A local court on Thursday dismissed a seven-year-old case of hurting Sikh sentiments registered against Dera Sacha Sauda head Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, finally accepting a cancellation report filed by the Bathinda police.
Registered at the Kotwali police station here, the case was the fallout of a controversy that had erupted after the Sirsa-headquartered sect head allegedly wore attire similar to that of the tenth Sikh master, Guru Gobind Singh, at a function at one of his camps in Salabatpura village in Bathinda on May 13, 2007. The issue led to communal violence, and the temporal seat of Sikhism, the Akal Takht, even issued a diktat for Sikhs to boycott the dera’s followers as the dera head had not tendered an apology demanded by the Takht. Gurmeet Ram Rahim has not entered Punjab since the registration of the case.
The complainant was Rajinder Singh Sidhu, a leader of the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD). The FIR was formally registered on May 20, 2007, under the Indian Penal Code’s section 295A (for deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class). A month later, the police added related sections 153 (for promoting enmity between groups) and 298 (Uttering words with intent to wound religious feelings). It had come just after the 2007 assembly polls in which the dera had reportedly backed the Congress, which ended up on the losing side.
However, the police filed no chargesheet. Five years later, just three days before voting for the 2012 assembly polls, the police filed a cancellation report; but it was rejected by the chief judicial magistrate, who summoned the dera head on May 11, 2012.
The dera head approached the high court which, after around two years, sent the case for review to the local court. The CJM again summoned the dera head in person for August 8. This time, the dera head filed a review petition in the court of the district and sessions judge on July 25, stressing that he should be acquitted since the police had failed in filing a chargesheet against him in the stipulated three years and had even filed a cancellation report. The district and sessions judge, Tejwinder Singh, on Thursday accepted the report.
Advocates SK Garg, Gurdas Singh Salvara and Kawal Singh Brar represented the dera head, while advocate Jatinder Singh Khatra represented the complainant. District attorney Iqbaljit Singh Kingra represented the state. Kingra informed that the court had accepted the cancellation report.
U-turn that did the trick
A significant U-turn taken by the Bathinda police in the proceedings of the case against Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh just three days before the 2012 assembly polls proved to be the turning point that ensured the dera head’s acquittal.
In an affidavit filed by the then Bathinda SSP Naunihal Singh in the high court in 2008, the police had claimed there were evidence and witnesses available in the case against the dera head. The intention of the police was clearer from the submission that the case had been registered after proper investigation by the Patiala zone inspector general of police.
But the case lingered as the police did not file the chargesheet.
On 2012 election eve, the police even filed a cancellation report in the local court, now saying that there was not enough evidence. Moreover, in its report the police produced an affidavit on behalf of the complainant saying that he was not present in the congregation at which the dera head allegedly dressed as the tenth Sikh guru. But the complainant, in turn, told the court that the affidavit produced in his name was false. Besides, the IGP’s report anyway had mentioned the Salabatpura congregation.
Yet, eventually, the cancellation report has been accepted as the police have stressed there is no evidence.