'Bail not jail' the rule? The case of Gurmeet Ram Rahim and Umar Khalid

Dera Sacha Sauda chief convicted of murder and rape is allowed seventh parole in 24 months, ninth in four years. Umar Khalid has been in jail since September 2020

Gurmeet Ram Rahim (photo: National Herald archives)
Gurmeet Ram Rahim (photo: National Herald archives)

NH Digital

Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim, who is serving a 20-year jail term in Haryana's Sunaria jail for raping two of his disciples and a life term for murdering a journalist, was granted 50-day parole on Friday, 19 January, official sources said.

According to media reports, this is Gurmeet's seventh parole in the past 24 months, and ninth in the last four years. The parole comes two months after the Sirsa-headquartered sect chief had walked out of the jail on 21 November last year after he was granted a 21-day furlough, his third temporary release from jail in 2023.

Meanwhile, political activist and former student leader Umar Khalid has completed well over 1,150 days — or nearly 3 years and 4 months — in Delhi's Tihar jail without trial or bail, being charged under the controversial and draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) for alleged conspiracy against the government in connection with the East Delhi riots of 2020.

According to information, Singh will go to the Dera Sacha Sauda Ashram in Barnawa in Uttar Pradesh's Baghpat during his temporary release period. The Dera chief had walked out of jail on a 30-day parole on 30 July, 2023, while he was granted a 40-day parole in January last year as well. He was also granted a 40-day parole in October 2022. Before that, he had come out of prison on a month's parole in June 2022. Besides, he was granted a three-week furlough on 7 February 2022.

In 2021, the Dera chief, along with four others, was also convicted for hatching a conspiracy to kill Ranjit Singh, a Dera manager. Ram Rahim and three others were finally convicted in 2019 for the murder of a journalist more than 16 years ago.

On 10 January, the Supreme Court adjourned Khalid's bail hearing for the 10th time since July last year. So far, activists have pointed out that Khalid has been framed on evidence that would appear ‘frivolous’ to most people.

In October 2022, Delhi High Court had upheld the order of a trial court denying Khalid bail. A division bench of justices Siddharth Mridul and Rajnish Bhatnagar had taken a serious view of Khalid using phrases such as inquilabli salaam (revolutionary salute) and krantikari istiqbal (revolutionary welcome) in a speech made in Amaravati in February 2020, holding it to be an incitement to violence.

As of now, no other tangible evidence against him seems to have emerged in the public domain.

In July 2022, justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and M.M. Sundaresh of the Supreme Court had observed, “The right not to be denied reasonable bail without just cause is an essential element of an enlightened criminal justice system.”

According to a report dated 18 December 2023 on the website of Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP), which describes itself as a human rights movement, "2023 saw trials courts denying bail indiscriminately, more so in cases concerning dissenting political prisoners including activists and journalists." The report also quotes Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud as saying, “The reason the higher judiciary is flooded with bail cases is because of a certain reluctance from trial courts to grant bail.”

As an example of the CJI's stated policy that all matters of personal liberty were to be prioritised, the Supreme Court granted bail to Benoy Babu, an official of liquor giant Pernod Ricard and an accused in the Delhi Excise Policy case, on 8 December 2023, saying, "You can't keep people behind bars before trial for so long." In Babu's case, that would be a little over a a year, since he was arrested on 10 November 2022.

Other notable examples of the SC granting bail in 2023 were seen when activist Teesta Setalvad, ordered to surrender by Gujarat High Court in connection with her alleged role in fabricating evidence in the 2002 Gujarat riots case, was allowed in July 2023 to continue on bail originally granted by the SC in September 2022, thereby overriding the Gujarat HC order.

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