Followers of the Dera Sacha Sauda religious cult have issued violent threats against the country while footage of followers in Panipat show them armed with batons. Police of two states and a UT are on high alert.
A special CBI court in Panchkula district (adjoining Chandigarh) has been conducting a trial of the self-styled godman, Gurmeet Ram Raheem Singh ‘Insaan’, on charges of rape of a woman follower. After a decade of proceedings, the judgement was reserved last week for pronouncement on August 25, when the godman has been asked to be present in court. Gurmeet Ram Raheem is the third and current spiritual leader of the 69-year-old religious cult.
Followers of the cult have threatened to go berserk if the judgement goes against the godman. In Panipat, the godman’s followers even issued threats, on camera, to attack the country if anything happened to their godman.
On Tuesday, hundreds of followers of the godman started arriving in Panchkula and camping not far from the courthouse where the judgement will be pronounced.
The Panchkula town administration has decided to cut off traffic through several parts of the town on the date of the judgement so as to keep a control of the law and order in the town. They have also asked petrol pump owners to ensure that open sale of fuel is not permitted to prevent any form of arson.
On Tuesday, personnel of the Haryana Police conducted a ‘flag march’ in Sirsa along with personnel of the Central Reserve Police Force, Rapid Action Force and Sashastra Seema Bal.
“We conducted a ‘show of force’ to ensure people of their safety. Security has also been beefed up around the courthouse and there will be heavy deployment of forces on August 25,” said, AS Chawla, the inspector general of Haryana police (law & order).
Since the date of the judgement was announced, parts of Punjab, Haryana and their common capital in the union territory of Chandigarh has been under tension. Police of both states and the UT have increased force deployment, including personnel from the central armed police forces. On Saturday, the central government had deployed 35 companies of central armed forces to Haryana with a promise of additional deployments in the coming days.
Police have increased their vigil in at least 20 spots that they have identified in Sirsa. Sources in the state government said that the administration is considering imposing a curfew in pockets of the state where the cult has an influence. According to police sources, this includes the districts of Panipat, Sirsa, Fatehabad, Jind, Hansi, Kaithal, Kurukshetra and Hisar.
It is believed that the administration have considered keeping a tab on crowds and sensitive spots using drones. A state police officer said that a large number of additional intelligence personnel had also been deployed in the state to keep a tab on trouble brewing anywhere. Security has also been beefed up around the residences of VIPs and near government offices.
Haryana government is also mulling curbs on social media and internet data usage so as to prevent coordinated mob violence.
The proceedings against the godman have been going on since 2007, following rape charges levied by a former female follower of the godman’s sect.
The allegations had been made in an anonymous letter to then PM Atal Behari Vajpayee and the then chief justice of the Punjab & Haryana High Court. The letter had said that Gurmeet Singh had raped a woman follower multiple times in the dera’s ashram on the outskirts of Sirsa town in Haryana.
During the course of the probe, the godman had claimed that he was not physically capable of having sex.
In Punjab, there was a protest rally in Ludhiana district, apart from which the godman also has influence in pockets Moga and Bathinda districts.
Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh reportedly said that 75 companies of forces had been deployed in Punjab.
Meanwhile, pro-Khalistan group, Dal Khalsa, issued a warning to the people of Punjab to be prepared to protect themselves from hooliganism in case of an adverse verdict.
“We all know how the state has been protecting him, providing him Z-plus security cover despite his being facing the criminal cases of heinous nature”, spokesperson for the Dal Khalsa said at a press conference in Hoshiarpur.
“Similarly, we would see whether the state administration would protect the mob or its citizens.”
Expressing concern over the build-up hysteria, they said large scale mobilization of forces, prevailing mob mentality throughout India and threatening tone and tenor of the so-called premis for bloodbath was aimed to influence the judiciary. “It’s a orchestrated design to prevent the courts from delivering justice to the victim. “
In 2008, it was hostilities from the Sikh camp that led to the Z+ category security of the godman. Gurmeet Singh had clothed and styled himself in a way that seemed as if he had taken on the appearance of the Sikh spiritual leader, Guru Gobind Singh.
Angered by his trying to appear as a Sikh guru, radical elements amongst the pro-Khalistan groups had made an assassination attempt. Following this, the threat perception had been reviewed and the Z+ security status accorded to the godman.
The godman, who himself is a frequent user of social media apps, has been mum on the platforms about the hysteria amongst his followers.
The dera chief has also been implicated in a murder case. A former manager of the cult, Faqir Chand, had disappeared in 1991, two years after the controversial succession of Gurmeet Ram Rahim.
Ram Kumar Bishnoi another follower and friend of Faqir Chand, had approached the police with allegations against the godman for the murder of the missing dera manager.
In 2007, a former driver of Gurmeet Ram Raheem had told the media that the godman had allegedly ordered Faqir Chand’s murder. The CBI had given a clean chit to Gurmeet Ram Raheem in 2010. Following the quashing of charges against the godman, Bishnoi approached the Punjab & Haryana High Court yet again for a re-investigation into the disappearance of the dera manager.