Chandigarh-Panchkula brace for violence as verdict imminent in rape case against Ram Rahim

Will the judgment in the rape case against Dera Sachcha Sauda chief be deferred? Amidst such speculation, followers throng Chandigarh-Panchkula, convinced that a conviction is imminent

Photo by Parveen Kumar/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Photo by Parveen Kumar/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Gajinder Singh

With lakhs of supporters of Gurmeet Ram Rahim, head of the Sirsa-based sect Dera Sucha Sauda converging in Panchkula where the Special CBI court will deliver its verdict tomorrow on allegations by two female ex-followers (sadhvis) that they were sexually exploited at the sect’s headquarters by the “godman”, there is a virtual shutdown in the tri-city of Chandigarh, Panchkula and Mohali.

Schools have been shut down, buses and vehicles are being searched, barricades are up, Internet services are expected to be suspended and 120 companies of central para-military forces have been kept in ‘reserve’ in Both Punjab and Haryana.

The supporters, called Premis, have thronged the tri-city, erected tents in parks and are even squatting on footpaths, threatening mayhem if the verdict goes against their Pitaji . According to the police, many supporters are armed and believed to be carrying inflammatory materials also. Especially aggressive are the women devotees, some of whom have pledged to ‘obliterate’ India from the map if the verdict goes against the flamboyant godman.

Every car and bus entering Chandigarh from Mohali is being frisked not once but twice. Those carrying luggage are being made to open them. The police are also questioning bus commuters to halt the march of Gurmeet’s supporters. In 2002, when the case was handed over to the CBI, the spiritual leader’s supporters had run amok in Chandigarh, and brought the capital of Punjab and Haryana to a standstill.

NH Photo
NH Photo
Every vehicle entering Chandigarh from Mohali is being frisked twice 

Panchkula has been declared a “war zone” by the administration. Long route bus services from Haryana and Punjab to Chandigarh, Panchkula and Mohali from Haryana, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Jammu and Kashmir have been withdrawn and Section 144 has been promulgated but in vain.

Streets that are normally choked with traffic in the tricity lay deserted on Thursday with people preferring to stay indoors.

NH Photo
NH Photo
Private vehicles are also being thoroughly searched

The case against Gurmeet Ram Rahim was handed to the CBI after the Punjab and Haryana High Court took suo motu congnisance of an anonymous letter alleging rape by the spiritual leader sent by a sadhvi to then Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee in September 2002.

The CBI claims to have tracked down the two women and recorded their statements before the magistrate. A former driver of the spiritual leader is also said to be a key witness.

Two of the 18 sadhvis questioned by the CBI made allegations of rape against Gurmeet. One said her rape was justified on the grounds that it would lead to her “purification.”

The decade long trial came to an end on August 17 when the CBI court at Panchkula completed hearing the case. But the verdict was reserved and the date August 25 fixed for the judgment. Judging by the show of strength and mobilisation of supporters, the followers seem to expect conviction of the leader.

But the attempt to intimidate the court and influence the judgment has raised eyebrows with lawyers asking why the followers cannot wait and take recourse to an appeal.

Apart from the rape cases, Gurmeet Rahim Singh is also facing two murder charges. He is accused of murdering Sirsa-based journalist Ram Chander Chatrapati who had been writing about the Dera's activities. He had published the sadhvi’s letter and was shot on October 24, 2001.

The spiritual leader is also accused of killing a former member of the sect, Ranjit Singh, for allegedly circulating the sadhvi’s letter, in July 2002.

No mobile Internet, trains

In another development, the Haryana additional chief secretary (Home), Ram Niwas, in a communiqué, said mobile internet and data services will remain suspended in Haryana, Punjab and the Union Territory of Chandigarh for the next 72 hours.

The decision was taken at a coordination committee meeting of Haryana, Punjab and Chandigarh held under Punjab governor and Union Territory Administrator V.P. Badnore.

The railway ministry has also been asked to stop passenger trains towards Chandigarh for the next two days. Bus services have already been terminated.

Apart from the Sector 16 cricket stadium in Chandigarh, two more stadiums, one in Panchkula and the other in Sirsa, have also been declared “Special Jails” with immediate effect.

While the Army has been asked to standby, both Punjab and Haryana have sought additional forces from the Centre.

According to Aditya Insan, spokesperson of the Dera Sucha Sauda, the impression of a negative version against Gurmeet Ram Rahim seems to have sent a wrong signal to his supporters.

“They are thronging to Panchkula to express solidarity. We have always cooperated with the court,” he told newspersons.

(Updated at 07:16 PM)

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Published: 24 Aug 2017, 3:45 PM