Chandigarh: The Punjab and Haryana High Court on Monday admitted an appeal by Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh against his conviction for two rapes and a plea by his two female disciples for conversion of his 20-year sentence to life imprisonment. The High Court, however, rejected Ram Rahim‘s plea regarding a fine of over Rs 30 lakh imposed on him by the CBI court, and directed him to deposit the amount in a fixed deposit in a bank. The amount will not be given to the rape victims till the matter is decided by the court.
Taking up both the appeals, the High Court issued notice to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) which had probed the rape allegations against the Dera chief.
A Special Court in Panchkula, adjoining Chandigarh, had on August 25 convicted the Dera chief for the rape of his two women disciples in 1999 and sentenced him to 10-year imprisonment each, which were to run consecutively.
In their petition in the High Court here, the two ‘sadhvis’ said the 10-year jail term handed over to the Dera chief for each rape was not enough and he should be sentenced to a life term.
The women pointed out that in rape cases where a person in a position of authority or power misuses that position to commit rape, he should be given the maximum punishment of life imprisonment.
They pointed out that a lesser punishment “will not achieve the ends of justice”.
“Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh as the head of a religious organisation had committee a grave breach of trust and he was called ‘Pita ji’ (father),” the petition stated. “Abusing his position as a religious head, in whom the followers had blind faith, he committed rape on the victims,” the petitioners added.
Under new law provisions introduced after the 2012 gang rape and murder of Nirbhaya in Delhi, a person in position of power and trust faces a maximum of life imprisonment for rape. On the other hand, Ram Rahim challenged the CBI court’s verdict to convict him for rape and handing him 20-year rigorous imprisonment last month in the High Court. He is currently lodged at the District Jail at Sunaria near Rohtak in Haryana.
His conviction led to violence in Panchkula and Sirsa in Haryana, leaving 38 people dead and 264 injured. Isolated incidents of violence were also reported from Delhi and several other places in Punjab.
The CBI court in Panchkula is hearing two more cases against the sect chief — murder of former Dera manager Ranjit Singh in July 2003 and murder of Sirsa-based journalist Ram Chander Chhatrapati in October 2002.