bars for imagining a better future; the government does not want that – the government wants to release rapists and murderers and keep the voice of reason behind bars.”

Similarly, political prisoners of the Bhima Koregaon case, journalist Siddique Kappan, author and human rights activist GN Saibaba, and notably, tribal rights activist Father Stan Swamy who passed away while in jail on July 7, 2021 – had all been charged under UAPA and remain imprisoned without trial. They have reportedly been denied facilities such as proper food, clothing, or medicines that other inmates are given access to.

In contrast, Ram Rahim’s supporters are seen celebrating his parole and preparing a grand welcome for him. On Saturday ,his followers had queued outside his ashram in Sirsa and later watched his live stream in large numbers.

Incidentally, this is reminiscent of the felicitation of the Bilkis Bano gang-rape convicts when they were released from jail in August this year on remission. 

“The Supreme Court thinks that Saibaba, who is wheelchair-bound due to 90 percent physical disability, has to remain in jail. While rapist and riot instigator Gurmeet Ram Rahim gets bail. Every hatemonger and those who made calls for genocide have got bail easily in recent years,” says S.R. Praveen, a journalist at The Hindu.

“Our legal system keeps individuals who have committed serious offences free while locking up those who have no ties to the ruling party. Even those who commit horrific crimes receive respect and parole. And those who stood up for fundamental human rights are not even permitted to meet their families,” says Mehwash Hussain from The Telegraph.

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