Rohtak: A special Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) court on Monday sentenced Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh to 20 years in prison after his conviction in two rape cases.
CBI Judge Jagdeep Singh pronounced two sentences of 10 years rigorous imprisonment in each of the two cases that date back to 2002, said defence lawyer S K Garg Narwana.
He said both sentences will run consecutively for a total of 20 years in jail for the flamboyant guru who has millions of followers and counts politicians as well as celebrities as his friends.
Singh also fined him Rs 15 lakh in each of the two cases, of which Rs 14 lakh each would go to the two victims who were part of his sect and were coerced into having sex with him.
The defence counsel sought leniency from the court arguing that Ram Rahim was active in social work and had health issues. He said he will appeal against the orders in a high court.
The sentence was passed in a special courtroom set up inside the Sunaria jail where Ram Rahim, the 50-year-old self-proclaimed godman, is lodged since last Friday after he was convicted.
Media reports said he broke down and begged for forgiveness with folded hands when the first sentence was passed.
The judge was brought to Rohtak by a helicopter from Chandigarh and landed at a helipad near the jail located on the outskirts of Rohtak.
Reports of sporadic violence trickled through even before the sentence was read out. Two cars were torched by Dera Sacha Sauda supporters in Phoolka area of Haryana's Sirsa, the sect’s headquarters.
Chairperson of the Dera, Vipassana Insan, appealed to followers to peacefully abide by the judgement.
Soon after the CBI judge sentenced Ram Rahim for rape, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh assured there was “total normalcy” in the state.
“Our forces are on their toes. Will not let any untoward incident happen,” he said. He also said that this sentence “must be accepted by the people and peace must prevail," he said.
Haryana, Punjab and parts of Uttar Pradesh were under a thick security cover on Monday to prevent any repeat of the mayhem that followed the guilty verdict on Friday.
Thirty-eight people have died so far in the violence perpetuated by followers of Ram Rahim’s sect, the Dera Sacha Sauda.
Schools and colleges in Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh’s Shamli district were shut on Monday.
Thousands of supporters who had gathered at the Dera headquarters in Sirsa were also shooed out by the administration.
The rape against Ram Rahim has been dragging since April, 2002 when an anonymous letter written to the Punjab and Haryana chief justice complained of sexual exploitation of women followers at the Dera.
Journalist Ram Chander Chhatrapati of Sirsa, who had exposed this exploitation, was shot dead at his residence on October 24, 2002. That case is up for its next hearing on September 16.
Acting on the letter, the High Court handed the matter to the CBI later that year after a district court indicated the possibility of sexual harassment.
The CBI registered a case of rape and criminal intimidation in December, 2002 and filed a chargesheet against Ram Rahim mid-2007 for the sexual exploitation of two sadhvis between 1991 and 2001.
A daily hearing was ordered by the special CBI court in July, 2017 followed by the guilty verdict on August 25, 2017.