Ahead of the Adampur by-election and panchayat polls in Haryana, Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, who is serving a prison sentence in the state’s Sunaria jail, was granted parole for 40 days on Friday. Adampur bypoll in Haryana is scheduled to be held on November 3. Additionally, the state is also scheduled to hold panchayat polls soon, for which the nomination-filing process has already begun.
A day after being released, the Dera chief released a video message from the sect’s Uttar Pradesh ashram on Saturday, in which he asked his followers to “not exercise their free will" and “follow the directions given to them" by sect elders.
In a video uploaded on his YouTube channel “Saint MSG”, Gurmeet Ram Rahim, could be heard asking his followers to “act as told by the sect elders." “Don’t exercise your free will. Don’t cause any stampede. Please follow what’s asked of you," he said.
The Dera, however, denied that there was any hidden political message in the video. In a statement, Dera spokesperson Jitender Khurana said, “guru-ji was only asking his followers to exercise restraint, not rush to the Uttar Pradesh ashram, and avoid creating a stampede-like situation. He never had anything to do with politics,” according to a report by The Hindu.
This is not the first time that the controversial Dera chief has been granted parole ahead of elections. Gurmeet Ram Rahim had earlier come out of prison on a three weeks furlough just 21 days before the Punjab Assembly polls on February 20. He was also out of jail in June on month-long parole.
Why Is Gurmeet Ram Rahim in Jail?
The sect chief is serving a 20-year jail term for raping two women disciples at his ashram in Sirsa, where the Dera is headquartered. He was convicted by a special CBI court in Panchkula in August 2017. He was last year also convicted along with four others for hatching a conspiracy to kill Ranjit Singh, a Dera manager, in 2002. The Dera chief and three others were convicted in 2019 for the murder of a journalist more than 16 years ago.
What are parole and furlough?
Parole refers to a jailed convict’s temporary or permanent release before the end of their sentence. It is granted if the prisoner shows good behaviour. To grant parole, there needs to be a specific reason, and after their release, the convicts require to periodically report to the authorities for a set period of time.
Parole is considered a reformative process, and its objective is to assist convicts in reintegrating into society.
Meanwhile, furlough is a release given to prisoners of long-term imprisonment periodically, irrespective of any reason. It is granted merely to enable the prisoner to retain social relationships and to counter the ill effects of prolonged imprisonment.
Furlough is seen as a matter of right for a prisoner, and is treated as remission of their sentence.
Why is parole granted to prisoners?
In the 2017 ruling in ‘Asfaq vs State of Rajasthan and Others’, the Supreme Court noted that the primary purpose of parole and furlough is to give convicts an opportunity to solve their personal and family problems and enable them to maintain their links with society.
“Every citizen of this country has a vested interest in preparing offenders for successful re-entry into society,” the top court noted.
Who can be granted parole?
Indian law covers parole and furlough under The Prisons Act of 1894 and The Prisoners Act of 1900. As prisons come under the state’s authority under the 7th Schedule of the Constitution, each State Government makes its own Prison Rules.
As per Haryana Good Conduct Prisoner (Temporary Release) Act, 1988, the state gives temporary release of prisoners for good conduct after serving a certain period of conviction.
Under Section 3 of the Act, the state government, after consulting the District Magistrate of the area where the prisoner is to be released or any other appointed officer, can release a jailed convict for three weeks in case any family member of the prisoner seriously ill or died or if they themselves are seriously ill.
The government can grant four weeks parole to a convict in case they are to get married or there is a wedding of close family members. They can also be released for other causes like an admission of any dependent in an educational institute, or medically scheduled delivery of a male convict’s wife among other reasons.
However, hardened prisoners convicted of multiple murders or under the anti-terror Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) are not eligible for parole.
As per the law, “hardcore prisoner” – those convicted of dacoity, robbery, murder with rape, murder or attempt to murder for ransom or extortion, rape of minors, etc – are not to be released on furlough.
Such prisoners are allowed only 48-hour freedom for marriage or death in the immediate family. Notably, Gurmeet Ram Rahim is convicted of two murders and two rape.