At least 30 people were reported dead and over 200 injured in violence unleashed by Dera Sacha Sauda Chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh’s followers after he was convicted by a special CBI court in Panchkula in a 15-year old rape case on Friday.
“Twenty eight people are dead and at least 250 are injured,” said a govt official in Panchkula. More casualties are feared as a stream of ambulances were still bringing in seriously injured people soaked in blood to the civil hospital. The agitated supporters set on fire many government buildings, including a local telephone exchange and LIC office. They also attacked many media vehicles and injured journalists, expressing their anger over the CBI court verdict.
The CBI court held Gurmeet Ram Rahim guilty of rape and criminal intimidation. “The Dera chief has been convicted, held guilty for rape. He was held guilty on charges of rape (Section 376 IPC) and criminal intimidation (Section 506 IPC),” CBI counsel HPS Verma confirmed to a national daily.
The argument on his sentencing will begin on Monday. He is likely to face seven-year imprisonment. Just after the verdict Ram Rahim Singh was taken into custody by Haryana Police. He was later taken to Rohtak jail. The verdict came as a big setback to Gurmeet’s followers who have converged in large numbers in Panchkula for last few days.
Elaborate security arrangements was made around the district court in Panchkula ahead of the court verdict. Police and paramilitary forces have been deployed in great numbers. Ten trucks of army entered CBI courts complex and took charge of securing the courts complex after the judgment.
Two railway stations in Punjab were set on fire by followers of Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim, soon after the self-styled godman was convicted. Malout and Balluanna railway stations were partially torched by the angry followers as violence spread across Punjab in the aftermath of the court’s verdict, officials said.
“Two stations have been affected and we are still getting inputs on the extent of damage. No injuries have been reported so far,” Northern Railway spokesperson Neeraj Sharma said. The Northern Railway had cancelled 211 trains to and from Haryana since August 23 up to August 27. Meanwhile, 1000 Dera supporters have been detained in Panchkula.
Barricades were put up about three kilometres from the sprawling headquarters of the Dera. Security personnel were equipped with teargas shells and water cannons. The mounted police was also pressed into service. After the verdict was announced, thousands of people came out of the headquarters and reached the barricades, police said. Plumes of dark smoke could be seen at a distance near the headquarters. It is suspected that the supporters may have torched some vehicles.
Delhi was put on high alert in the wake of incidents of violence in Haryana following the conviction of Ram Rahim Singh. A bus was torched in northeast Delhi’s Loni Chowk also, allegedly by Dera supporters. A senior police officer said that even though there have been no specific inputs of Dera followers planning to create trouble here, security has been beefed up in the national capital as a precautionary measure. The security in areas bordering Haryana has been heightened, the police said.
Gurmeet Ram Rahim, panchkula violence Gurmeet Ram Rahim supporters set a train on fire at Anand Vihar Station in New Delhi. (Express photo)
Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh has taken stock of the situation in Haryana, Punjab and Chandigarh in the wake of violence, a home ministry official said. Singh also called up chief ministers of Haryana and Punjab, Manohar Lal Khattar and Amarinder Singh respectively, who briefed him about the current situation and the steps taken to restore normalcy, the official said. Singh also held a high-level meeting with top officials and reviewed the situation.