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Where rape convicts are not hardcore criminals

Are developments in Haryana and Gujarat, where rape convicts have been treated favourably by the state administration, aligning with RSS’ value system?
Last Updated : 06 March 2023, 08:52 IST
Last Updated : 06 March 2023, 08:52 IST

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A letter from more than two decades back, in 1999, has suddenly become relevant.

Sent by a sadhvi of Haryana’s famous Dera Sacha Sauda to the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and to the Punjab and Haryana High Court, the chain of events it set off culminated in the head of the Dera, Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, being convicted of the rape of not one, but two sadhvis.

He was also convicted of conspiring to carry out two killings: that of the brother of one of the raped sadhvis, and of journalist Ram Chander Chhatrapati, who published that letter in his newspaper.

However, the Haryana government last week told the Punjab and Haryana High Court that “Gurmeet Ram Rahim is not a hardcore criminal.”

The Manohar Lal Khattar government was defending the granting of a 40-day parole to the convicted prisoner in January. Just three months earlier, he’d been granted parole of a similar duration. In all, over the last one year, this convicted rapist-murderer has spent 131 days out of jail.

One wonders what the two sadhvis who gave their statements to the CBI, and stuck to them in court despite incessant threats, make of the Haryana government’s opinion of Singh. Can they reconcile it with their memories of him? They told the court that when they resisted the rapes, the man they and their families worshipped as god, threatened to have them killed. The brother of one was indeed killed.

Similarly, what impact would the Haryana government’s endorsement of Singh have on Chhatrapati’s son? The boy was just 21 then, and saw his father suffer for 28 long days till he died. He also saw police sanitising his father’s dying statement to save the Dera chief.

There’s another section of people still waiting for justice: those erstwhile followers who have accused the Dera chief of having castrated them. The CBI charge-sheet in this case was filed in 2018, but the trial is yet to begin. Imagine what must have gone through the minds of the complainant and witnesses in this case, on reading the character certificate from their government for their alleged tormentor.

This, incidentally, is the same government that has treated Muslims praying in public spaces like criminals. Offering namaz in public spaces cannot be tolerated, Khattar thundered in 2021, siding with the Hindutva groups who had for three years bullied Muslims wanting to pray at sites allotted to them by the Gurugram administration. At the same time, Khattar’s government turned down every application by Muslims to build new mosques and, thereby, solve the problem of praying outdoors.

This same peculiar sense of what constitutes criminality and what doesn’t, was displayed by the Gujarat government when it approved in 2022 the premature release of 11 convicts who’d gang-raped Bilkis Bano and killed 14 of her relatives, including her infant daughter, during the 2002 violence in the state. The approval came from all wings of the administration: the District Collector, the Superintendent of Police, and the jail superintendent.

The same administration, however, thought it fine to treat Muslims as hardened criminals for allegedly throwing stones on Hindus at a garba in 2022. The Kheda Police tied them to a pole and flogged them in public. Now, they have defended this barbarism in court. The SP’s affidavit, which could not have been filed without approval of the home department, says the flogging was done to “maintain peace and harmony.” They had already won approval for the flogging from the highest quarters: “Nice job”, Harsh Sanghvi, Gujarat’s Home Minister had said, while the Gujarat BJP general secretary had congratulated them.

Significantly, both Haryana and Gujarat have men associated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) at their helm. Two values the RSS swears by are discipline and Hindu sanskaar. Do rape and murder fit into this value system?

It’s significant that Khattar’s government was forced to justify granting parole to Singh only because the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) went to court against it. The Sikh body has for long accused the Dera chief of hurting their religious feelings; he is also an accused in Punjab’s infamous sacrilege case of 2015.

Thus, neither in bringing Singh to justice, nor in ensuring that he pays for his crimes, has any political party played a role. Though the raped sadhvi sent her letter also to the chief ministers of Punjab and Haryana, only the court acted on it. Till date, politicians across parties seek his blessings.

The Dera chief’s clout lies in the millions of Dalit votes he controls. Currently, it is alleged that the BJP is his favourite party. Yet, though he was let out just before the Punjab polls last year, the BJP almost drew a blank. Dalits voted for the Aadmi Aadmi Party (AAP).

(Jyoti Punwani is a senior journalist.)

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author's own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.

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Published 06 March 2023, 08:52 IST

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