Chandigarh: Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, the chief of the influential Dera Sacha Sauda sect, was held guilty of rape today by a court in a 15-year-old case - a verdict which led to clashes, arson and violence by his supporters. Two women followers who accused the self-styled "godman" of sexually assaulting and threatening them, have been living in fear; their lawyer said in court today that they would have to move to another state if the guru was acquitted. He also spoke about shifting the case out of Haryana for a fair trial.
Where the women are has not been disclosed. As clashes erupted, the lawyer refused to share details and said they would not speak.
The lawyer said one of the survivors has been "very disturbed in the last few days". Tens of thousands of Dera followers - who call themselves premis - had been gathering in Sirsa - where the Dera has its main headquarters - and Panchkula, where a court pronounced the verdict. As soon as Ram Rahim's conviction was announced, violence broke out near the court with supporters taking to arson and vandalism.
The Dera chief was formally charged in 2002 after the CBI took the statements of the Sadhvis who alleged they were raped by Ram Rahim in his room at the Sirsa ashram. According to reports, one of them alleged that he justified it saying it would "purify" her.
The allegations surfaced when an anonymous letter apparently written by one of the Sadhvis began circulating. In the three-page letter addressed to then Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, the Union Home Ministry and the High Court among others, the Sadhvi alleged that the Dera chief had raped not just her but other followers too.
The woman said Ram Rahim called her to his "gufa (cave)" - what he called his den - where he was watching TV with a revolver by his side. She alleged that she was raped repeatedly.
Based on the letter, the high court directed the CBI to investigate.
The CBI questioned many Sadhvis and tracked down the two survivors, who testified before a court. The man suspected to be behind the anonymous letter was murdered. In 2008, a CBI court ordered rape charges against Ram Rahim.
"My life has changed after I gave the statement. I can't move freely. There is danger to my life. I am also apprehensive about lives of my family members," one of the women told the Indian Express.
She was reported as saying such was the self-styled "godman's" reign of terror that "nothing can happen without his permission and his followers take his preaching as a message of God."
The woman said she was confident of getting justice and had waited too long.
An arts graduate, she was persuaded by her parents to become a Sadhvi.
"Fortunately, this case was handled by honest officers from CBI. They have tried their best to ensure justice to us. That's why we have hope," she told the Indian Express before the verdict.