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Gurmeet Ram Rahim gets 20 years in jail: Reform law to dish out stricter punishments for convicted godmen

Gurmeet Ram Rahim, the head of the Dera Sacha Sauda sect was sentenced to two terms of imprisonment to run consecutively for sexually assaulting two of his followers. He was convicted of offences under Section 375 of the Penal Code of 1860 and sentenced pursuant to Section 376 of the said Code. He did not receive the maximum sentence under the code. The code sets the maximum punishment for rape at life in prison.

The Central Bureau of Investigation sought a higher penalty. The offence of rape is one that turns on a breach of consent, however, consent may be obtained — by coercion as well. While Section 375 of the Penal Code invalidates consent obtained under physically coercive circumstances, fraud, minority or when the person is mentally unsound the Section does not address situations where a person enjoys a position of power over the other person.

However, Section 376B, 376C, and 376D contemplate offences in that vein. They provide for an offence, not amounting to rape, where either a public servant, superintendent of a jail or the management or staff of a hospital has intercourse with a person by abusing their position. They make the act punishable by imprisonment. Thereby invalidating consent obtained by abuse of power.

In a country like India, religion often plays a vital role in how the social lives of people are governed. This is evident from the fact that India still retains religious personal laws and the Penal Code dedicates an entire (Chapter XV) to offences against religion amongst other offences scattered across the Code. The most curious of which is this one. Section 508 of the Penal Code which states: “508. Act caused by inducing person to believe that he will be rendered an object of the Divine displeasure. Whoever voluntarily causes or attempts to cause any person to do anything which that person is not legally bound to do, or to omit to do anything which he is legally entitled to do, by inducing or attempting to induce that person to believe that he or any person in whom he is interested will become or will be rendered by some act of the offender an object of Divine displeasure if he does not do the thing which it is the object of the offender to cause him to do, or if he does the thing which it is the object of the offender to cause him to omit, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to one year, or with fine, or with both.

Illustrations

(a) A sits on dharna at Z’s door with the intention of causing it to be believed that, by so sitting, he renders Z an object of Divine displeasure. A has committed the offence defined in this section.

(b) A threatens Z that unless Z performs a certain act, A will kill one of A’s own children, under such circumstances that the killing would be believed to render Z an object of Divine displeasure. A has committed the offence defined in this section.”

With the rise of godmen being implicated in sexual assault cases, it may be prudent for Parliament to amend the Penal Code to enact an offence along the similar vein of Sections 376B, 376C, 376D and 508 of the Code to cover cases where self-styled godmen abuse their religious authority to induce women into having sexual relations with them. A statutory offence that invalidates consent obtained by an abuse of dominant power.

The Code already contemplates the fact that people may be induced to do acts because of religious sensibilities, there is a need to extend this to cover grave acts that certain individuals may induce them to do as well and amend the law to correspondingly increase the punishment.

A total fine of Rs 30 Lakhs too has been imposed on him off which 14 Lakhs each will be given to the two victims/ complainants

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Senior editor with Himsamachar

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