India: Self-styled godman Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh was sentenced on Monday to 20 years in jail and a fine of Rs 30,00000 for raping two women 15 years ago as a CBI court ignored the Dera Sacha Sauda chief’s last-minute pleas for leniency.
The sentence was read out inside the heavily-guarded premises of Rohtak jail in Haryana by CBI judge Jagdeep Singh, who sentenced Singh under section 376 of the Indian Penal Code (rape), section 506 (criminal intimidation) and section 509 (insulting the modesty of a woman). (Live updates)
TV reports said the 50-year-old convict, who commands a millions-strong following, broke down in court and had to be dragged out. Minutes before the verdict, two vehicles were set on fire in Sirsa, the headquarters of the sect.
Singh was pronounced guilty for the rapes on Friday by the CBI court in Haryana’s Panchkula. Minutes after his conviction, hundreds of his followers went on a rampage, burning down buildings, railway stations and vehicles.
The ensuing violence singed five states and left 38 people dead and 250 injured with the high court slamming the Haryana government for allowing 200,000 dera followers to gather in Panchkula.
On Monday, The court set aside the defence team’s argument that Singh should be shown leniency because he was a social worker. As the verdict was being read, Singh reportedly said he was feeling unwell. A medical examination was underway and ambulances were seen driving into the jail premises.
To prevent a repeat of Friday’s arson and mayhem, the government shut down mobile internet and messaging services and threw a five-tier security ring around the jail. The CBI judge was flown into the premises on a helicopter and armed soldiers patrolled barricaded roads.
The rape case was brought against him after an anonymous letter was sent to then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 2002 accusing Singh of repeatedly raping the sender and several other women in Dera Sacha Sauda sect.