Large-scale violence in Panchkula after Dera chief verdict

Chandigarh: Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh on Friday left his sect headquarters and headed for the CBI court in Haryana's Panchkula town accompanied by scores of cars full of his supporters. The disruption spread fast across Haryana and Punjab as police and security personnel struggled to maintain law and order.

The decision came as a big set back to thousands of followers of Ram Rahim who have gathered in Panchkula for last two days.

The sources said security forces opened fire at several places as Dera supporters went around setting vehicles and buildings on fire in this town adjoining Chandigarh.

Arson by the frenzied followers of the head of Dera Sacha Sauda was also witnessed in Delhi, Punjab and Rajasthan within a few hours of the pronouncement of the judgement by the CBI court in the 2002 case. Amid the clashes, as many as 30 people died and 250 people were injured.

The Indian army was deployed in the city shortly after the court pronounced Ram Rahim Singh guilty of sexual assault.

He had denied raping the two women at his ashram in 2002. He was flown in a government helicopter, reportedly to Rohtak, immediately afeter the court verdict.

OB vans of three news channels were vandalised, and at least 11 casualties have been reported in the riots.

About 100,000 of his followers belonging to his Dera Sacha Sauda sect camped overnight in parks, on the streets and plazas of Panchkula.

More than 15,000 police and paramilitary soldiers were posted in and around the court where the guru appeared before a judge, as Panchkula administrators feared an outbreak of violence.

Violence erupted in Panchkula, Haryana, moments after Gurmeet's conviction, prompting police to fire tear gas shells at Dera protesters.

Ram Rahim has also had a run-in earlier with Sikh radicals for allegedly dressing up as the 10th Sikh master, Guru Gobind Singh, in 2007 among other instances considered blasphemous by a section of the community.

Mobile internet services had also been suspended in the states of Haryana and Punjab to stop people from spreading rumors and causing unrest, senior government official Ram Niwas said.

The area around the court has turned into a warzone, with Dera supporters violently protesting the decision.

  • Leroy Wright