A special CBI court in Panchkula today pronounced Dera Sacha Sauda head Gurmit Ram Rahim Singh guilty in a case of rape and intimidation. The verdict in the case, which was read out amid unprecedented security cover, finds its genesis in a 15-year-old anonymous complaint of sexual exploitation.
CBI judge Jagdeep Singh while holding the 50-year-old Dera chief guilty of rape said the quantum of sentence will be pronounced on August 28, CBI counsel HPS Verma told reporters outside the court. The self-styled godman was taken into custody immediately after the verdict was read out. A medical test was conducted on him in the court premises. He is likely to be taken to the Rohtak Jail, sources said.
The sexual exploitation case was registered against the Dera chief in December 2002 by the CBI on the directions of the Punjab and Haryana High Court after an anonymous letter was written to the then Chief Justice about the alleged sexual exploitation of two 'sadhvis' (female followers) by him.
The case was registered eight months after the then chief justice received the letter. Ram Rahim is also an accused in two murder cases. The Dera sect chief now faces from seven years to life in jail following his conviction.
Dera followers on rampage
At least 30 people have been reported dead and 250 others injured in violence that ensued the pronouncement of the verdict holding the Dera head guilty of rape. Following the verdict, followers of Ram Rahim resorted to violence, with reports of at least three railways stations in Haryana and Punjab falling victim to the ire of angry protesters. Protesters resorted to arson at Mansa Malaut and Baluara railway stations in Punjab, reports said. Protesters are also reported to have set on fire the Dantewad power station, following which a curfew has been imposed in Mansa.
At least five people have died in separate incidents in Panchkula where the court pronounced the verdict. The Income Tax office in Panchkula was also set on fire. Tear gas shells were fired to dispel supporters not too far from the court premises to evict the followers who had gathered in several thousands outside the court complex ahead of the verdict.
PM Modi condemns violence, appeals to maintain peace
Prime Minister Narendra Modi condemned the violence that broke out in Haryana following the conviction of Ram Rahim.
"The instances of violence today are deeply distressing. I strongly condemn the violence and urge everyone to maintain peace," he said in series of tweets.
"The law and order situation is being closely monitored. I reviewed the situation with the NSA (National Security Advisor Ajit Doval) and Home Secretary (Rajiv Mehrishi)," he said, adding that he has urged officials to "work round the clock to restore normalcy and provide all possible assistance that is required".
Army called in Panchkula to control the situation
Reacting to the violence, the Army, which had been put on standby ahead of the verdict, has been called in to control the situation in Panchkula. A curfew has also been imposed in the town.
Protesters also resorted to vandalism after the court held the self-styled godman guilty of rape. There have also been reports of protesters vandalizing cars and attacking media persons. At least two media Outdoor Broadcast vans have also been vandalized. There are some shocking reports of Dera followers resorting to violence against media persons, with at least one incident reported from Sirsa where one media person was attacked on the head.
There are reports of untoward incidents from at least 120 places within one hour of the pronouncement of the verdict. Curfew has been imposed in five cities of Punjab. Many towns of Haryana have already been on high alert.
The Chief Ministers of Punjab and Haryana appealed for peace in view of the verdict.
Several towns of Haryana and Punjab have been thrown into an emergency-like situation as angry Dera followers resorted to large-scale violence across states. This, despite state governments claiming to have made adequate arrangements to control any untoward situation. Several districts of Punjab and Haryana had virtually turned into a fortress days ahead of the verdict.
The entire incident is being seen as a big failure of the state administration. The Punjab and Haryana High Court had yesterday come down hard on the state government and the Centre for failing to control the situation. In terse remarks, the court reprimanded the state government for allowing people in huge numbers to accumulate despite prohibitory orders being in force.
The High Court had also asked the DGP of the state to explain why he should not be suspended for allowing the situation to spiral out of control.
Following the violence and destruction of property by angry supporters of Ram Rahim, the HC took a strong view of the situation and said that the properties of Dera and its chief will be attached and the proceeds used to realise the loss that its supporters have inflicted upon the state.
Meanwhile, Ram Rahim has been taken to Rohtak jail where he is believed to have been housed at a guest house.
Ghaziabad, Noida on high alert
A high alert has been sounded and prohibitory orders clamped in Ghaziabad and Noida in wake of the widespread violence in Haryana triggered by the conviction of Ram Rahim.
"Orders have also been issued to keep all schools and colleges in the district closed tomorrow in view of the violence," said Ghaziabad District Magistrate Ministhy S.
The police said they were keeping tab on the situation in Ghaziabad and the supporters of Dera Sacha Sauda were being kept under surveillance.
High alert was also sounded in Noida where the prohibitory orders, under section 144 of the CrPC, were already in place, since July 27, in view of a series of festivals.