By Parth Gupta
The Indian judiciary has earned high regard over the past week. Three days saw three bold judgments: on 22 August, the apex termed the ‘instant triple talaq’, (practice among Muslims), ‘unconstitutional’, on 24 August, Supreme Court declared the right to privacy as a fundamental right which was also seen as a ray of hope for the LGBT community, and on 25 August, a special CBI court set-up in the city of Panchkula convicted Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh Insan in the 2002 rape case against him.
Violence in the north
The judgment of 25 August saw bizarre events transpire, not inside the courtroom but on the streets. Large parts of northern India was essentially under siege. As the judgement day approached, section 144 was imposed in Panchkula. After the verdict, Patiala, Sirsa, Bhatinda, Ferozepur, Mansa, Muzaffarnagar and Baghpat were also under curfew. Mobile internet services were down in many parts of Haryana and Punjab and 552 people were arrested for being involved in violence.
Consequences of a ‘clerical error’
In order to prevent what eventually happened, two prohibitory orders were issued ahead of the verdict. However, the order dated 22.08.2017 had a ‘clerical error’, as the Haryana BJP Khattar Government claimed. They forgot to mention that the assembly of four to five people was unlawful, which is the very essence of section 144. This isn’t just a ‘clerical mistake‘, but also a reflection of how casually these planned acts of rampage and wrecking are considered in our country. In the political sphere of the nation, ‘clerical errors’ can be cited as legit terms, even after Punjab police had issued clear instructions to zonal IGs that the Dera supporters were gathering in nam charcha ghars (congregation centres) carrying weapons and hoarding petrol.
Dera’s political bonds
Panchkula-like situations and people like Gurmeet Singh, Rampal or even Radhe Ma, is what happens when the ‘political class’ jumps in to be affiliated with brain-washed citizens just to secure votes. During the run-up to 2014 Haryana assembly elections, 44 out of 90 BJP candidates turned up to meet Dera chief Ram Rahim to seek “Guru Ji’s blessings”. Moreover, in 2017 Punjab Elections, the Dera came out in open support for the Akali-BJP alliance. On 15 August, ten days before the Dera chief’s conviction, Haryana Education minister Ram Bilas Sharma visited him and gifted him Rs. 51 lakh from his ministry’s discretionary quota “to promote sports”. As Panchkula was being burned by Dera supporters, Ram Bilas Sharma stated that section 144 does not apply to Dera supporters.
Not just BJP, even Congress, which went all out to ask for Khattar’s resignation, also holds kinship with the Dera and is equally responsible for the rise of Gurmeet Singh. The Dera head’s son is married to the daughter of a prominent Congress leader and former MLA of Punjab, Harminder Singh Jassi. In 2009, the Dera chief extended his support to Congress in return for the Z+ security cover (3 vehicles, 36 people in the convoy – assisted by local police) the UPA provided to him in 2007.
Lack of a stand
Politicians from almost all sides have criticised the ruckus created by followers of Dera in Haryana, Punjab and in NCR. Yet, none of them came out to release a statement on the verdict itself. However, while the BJP was reeling under criticism for what was happening in Panchkula, BJP MP from UP Sakshi Maharaj questioned the verdict by saying, “Crores of people are supporting Ram Rahim, and only one person is complaining about him, is one person right or are crores of people right? The court should’ve listened to millions of devotees who consider him a god”. Even BJP Rajya Sabha MP, Subramanian Swamy said that Gurmeet Singh was framed.
The real issue
Gurmeet Singh displayed not only extremely flawed moral sense but even cowardice when he fell sobbing on hearing the verdict. The very existence of Deras is not the issue. The Sacha Sauda Dera in its initial years was recognised for providing people from the lower caste, in states like Punjab and Haryana- dominated by upper caste and land owners, a place to live with dignity and respect. However, political patronage of such deras breeds criminality, blackmailing, bargaining and corruption for greater power and affluence. When these deras are off the leash, it becomes even more problematic and sends out a clear message to common citizens that anything’s possible if you’re influential enough and the rule of law is selective.
Featured Image Source: Flickr
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