A sea of khaki has descended on the otherwise vibrant city of Panchkula in Haryana, turning it into a garrison town since Tuesday, ahead of the August 25 verdict in the rape case against Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, the head of the Dera Sacha Sauda sect.
Another cohort has also descended on the city: the Dera followers, who have laid siege to the city. Some in the hope of catching darshan of their sect leader, some to show their devotion and faith. The states of Punjab and Haryana fear the Dera devout can resort to violence if the verdict by the special CBI court goes against Singh.
The Dera chief will also be in court in person. There may be several murder and rape charges against him but that hasn’t stopped Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh from travelling in a convoy of bullet-proof vehicles with the Z-category security of the Haryana Police.
The charges against the Dera chief were first reported in Tehelka magazine in 2007. Shortly after the sting operation, “Operation Jhoota Sauda”, was aired on India TV in July 2007 in collaboration with Tehelka magazine, the CBI filed chargesheets in two cases of murder and alleged rape against Ram Rahim in an Ambala special court. The chargesheets pertained to sexual exploitation of women in the Dera and murders of Dera manager Ranjit Singh and Sirsa-based journalist Ram Chander Chhatrapati. The Dera chief’s out-of-favour driver and aide, Khatta Singh, who made the startling allegations against Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh was made a CBI witness and his statements were recorded.
One of his Chhatrapati’s relatives had contacted this correspondent in 2007. The relative also had a copy of an anonymous letter written by a Dera disciple in 2002 to then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in which she accused the Dera chief of sexual abuse. Chhatrapati, a journalist, was killed in front of his Sirsa house for his investigative story that the Dera had become a den of alleged illicit activities. He is said to have been allegedly killed by Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh and his followers.
This correspondent and a colleague went to Sirsa to investigate the story. We found the Dera headquarters guarded by Singh’s private army. We got in touch with Khatta Singh, who had fallen out with the sect, who made startling revelations against the Dera chief on spycam. He said the Dera chief allegedly raped a disciple and when her brother, Ranjit Singh, got to know about the rape, the self-styled godman had got him allegedly killed.
Khatta claimed to know about seven murders. Khatta Singh, who was also the Dera chief’s former driver, spoke at length on the alleged murder of one Fakir Chand, who was an accountant of Baba Satnam, the predecessor of Gurmeet Ram Rahim.
Khatta said Gurmeet Singh called Fakir Chand to a chamber and allegedly tortured him for details about the Dera’s properties and accounts. He was then taken to a house about seven kilometres from the Dera, where he was interrogated again. Khatta Singh alleged that Fakir Chand was to be killed after being shifted out of the Dera but he sustained a fatal injury during the aforesaid interrogation and died. Khatta said another former driver, Govind, along with Baldev Singh Bahedi, Sukhdev Singh Bawana and Resham, murdered Fakir Chand allegedly on Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh’s orders.
On the spycam, Khatta Singh said sexual exploitation of women disciples was rampant in the Dera headquarters. He swore that the claims made in the letter to former Prime Minister Vajpayee by one such survivor were true.
He added that when the news of the letter being posted to the PM reached the Dera, Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh allegedly got Ranjit Singh, the brother of the survivor, murdered. Ranjit was murdered at Khanpur Kolian in Kurukshetra on October 10, 2002. It may be noted that Ranjit Singh’s sister, who was teaching at the Dera’s girls’ school in Sirsa, recorded her statement before a judicial magistrate under Section 164 of the CrPC against the Dera chief, accusing him of rape and molestation.
She gave details of how she was allegedly raped twice by the Dera chief in his “gufa” (underground chamber). She also said that she feared her brother was killed by Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh after he refused to return to the Dera. Khatta Singh claimed Ranjit was allegedly killed because Gurmeet Singh feared he would reveal things about the Dera.
Khatta Singh said to ensure the loyalty of his men, Gurmeet Singh has been getting their testicles surgically removed at a Dera-owned hospital in Sirsa. His claims were reinforced in 2015, when the CBI registered a case against Gurmeet Ram Rahim for the alleged castration of his followers on a directive from the Punjab and Haryana High Court. The case was filed after Hansraj Chauhan, a former Dera follower, alleged he and 400 others were castrated by doctors allegedly at the godman’s behest between 1996 and 2003.
The Dera chief has high and mighty friends. For instance, 44 of the 90 BJP candidates in the 2014 Haryana Assembly elections visited the Dera chief to seek his blessings on October 7 that year.
The author can be contacted on Twitter at @anurag999.