It is rare in India for the killers of journalists to be convicted, but Friday, 11 January 2019, will go down in history as one of those rare days.
Chattrapati was editor of the newspaper ‘Poora Sach‘ (the full truth). On 13 May 2002, he had published an anonymous complaint written by a sadhvi to the then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee alleging sexual exploitation in the Dera.
Copies of the letter to the PM had also been sent to Punjab & Haryana High Court.
After the initial publication, Chhatrapati published a number of follow-up stories, including the action in the courts, and demands for an independent inquiry into the goings-on in the Dera which ironically published its own newspaper titled ‘Sach Kahoon‘ (to tell you the truth).
On October 24 that year, Chattrapati was shot dead outside his home. One of the two killers (Kuldeep Singh) was arrested from the spot, the other killer (Nirmal Singh) was taken into custody a couple of days later. Both killers were carpenters.
Although a walkie-talkie belonging to the Dera Sacha Sauda was recovered along with a 0.32 calibre revolver belonging to a third accused (Krishnan Lal), Haryana police did not include the then influential Gurmet Ram Rahim Singh in December 2002 chargesheet.
It was only the sustained efforts of Chattarpati’s son, Anshul Chattrapati, who was 21 at the time of the murder, that saw the case being transferred from the Punjab & Haryana police to the CBI in November 2003.
The Dera head is already in jail serving a 20-year sentence on rape charges, arising from what Chhatrapati published.
Anshul Chhatrapati now says Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh should be hanged to death when the conviction comes up for sentencing on January 17.
In a September 2017 interview with the Punjabi news channel Global Punjab, Anshul Chhatrapati talked of the travails of bringing out the newspaper after his father’s demise, using the family’s income from its agricultural holdings to keep the enterprise going.
He also talks of the conspiracy of silence across political parties.
Chaudhary Devi Lal‘s son Om Prakash Chautala of the INLD was the chief minister of Haryana at the time of Chhatrapati’s killing. He promised a non-partisan probe into the murder, but Anshul says things were just the opposite after the issue died down.
Be it the BJP-Akali Dal alliance government in Punjab or the Congress, no party, he says, did anything to secure justice after the initial euphoria.
He also alleges that the current Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh‘s wife Preneet Kaur sought to save the Dera chief. BJP leaders, he claims, mortgaged their conscience by donating to the Dera.
“Is hamaam mein sab nange hain” (every party is naked in this public bathroom).
Anshul Chhatrapati says:
“Whenever there is an incident like this, when a journalist is killed, journalists must stay united till the very end. They must treat it as their own battle.”
Photograph: courtesy NDTV
Also read: 16-years of a struggle for justice