T he arrest and sentencing of Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, chief of Dera Sacha Sauda last week has served to underscore the power and clout that ‘godmen’ in India mage to acquire by turning their brand of ‘religion’ into a lucrative business. This becomes possible mainly because (a) they lose no time in acquiring a large band of followers that can swiftly be turned in to a private army; and (b) there is no dearth of senior bureaucrats in the country who are deferential to such godmen to the point of not taking desired action against them or postponing such action even when such godmen are proved to be crimils. The formal sentencing of Gurmeet on Monday constitutes the long pending step towards ending the kind of fraud that godmen have maged to perpetuate over the centuries. On Monday, a special CBI court sentenced the Dera Sacha Sauda chief to 20 years in jail for the rape of his two followers, holding that he had acted like a “wild beast” who did not even spare his own “pious” female disciples. It is nine-page order, Judge Jagdeep Singh pronounced two sentences of 10 years’ rigorous imprisonment in each of the two rapes that date back to 2002. Both the sentences are to run consecutively for a total period of 20 years in jail. The judge also fined the 50-year-old Gurmeet Rs 15 lakh in each of the two sentences, of which Rs 14 lakh each would go to the two victims who were part of his sect and were allegedly coerced into having sex with him. “Having due regard to the peculiar facts and circumstances of the case, the court is of the view that if the acts of the convict in sexually exploiting his own female disciples and intimidating them of dire consequences is taken note of, then such kind of persons do not deserve any kind of leniency from the court,“ said judge Jagdeep Singh. [Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh is reported to have wept and pleaded for mercy and sat on the floor of the court after the verdict.]
In another similar case, on Monday the Supreme Court once again questioned the Gujarat government over the slow pace of trial of the self-styled godman Asaram in a case of alleged sexual assault on a woman during her stay at one of his ashrams in Gujarat. Asking why the victim had not been examined till now, the Supreme Court bench of Justice N.V.Rama and Justice Amitava Roy directed the Gujarat government to file an affidavit stating the position of the case. The 72-year-old Asaram has been lodged in the Jodhpur Central Jail since September 2013. His trial relates to a complaint by a victim alleging that Asaram had sexually assaulted her between 2001 and 2006, when she was living in his ashram in the State. Asaram was arrested in August 2013 for alleged sexual assault of a minor girl in his ashram. He is undergoing trial under the provisions of the Prevention of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act in this case. According to reports, 29 prosecution witnesses have been examined and 46 witnesses are yet to be examined. This gives a clear indication that the case could drag on for a few more years. The most noteworthy aspects of both cases is the delay in filing of cases and their painfully slow progress. In the case of Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, the acts of rape and crimil intimidation of two female disciples was supposed to have taken place in 1999. However, the complaint in the cases was filed only in 2002. In the case of Asaram, the offences were said to have been committed in 2001 and 2006. However, due to the delay in the filing of cases, Asaram’s arrest came about only in August 2013. If this is the fate of crimil cases involving heinous crimes, one can well imagine how delayed the trials of civil cases can be in the existing set-up. The entire attitude to crime and crimility in India stems largely from the fact that it takes years for the crimil to be punished (if at all). In the two present cases of rape and sexual assault, it is evident that a great deal of pressure must have been put on the victims to dissuade them from filing charges. The law’s delay in crimil cases has the effect of creating the general impression that even hardened crimils can buy several years of time before the law eventually catches up with them. For many crimils, who expect to be incarcerated at any time for their evil deeds, the ability to buy a few years of time is like an unexpected bonus. It is time the tion took determined steps to end the law’s delay at least in respect of heinous crimes.
Perhaps the best thing to have happened after the Gurmeet and Asaram episodes is that godmen are likely to have much tougher time in India. Over the years, godmen have maged to command huge followings in India. The surprising part of it all is that there have been far too many university graduates among the lot of devotees of godmen like Gurmeet or Asaram. This is a sad commentary on the kind of education that tion has been able to provide, since our education is able to do nothing to dispel illusions about godmen and their so-called powers. The system has failed to counter even the simplest manifestations of superstition among our college and university students. Fortutely the failure of godmen to cope with adverse situations of their own making, and actions like godmen having to weep helplessly and sit on the floor of courtrooms are excellent proof of their ibility to cope with very mundane situations faced by most people. To our great advantage, this negates the imagined special powers of godmen.