Thirty people were killed and scores injured in large-scale violence by Dera Sacha Sauda sect supporters as mobs went on a rampage here in Haryana after a CBI special court convicted self-styled godman Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh. The deaths took place in firing by security forces on the enraged Dera followers. The dead were all Dera followers, police officials said. Police and hospital sources said that over 200 people were injured, some of them still battling for life. Several of the injured were referred to hospitals in Chandigarh.
Haryana Director General of Police B.S. Sandhu said on Friday evening that “Panchkula is 100 per cent safe”. Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar, whose government failed to prevent the mass violence, later urged people to “maintain peace and harmony not allow themselves to be misled by rumours”. “Some anti-social elements got mixed up with the followers of Dera Sacha Sauda after the verdict by the CBI court (and) resorted to violence and disrupted peace,” said Khattar, without condemning the violence indulged in by the Dera followers in Panchkula. “Strict action is being taken against these persons. No one is above the law and strict action will be taken against anyone who tries to take the law into his hands,” he added.
Security forces opened fire at several places as Dera supporters went around setting vehicles and buildings on fire in this town which adjoins Chandigarh. Panchkula looked like a war zone within hours after the verdict. Journalists and security personnel came under targeted attack. Some journalists fled for their lives and took shelter in nearby homes. More than 200 people, including security personnel and media persons, were injured in the mayhem. Some bodies, bleeding and with bullet wounds, lay on the roads, witnesses said. Panchkula town, where curfew was imposed after violence started, was virtually under siege by the rampaging Dera followers who had a free run as they vastly outnumbered the police and security personnel. Reports said that over 100 vehicles were set on fire by the rampaging mobs.
Several government and private buildings were also damaged and some torched. Residents reported seeing plumes of black smoke rising into the sky at several places. People complained that the authorities posted Army units and para-military forces only to secure some locations, including residential areas of government officers and ministers, while the rest of the town was left at the mercy of the violent Dera followers.
The Dera followers, in thousands, had gathered in Panchkula from various areas of Punjab and Haryana ahead of Friday’s court verdict, in brazen violation of orders banning the assembly of more than four people. Once the CBI court held Ram Rahim Singh guilty of rape and sexual molestation of two female devotees, the violence began in no time.
The sect chief was taken into custody following his conviction by trial court judge Jagdeep Singh. He was later flown to Rohtak by helicopter to be lodged in a prison. Soldiers who had been deployed immediately rushed into the court here and took charge of the complex. The verdict was announced amid unprecedented security.
The sentence will be pronounced by the court on Monday. The sect chief was present in the court. Court sources said the self-styled godman, dressed in white clothes with his hair let loose, stood with his hands folded in prayer and his eyes closed when the judge started reading the verdict. Outside the court, tens of thousands of supporters were massed.
So were thousands of security personnel. The rape victims, despite threats and pressures all along, stood their ground on rape and sexual harassment allegations during the nearly 15-year-long hearing of the matter in court. The Dera management, in a statement, said that the sect and its chief have been “wronged” and would go in appeal in a higher court