The courage showed by two women has resulted in justice. Gurmeet Ram Rahim has been sentenced to twenty years in prison for raping two women sadhvis in the custody of his Dera. He continues to face charges of having a brother of one of the rape victims as well as a journalist who reported the rapes murdered, as well as charges of forced castration of 400 men.
The Haryana High Court has rightly held the Prime Minister and the Chief Minister of Haryana squarely responsible for the riots that followed the conviction of the Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim. The High Court observed that the BJP Governments of Haryana and the Centre “surrendered before the followers of Dera Sacha Sauda for political considerations… to allure vote bank… let a city like Panchkula burn for political motives.” In an extraordinary and unprecedented manner, the Haryana High Court was forced to chastise the PM and CM, reminding them that they were expected to safeguard the interests of India and Haryana, not their own party the BJP.
The BJP Government of Haryana allowed the Dera Sacha Sauda supporters to gather in Panchkula in massive numbers; it allowed the Dera centres to stockpile weapons; one of its Ministers announced publicly that Section 144 “could not be applied to faith.” These were clear signals from the Government that the rioters had its approval. Haryana Minister, BJP’s Rohtak MLA and long-time RSS cadre Manish Grover justified the riots saying: “When there is a crowd of 50,000-1 lakh and they have devotion towards Babaji, tab unmen ek natural gussa ata hai (they have a natural anger).”
Allowing – or encouraging – mobs to run riot is a trademark of the BJP model of governance. In the demolition of the Babri Masjid and the genocide of Muslims in Gujarat 2002 too – each on a BJP CM’s watch – violent, armed mobs were allowed to gather and riots were then justified as a “natural” reaction before which the Government was “helpless.”
Stung by the High Court’s chastisement, Prime Minister Modi tried to control the damage to his image in his Mann Ki Baat address by declaring that “India is the land of Mahatma Gandhi and Lord Buddha” and that “Violence is not acceptable in the nation, in any form.” Such a declaration that takes refuge in Buddha and Gandhi is so generalized that it appears to have no specific relation to the planned, organized violence that is being encouraged and justified by his own colleagues.
Modi pointedly avoided saluting the two women who fought the rape case so courageously for 15 years. He avoided saying that supporting a convicted rapist was morally indefensible. He also avoided mentioning that he personally as well as other BJP leaders patronized, protected, and funded the rape-accused Ram Rahim in exchange for electoral support, and that a host of his colleagues are openly supporting Ram Rahim even after his conviction. RSS ideologue Rakesh Sinha has even tried to imply that the BJP was justified in making a man accused of rape, forced castration and murder a brand ambassador for “Swacch Bharat” because he has millions of supporters. BJP MP Sakshi Maharaj has said that millions support Ram Rahim while just one woman has accused him of rape. BJP MP Subramanian Swamy has implied that the rape case against Ram Rahim is a conspiracy against “Sadhus” to grab their land. Such statements indicate that on the BJP’s moral scale, rape and murder charges weigh far less than the power to control the votes of “millions of supporters.”
In spite of ML Khattar’s spectacular collusion in the riots by Ram Rahim supporters, the BJP has refused to sack him. This further proves the BJP’s approval of the riots.
Both the Congress and BJP must be held responsible for the kind of power and wealth Ram Rahim and his Dera enjoyed. These parties exchange patronage for electoral support from the man accused of heinous crimes. But even more serious and condemnable is the fact that essential welfare services such as de-addiction, healthcare, support for transgender persons and sexworkers, and so on had been outsourced by successive Governments of Punjab and Haryana to the Dera Sacha Sauda and other similar religious institutions. Hordes of poor and vulnerable people came to depend on the Deras for these services which they should have been able to expect from the State. Instead of spending Government funds on these essential services, Ministers in the Government got in the habit of “gifting” crores worth of public funds to the Dera Sacha Sauda for their supposed “social welfare work.” At least three senior BJP Ministers of Haryana for instance, recently donated public funds to the tune of more than one crore rupees to the Dera. This meant that in exchange for electoral support, the Government was using public funds to help the Dera Sacha Sauda attract the support of – and control the lives of – the poorest and most oppressed people. Thus, these Governments are responsible also for the Dera Sacha Sauda’s power to cynically sacrifice the lives of these people in the fire of riots to defend its rapist chief.
There are several takeaways from the Ram Rahim episode. ML Khattar and other Government functionaries must be investigated and punished for their role in allowing the riots to take place. Criminal cases against fraudmen like Asaram, also accused of rape and of getting key witnesses murdered, must be expedited. Governments must be prohibited from handing over public funds to such religious institutions, and must instead be held accountable for providing welfare services directly to people. Families of those killed in the riots – including those killed in police firing – must be adequately compensated by the Government of Haryana which must take the full blame for the violence and the deaths.