PANCHKULA: The authorities have arrested hundreds of people and cancelled more than 300 trains passing through two northern states after at least 36 people were killed in violent protests following the conviction of a self-styled ‘godman’.
Security forces were on “standby” outside the spiritual leader’s headquarters where some 10,000 followers remained holed up, the Director-General of Police in Haryana, Baljit Singh Sandhu, said.
The army was deployed in the Panchkula city after tens of thousands of followers of guru Ram Rahim Singh went on an angry rampage, attacking television vans and setting fire to dozens of private vehicles.
Security forces were put on high alert to ensure there was no repeat of the violence that erupted on Friday afternoon, minutes after a special court pronounced the self-styled guru guilty of raping two of his followers.
Mobile phone services were disrupted in some parts of Haryana and neighbouring Punjab state, where authorities had earlier imposed a curfew following the clashes.
Although the curfew was lifted in Panchkula on Saturday, restrictions on public assembly remained in place.
“The toll within the state is at least 30 dead and around 200 injured including about 50 police and security personnel,” said Sandhu.
“Some of the injured didn’t come to the hospitals fearing that they could face police action or arrests for involvement in the violence,” he said.
Official sources said earlier that at least 32 people had died, with most of the fatalities caused by gun shots.
The 50-year-old Singh is known as the “guru in bling” for his penchant for bejewelled costumes and claims to have more than 50 million loyal followers worldwide.
The rape case was brought against him after an anonymous letter was sent to then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 2002 accusing him of repeatedly raping the sender and several other women in the sect.
A judge asked the Central Bureau of Investigations to look into the accusations, but it took years to trace the alleged victims and it was not until 2007 that two women came forward and filed charges.
Some 200,000 members of Singh’s sect had gathered in Panchkula in a show of support a day before the verdict, which enraged his followers, with many saying they were in a state of shock.
Singh’s sentencing will be announced on Monday. — AFP