Ram Rahim Verdict: Jail Term Should’ve Been Higher For Each Rape

Absence of a rape sentencing policy in India has led to a punishment, considered too low, being imposed on Ram Rahim. My reading of sentencing for rape tells me that it is only when the victim is a minor and she is killed in the act of rape do the courts impose sentence which go up to life and also sometimes impose the death penalty.

Most recently, the Supreme Court of India upheld the death penalty for the rape and murder of Nirbhaya but one may ask, how was the crime of Ram Rahim any less heinous than that of the Nirbhaya killers? The aggravating circumstances in this case are surely repeated rape made possible by keeping women in custody, breach of trust and the claim of being a godman.


Did Gurmeet Ram Rahim Deserve Life Imprisonment?

Questions have been asked whether the sentence awarded to Gurmeet Ram Rahim is adequate or whether he should have been given the maximum sentence that is life imprisonment, for eachrape.

The CBI has already announced that they will file an appeal against the quantum of sentence and ask for life imprisonment. It is interesting to note that in theory there can be more than one life sentence.

We are accustomed in the USA to see sentences that run for 150 years. It is obvious that the accused would die before the sentence is served but the sentence remains on record nevertheless.

Understanding Two Different Convictions

The first thing we need to understand is that there were two different women who were raped and two different convictions have been rendered in two cases with ten years in each case.

The sentences could not run concurrently, since only a sentence against the same person for two different offences against the same victim can run concurrently, not a sentence in two different cases against two different victims.

For example, if a person has committed two murders he can be convicted in each case for life and the sentences would not run concurrently.

Hence in this case, although there is a sense of disappointment on the quantum of sentence, the fact is that Gurmeet Ram Rahim will be in prison for a full twenty years .

It is almost as if the judge has awarded a minimum in each case, knowing that the two sentences will not run concurrently, making the sentence 20 years. But that is not how one evaluates a sentence; the sentence must fit the crime. This is a case of aggravated rape in as much as he has raped women who trusted him and were in his custody, that is, in the Dera.
Such a crime would surely attract a longer sentence for each rape, not just 10 years, which would be considered the minimum for an aggravated form of rape. Looked at as aggravated rape, on the doctrine of proportionality, the sentence ought to have been higher for each rape.

Sentence Appears to be Inadequate

No mitigating circumstances were brought to light warranting a lower sentence. Given the young age of the victims and the near custodial situation they were placed in, the sentence of ten years is surprising.

The press has been referring to the sentence as one of 20 years, it is not, the sentence in both cases is of ten years only. The effect of the two crimes will be that he will serve 20 years in jail but that does not make the sentence one of 20 years.

Ram Rahim has a right of appeal which he will no doubt exercise. It is unlikely that on appeal the convictions will be set aside unless there is some fatal procedural flaw, but if any one of the two convictions is set aside, he may serve only 10 years, which by any reckoning would be considered too low for a “serial offender”.

The term ‘serial offender’ would itself refer to multiple rapes of the same woman, not necessarily rape of different women. For this reason also, the sentence appears inadequate to fit the crime.

Legal Battle Against Godmen

Finally when so-called godmen commit rape, that in itself ought to be considered an aggravating circumstance and sentence ought to be much higher than it would otherwise be.

Rape by godmen in India brings to mind sexual abuse of young boys by priests in other parts of the world, for which the Church has had to apologise. We have seen multiple cases of rape by godmen in India, one such case of Asaram is still pending.

Only yesterday, the court observed that Asaram’s case is moving slowly. His lawyer in that case famously argued that the young girl in that case, barely 15, was a nymphomaniac! Mercifully, the court paid no heed to the argument. These are the hazards that women face when they bring charges of rape to court and we must for now salute the brave women who went to court against this so-called godman.


Indira Jaising is the trustee of Lawyers Collective and on the Editorial Board of The Invisible Lawyer. 

This article was first published in theQuint. 

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