A decade and 200 hearings later, dera chief Ram Rahim’s rape trial verdict today
Finally after 200 hearings spread over 10 years and numerous stay orders of higher courts in between, the CBI special trial court in Panchkula is set to decide the fate of Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, who is accused of rape of his female followers, on Friday. The journey so far has not been easy both for the investigative agency and the two complainants.
A vital aspect of the case is that the victims stood by their statements and deposed against the dera chief during the trial, although there were several attempts by the defence counsel to counter them by claiming that their initial statements before investigation officers did not level rape allegations.
To prove that they hadn’t alleged rape, the defence filed several applications, even approached higher courts, to get testimony of many investigating officers (IOs) and even victims. In one such instance, they managed to cross-examine one of the initial IOs, KL Raina, claiming that he had already recorded before the trial court that none of the two victims ever levelled allegations against the accused. As per lawyers, Ram Rahim filed at least 50 petitions in the high court and nearly a dozen in the Supreme Court.
The CBI counsel repeatedly countered the defence by saying that the victims made earlier statements under pressure of dera authorities, and that what mattered was the statement made during the trial.
Sources said that both the victims appeared before the trial court a number of times in 2009 and 2010 and stood their ground during cross-questioning, which according to the CBI could be a clinching factor in this case.
One major argument that held up the case for three years — 2010 to 2013 — was the application moved by the Ram Rahim in the trial court to seek specimen signatures and handwriting samples of one of the victims.
The other letter, and handwriting test
They produced a letter during the trial in 2009 which claimed that one of the victims wrote to Ram Rahim before leaving the dera in which she mentioned that he was like a “father figure” to her and she “has nothing against him”.
Even as the CBI objected to production of such a letter after years, the trial court directed victim to give her signature and handwriting samples. But her father moved the HC in 2010 on the grounds that it was unnecessary harassment of his daughter. The trial only restarted in 2013 after the HC dismissed the father’s application and the victim gave handwriting and signature samples. These did not match with the disputed letter following a forensic report.
In September last year, the HC had imposed a cost on the dera head and recorded that he could not be allowed to file applications “just to delay trial”. The HC said, “The trial court has rightly found that the entire exercise made by the petitioner was with an ulterior motive to delay the trial. The petitioner cannot be allowed to play with the court proceedings in the manner he has done. At any rate, the orders under challenge are legally and factually correct and no interference is required to be made with the impugned orders.”
The total list of witnesses — both of prosecution and defence — too was cut short during the trial. Against 28 witnesses initially, the CBI settled on 15, while the Ram Rahim produced 37 against a list of 100 initially given.
Final arguments in the case were held twice due to transfer of judges in 2016.
Murder cases in same court
Besides the rape case, the dera chief is among the accused in two murder cases, the trial of which is at different stages at the special CBI court in Panchkula.
One of the cases pertains to the killing of Sirsa-based journalist Ram Chander Chhatrapati, who had reported the “wrongdoings” inside the dera campus, and was allegedly killed allegedly by dera followers in 2002.
The other case is about the killing of Ranjit Singh, a former dera member, who too had highlighting “wrongdoings inside the dera”. Hearing of these cases is scheduled for September 16 next.
The CBI in 2015 also registered a case against the dera chief for alleged forced castration of about 400 male devotees. Investigation is underway.