Dera Sacha Sauda chief Ram Rahim has been sentenced to 20-year rigorous imprisonment (10 years for each rape case), three days after he was held guilty of rape and criminal intimidation by a special CBI court in Panchkula. Justice Jagdeep Singh, who held Ram Rahim guilty of the said charges on Friday, pronounced the sentence at a makeshift court on Rohtak jail premises on Monday.
Earlier, it was reported that he got 10 years’ jail term. But later it was clarified that Ram Rahim will have to spend 20 years in jail — two 10-year terms not to run concurrently.
He has also been slapped a fine of Rs. 30 lakh, Rs. 15 lakh in each rape case.
The prosecution reportedly demanded the maximum punishment, citing the fact that the crime was committed repeatedly for three years. The defence sought leniency on the ground that Ram Rahim had done a lot of social work. As per reports, Ram Rahim pleaded the judge for forgiveness with folded hands, saying: “Mujhe maaf kar dijiye (forgive me)”.
Earlier, Justice Jagdeep Singh flew down to Rohtak from Panchkula in a chopper for the sentencing of Ram Rahim. This special arrangement was made as a precautionary measure, keeping in mind the widespread violence on Friday, in which 36 lives were lost.
Rohtak saw unprecedented security arrangements on Monday and the town was in a complete lockdown
The rape allegations against Singh date back to 2002, when an anonymous letter reached the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, wherein the sender narrated how Ram Rahim raped her and many other at the sect’s headquarters in Sirsa. As per the content of the letter, she and 35-40 others were sexually exploited for three years.
The Punjab and Haryana High Court then took the suo motu notice of the letter, and the matter was referred to the CBI in September 2002. Eighteen sadhvis (woman followers) were questioned by the CBI and two of them came on record to level allegations of sexual exploitation against Ram Rahim. One of them said that her sexual exploitation was justified on the grounds that it would “purify” her.
The CBI recorded the statements of the two women under Section 164 of CrPC, meaning their testimonies were admissible in the court of law as evidence.
The case took a murkier turn when Dera member Ranjit Singh was murdered on 10 July 2002. There were apprehensions that Ranjit was eliminated as he was being suspected of drafting the anonymous letter.
Then on 23 October 2002, journalist Ram Chander Chattrapati – the editor of Poora Sach, a local daily from Sirsa – was shot dead. Chattrapati had reported on the ‘nefarious’ happenings within the Dera Sacha Sauda and he was receiving threats for some time.
The CBI filed a chargesheet on 30 July 2007 and the trial against Ram Rahim began in 2008. He was charged under Sections 376 (rape) and 506 (criminal intimidation) of the Indian Penal Code.
Ram Rahim has consistently dismissed the charges against him as false and baseless. In 2014, he even conveyed to the Panchkula court that “he was not fit to indulge in physical relationships.