Any journalist who has given the best years of her or his life to the thankless job that journalism can be will have some stories that she or he worked on close to their heart with the details as vivid as it happened yesterday or early this morning. My quiver has a set of stories I worked on but one of the more prominent ones has gone missing: I broke the story on the allegations of rape and murder against Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh in a sting operation and now I can’t seem to find it on the seemingly easy-to-navigate India TV website.
“Operation Jhoota Sauda” was a sting operation which I and my colleague Etmad A. Khan did in 2007 for Tehelka magazine. It was against the Dera chief, a self-styled godman. We tracked the close aide of the Dera chief, Khatta Singh, over four months. It uncovered a tale of alleged gory murders, alleged rapes and sexual exploitation, forced castrations, possession of illegal arms and ammunition – some of the crimes committed in the guise of faith.
I and my colleague had to put our lives at risk when we were working on the story in Sirsa, the Dera headquarters, because if the Dera had come to know, we would have met with possible fatal harm.
As I said earlier, the original story and the video of the sting accompanying is not accessible. Now, I take you back to 2007.
After we completed the sting, we returned to the Tehelka office in Delhi and it was decided that Tehelka will coordinate with some news channel to air the sting operation. We were reporting to Harinder Baweja, the investigations editor of the magazine. After approaching Aaj Tak, it was decided that Tehelka will coordinate with India TV for airing the expose.
The stage was set and the time chosen to break the story was the prime time show hosted by India TV Editor-in-Chief Rajat Sharma. Baweja, who was representing Tehelka, was the sole panelist on the show with Sharma. The moment the sting operation was on-air, we started getting numerous calls and to use current parlance – it went viral before viral came into being. Upbeat at the response, India TV ran the show, looping it all through the next day. They showed the visuals from Haryana and Punjab where people praised Rajat Sharma for exposing Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh. The Tehelka magazine also carried a detailed report along with the sting video and the transcript of Khatta Singh.
The Central Bureau of Investigation entered the picture a few days after the news break and India TV and Tehelka took equal credit for it.
Some years later circa 2014, the Dera chief shifted his allegiance to the Bharatiya Janata Party. On a whim, I thought of checking on the video and the show aired on India TV. To my surprise, neither the video nor the story was to be found on the India TV website or its YouTube channel. Some others said the Dera chief had imposed the condition that the sting and the story had to be yanked from the site for him to appear on the channel’s popular Aap Ki Adalat anchored by Rajat Sharma.
Newslaundry has reached out to Rajat Sharma for his version, both on email and SMS. This piece will be updated if and when he chooses to respond.
The video is a crucial piece of evidence that helped the CBI to further its case against Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh.
The author can be contacted on Twitter at @anurag999.