Ram Rahim convicted: How an anonymous letter alleging rape started it all
It was an anonymous letter in 2002, addressed to then prime minister Atal Bihar Vajpayee and host of other top institutions, including the Punjab and Haryana high court, that triggered investigations into the rape charges against Sirsa-based Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh.
Nearly 15 years on, the verdict in the case against him will be out on Friday, even as the dera chief and his supporters have continued to question the authenticity of the letter all these years.
The three-page letter typed in Hindi, a copy of which is in possession of HT, narrates the ordeal of a dera sadhvi (woman follower) who charged Ram Rahim with sexual exploitation of the sadhvis in the dera. Sources said the investigating authorities once attributed the letter to a former sadhvi in Bathinda but she refuted their claim.
The letter, which was received by the high court by post on May 5, was also addressed to Union home ministry, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), and the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) besides media offices seeking intervention into wrongdoings in the dera.
HC SET THE BALL ROLLING
While most of the recipients did not react, the high court took cognisance of the matter and directed the then district and sessions judge in Sirsa, MS Sular, to conduct an inquiry into the matter.
In his report to high court, Sular did not rule out the possibility of such acts in the dera but said nobody there was prepared to speak about the sexual abuse, and there was no way to access the hostel where sadhvis were living, without the permission of Ram Rahim or the dera authorities.
As the judge recommended that the matter be investigated through a central agency, the high court converted the complaint into a criminal petition, and passed an order dated September 24, 2002, directing the CBI to investigate the allegations. That marked the beginning of the formal investigations against the dera chief.
CBI Chandigarh registered a case on December 12, 2002, under Section 376 (rape), 506 (criminal intimidation) and 509 (insult to the modesty of woman) of the Indian Penal Code and began formal investigations.
TWO VICTIMS TRACED
During the course of the investigation, the CBI faced many legal challenges, including stay orders on conducting the probe for one and half years between 2003 and 2004, which was later lifted.
Sources said the CBI’s main challenge was to find the sadhvis who had left the dera allegedly due to physical exploitation and convince them to depose against Ram Rahim.
Finally, they managed to trace two victims and file a chargesheet against him in 2007 in the special CBI court, which was then in the Ambala district courts before being shifted to Panchkula.
CONTENT OF THE COMPLAINT
Claiming to be a resident of Punjab, the anonymous sadhvi said she was an arts graduate who had been inspired by her parents to become a sadhvi. She said she along with 40-45 other girls was doing service in the dera for years.
Two years after she had become a sadhvi, Ram Rahim called her into his ‘gufa’, his residence inside the dera, where he was watching television with a revolver by his side. She alleged that she was threatened and then raped by him.
The woman alleged she was then repeatedly raped by the dera chief, who told her that no authority could proceed against him. She wrote that she was shattered and later came to know that other women followers were also exploited before and after her.
She also recounted how a girl from Sangrur was threatened after she shared her ordeal in her neighbourhood after leaving the dera.
The woman concluded the letter by seeking intervention of the then prime minister and the courts. She said she could not share her name as it would then invite trouble for her and her family members.