Anurag Tripathi is an investigative journalist with sixteen years of experience spanning print, electronic and digital media. Tripathi’s book, Dera Sacha Sauda and Gurmeet Ram Rahim, involves his decade long investigation into reported criminal activities undertaken at the Dera Sacha Sauda headed by Gurmeet Ram Rahim.
Let’s read an excerpt from the book.
For twenty-one-year-old Anshul, life was moving at a pace that any youngster from a small town envisions. He was good at his studies and dreamt of studying to be a lawyer. It was his father’s dream that he was pursuing diligently. With two siblings—a fourteen-year-old brother, Aridman, and sixteen-year-old sister, Shreyasi—mother Kulwant Kaur and father Ram Chander Chhatrapati, Anshul was content and secure. Little did he know that life as he knew it and expected it to be was about to change forever.
After 8.15 p.m. on 24 October 2002, he would embark on the journey of a relentless legal battle, fought amid constant threats to him and his family. He was not to know that for the next fifteen years, he would have to put aside his own dreams and fight tooth and nail for justice for his family.
On that fateful day, in their small, single-storeyed house at Govind Nagar in Sirsa, Anshul was watching a television show along with his brother and sister. He was also chopping vegetables for the dinner that was yet to be made. His mother had had to leave in a hurry that morning for Guru Har Sahai in Firozpur, Punjab, to attend the funeral of a close family member. Before leaving, she had instructed Anshul to take care of his younger siblings for she was aware of her husband’s routine of returning home late from work.
‘After writing his reports and sending the newspaper to press, my father had a habit of meeting his old friends at a tea shop in town. There, he would discuss the latest news making the rounds, and also take feedback on major events taking place at the Dera.’
That day, however, was not a usual one. Chhatrapati, to his children’s surprise, reached home at around 7.15 p.m., which was early for him. He was elated as he told Anshul about a major lead in his investigation against Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh. He announced that he would try his culinary skills and busied himself in the kitchen.
At around 8.05 p.m., the family heard a motorcycle stop at their gate and someone call for Ram Chander Chhatrapati by name from the small alley outside their house. Asking his children to stay indoors, he went out to meet the visitor. The house has two gates—a bigger one, which opens out into the main alley of the locality to the west, and a smaller one, which opens into an adjoining alley to the north of the house. Normally, the main gate was kept closed most of the time, and it was the smaller gate that was used by the family to enter and exit the house.
As was his habit, this time too, Chhatrapati used the smaller gate to get out of the house. The killers, who had obviously been tracking his and his family’s movements, knew that it was the small gate that was in frequent use. If they waited for him at that gate, Chhatrapati might not open it. So they hid themselves behind the main gate on the west side, and waited for him to emerge from the small gate and walk out towards the main alley.
When a few minutes had passed, Anshul thought of going out and calling his father back in for dinner. He was about to open the main door when they all heard five consecutive gunshots. The assailants, two in number, fled the spot on a motorcycle. As the nearest police post at Khairpur was barely 200 metres from the house, one of the assailants, Kuldeep Singh, was apprehended by a constable who had heard the gunshots and was heading towards the alley. The other assailant, Nirmal Singh, managed to flee the crime scene.
Meanwhile, Anshul locked the main door of the house and rushed towards the small gate.
‘By the time I reached the main alley, all I could see was my father lying in a pool of blood.’ He started screaming for help as he rushed to help his father. Chhatrapati, though grievously wounded, with two gunshots in the abdomen and one each on the shoulder, the back and the thigh, was trying to stand up. The entire neighbourhood had heard the gunshots and people had started gathering in the alley. A neighbour brought his car out and rushed the badly wounded Chhatrapati to the nearest hospital in Sirsa.
‘The 200–km drive from Sirsa to Rohtak seemed like the longest I have ever had to drive in my life. All throughout, I was holding my father’s hand. He was conscious and was looking into my eyes. I felt utterly miserable and helpless,’ said the son, for whom his father was the greatest role model.
Meanwhile, Anshul’s sister and brother were at home, crying and clueless about why their father had been shot. The news of the brutal attack also reached Firozpur. Kulwant Kaur composed herself and started for Rohtak. ‘He was an upright man. He was fighting against a monster and he knew its consequences,’ Kaur told me while recalling that night of horror. ‘He would always tell us that no one has left this earth alive. “Neither will I. But I can’t sit back and see my city go to ruin because of Gurmeet Ram Rahim.”