Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Singh was sentenced to twenty years in prison for two cases of rape by a special CBI court on Monday. Another case of suspected murder is still pending against the Dera chief. The victim was journalist Ram Chander Chhatrapati who unmasked — through his local newspaper ‘Poora Sach’ — the “unholy” happenings in the Dera in Sirsa in 2002. Fifteen years ago Chhatrapati published a letter in his newspaper in which a woman accused Singh of sexual assault. Chhatrapati was shot dead but his elder son Anshul continued the fight against Gurmeet Ram Rahim. Despite threats in the last 15 years he has continued to write about the dera in ‘Poora Sach’. In this interview with The Statesman, Anshul Chhatrapati revealed details of his father’s investigations.
Alleged unholy happenings in the Dera were exposed by your father despite knowing that the baba was politically connected. There was a risk in taking a stand against him. What motivated your father to pursue the fight against the baba? How did this all start?
Justice came after 15 years. The small newspaper ‘Poora Sach’ was started by my father on 2 February 2002. It stood for the complete truth without any cuts or manipulation. My father always wanted the truth to reach people. He had a wide network and through that he came to know about the malpractices of the dera followers. His friends told him that he was inviting trouble, but he did not care. He was aware of the repercussions but he took it on himself to save the people from this fallacy. He was committed to the truth. A few months later he received an anonymous letter alleging that Ram Rahim sexually assaulted sadhvis inside the dera and he started digging into the story.
What do you know about the dera? Do you know anything that did not come out? What exactly used to happen in the dera?
There are several unreported cases. Castration of many followers was done and even I know there was a follower of baba called Fakir Chand (sadhu) who went missing. Local enquiries revealed that the sadhu was murdered on the chief’s order as he knew too much about Gurmeet Singh. The police have just filed a missing case. The Baba is exposed now. People were afraid of him but now I expect people will come out in the open and his wrong doings will be made public.
What exactly happened on the day your father was shot?
After news about the letter by the sadhvi was published in his newspaper my father was continuously getting threat calls. On 24 October he had just returned home after work when two people came to our home and called him out. He went out and the men shot him at point blank range. One of them ran towards the police post and got caught. When his pistol was recovered, it was found to be a licensed one in the name of a dera follower. One of them was nabbed by the constable while they were running away. The recovered revolver was of Kishan Lal, the manager of Dera. More evidence was found which made it clear that this act was a conspiracy of Dera Sacha Sauda. My father was in hospital for 28 days. He was fully conscious for 11 days but no statements were taken initially by the police in the presence of the magistrate.
What did your father say in his statement that the police finally took? How old were you then?
Even though he was unable to speak in later days, he gave a statement to the police that he had been receiving threats from the Dera followers. However, the Haryana police did not bother registering an FIR. Police deleted the relevant portions from his statement about the dera chief and his followers and no case was made out. I was 21 when my father passed away. I quit my studies and took over the responsibility to publish ‘Poora Sach’, even though it ran into losses.
Did you continue his fight?
Yes, I did! People were very supportive. Many NGOs came to our rescue and supported us in this fight. Finally, the Punjab and Haryana High Court ordered an inquiry and investigation was taken up in January 2003. I moved a petition demanding a CBI investigation. There was no revenue but we still kept the paper going. We kept writing against the establishment, we kept updating our readers about the case and I started writing editorials. They offered money through our common contacts, sent people to attack our newspaper office, but we kept the fight going.
It’s more than a decade now. What according to you is the reason for the delay in justice?
Through my father’s friends we have appealed for a CBI investigation in the rape case against baba. He is politically well connected whether it is INLD, Congress or BJP government. That is why the case was so delayed. The CBI investigation was continuously being hindered by political parties. The CBI officers have done a fabulous job. I can imagine the political pressure on them but they dug out facts and got justice to victims. Now they will be going to High Court and then Supreme Court and we are also ready to fight till the end.
The baba is sentenced to 20 years imprisonment. What are your plans?
I quit studies after my father had passed away. Now I plan to do law by distance education.