Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh was sentenced on Monday to 20 years in prison for rape, as security forces in Haryana and Punjab went on high alert to prevent possible violence by his followers.
The sentence was passed by Jagdeep Singh, a special CBI judge, in a makeshift court in the Sunaria jail where Ram Rahim, 50, had been lodged since his conviction on Friday.
Media reports said Ram Rahim broke down and asked for forgiveness with folded hands when the sentence was read out. He then refused to leave the court room, in the jail library, said the report.
There were no immediate reports of violence. At least 38 people were killed and hundreds injured on Friday in Haryana and Punjab, which had seen widespread violence by his followers after his conviction on Friday. Most of the dead were shot by police who had opened fire to quell the protests.
To avoid more trouble it was decided that CBI Judge Jagdeep Singh should pronounce the sentence in the jail, rather than bring Ram Rahim back to his court in Panchkula, near Chandigarh.
Singh arrived in Rohtak in a helicopter, landing on a helipad near the jail located on the outskirts of Rohtak.
The judge pronounced two sentences of 10 years rigorous imprisonment in each of the two rapes that date back to 2002, defence lawyer S K Garg Narwana told reporters here.
A multi-layer security cordon manned by police and 23 companies of paramilitary forces was thrown in and around Rohtak and also around the jail. The Army has been kept on standby while all routes to the jail were sealed.
Haryana and Punjab remained on high alert with officials warning that violent miscreants will be shot at sight, describing the security situation as “challenging.”
Ram Rahim was found guilty of rape in a case that stemmed from an anonymous written complaint in April 2002 that he had sexually exploited two female followers. The case was registered by the CBI in December 2002 on the directions of the Punjab and Haryana High Court.
The CBI filed the chargesheet against the Dera head in Ambala court in July 2007. The chargesheet mentions sexual exploitation of two ‘Sadhvis’ (women followers) between 1999 and 2001.
The special CBI court framed charges against Ram Rahim under sections 376 (rape) and 506 (criminal intimidation) of the IPC in September 2008. Between 2009 and 2010, the two complainants recorded their statements before the court.
The special CBI court shifted from Ambala to Panchkula and the case against Dera chief was also transferred to Panchkula CBI Court.
In July 2017, the court ordered daily hearing and arguments of prosecution and defence were concluded on August 17, 2017.
Prohibitory orders under Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), prohibiting assembly of five or more persons, and carrying of firearms and other weapons, are already in place in Rohtak district.
Rohtak Deputy Commissioner Atul Kumar said police will not hesitate to open fire again at those spreading violence.
“It is a challenging situation, but we are prepared”, Kumar told reporters.
“We are prepared to deal with any unscrupulous element who may try to create trouble ... if there is any such element who indulges in any act of violence endangering innocent lives, if he does not pay heed to warnings then shoot-at-sight will be used against him. Action will be taken as the situation demands,” he asserted.
“We have clarity of thought, we are not confused. If we feel any person is endangering lives of innocent people and is causing damage to property, then shoot-at-sight will be used (to deal in such a situation),” he said.
Haryana DGP B S Sandhu also said that “maintaining law and order is the top priority for the Haryana Police today.”
Rohtak Range IG, Navdeep Singh Virk said no Dera follower will be allowed to enter Rohtak district or come near the jail.
“For that we have set up special barricades across the entire Rohtak district,” he said.
As a precautionary measure, schools and other educational institutions remained shut in Haryana while these will also remain closed in sensitive districts in Punjab.