CHANDIGARH: At least 31 people were killed and over 250 injured on Friday in violence by supporters of self-appointed “godman” Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh in Haryana and neighbouring Punjab after a court convicted him of raping two of his followers. Ram Rahim Verdict, the chief of the Dera Sacha Sauda, will be sentenced on Monday and was flown out of Panchkula in a government helicopter to Rohtak where he is in a special prison cell. Officials say the situation in riot-hit towns is grim but under control
After the conviction of the Dera chief, his supporters rampaged in response, attacking railway stations, petrol stations and television vans in towns across Punjab and Haryana. Dozens of cars were burning in Panchkula town while a bloodied body lay in the middle of a road. The media was attacked; an NDTV live broadcast van was set on fire and totally destroyed. An NDTV engineer was held down by a mob and hit on the head.
“The law and order situation is under control as there has been no report of violence since last night,” said a senior police officer. Last night, Army carried out a flag march in the area tomaintain law and order. Riot-hit areas were placed under curfew. Police personnel have asked localsto stay indoors.
By 5 pm yesterday, the army was called in to Panchkula, on the outskirts of Chandigarh, to help regain control after the riots caused by more than 1.5 lakh followers of the guru. Before that, the police used tear gas and water cannons to try and disperse mobs of Ram Rahim supporters, but was easily outnumbered near the courthouse.
After Panchkula, where the violence subsided by about 7 pm with Ram Rahim’s supporters being moved out, the army was deployed in Sirsa, Ram Rahim’s massive base. Large and intense clashes took place between the police and members of Ram Rahim’s sect, the Dera Sacha Sauda. Several buildings were set on fire. Two people were killed, both of them sect members.
In tweets, Prime Minister Narendra Modi condemned the violence, saying it was “deeply distressing” and added the situation was being closely monitored. Ram Rahim’s sect will appeal against Friday’s verdict.In Delhi, a bus and two coaches of an empty train were set on fire. Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal appealed for calm; the capital has been placed on high alert. Public gatherings have been banned in several parts of Delhi along the border with Haryana.
The police was caught on camera retreating as Ram Rahim supporters advanced menacingly. The Punjab and Haryana High Court has indicated the policemen involved will be punished. The court has said the many properties of Ram Rahim’s sect will be seized to pay for the massive damages caused today to public property.
The violence spread quickly after the verdict to other towns including Bathinda in Punjab. Two train stations were set on fire in Punjab in the towns of Malout and Balluanna. Nearly 200 trains that run through Punjab and Haryana have been cancelled. The army was called in 10 districts of Punjab and several supporters of the Dera were arrested, the state government said.
Ram Rahim arrived for the verdict in a 200-car cavalcade. By last night, Panchkula was over-run by more than one lakh followers of Ram Rahim – clusters of them proliferated over the last two days, despite the Haryana government’s claims of roping off the city.
Yesterday, the Punjab and Haryana High Court attacked the administration for failing to make adequate arrangements against the overwhelming presence of Ram Rahim devotees in Panchkula. In a video message at midnight, Ram Rahim appealed to his followers to return home, His request did not deter his devotees in Panchkula who said they would remain in the town to show support for him. Many also said they wanted to glimpse him in person.