Riots leave 29 dead after Indian 'godman's' rape conviction

Saturday, 26 Aug, 2017

Around 150 vehicles were torched in Panchkula town by thousands of followers of the self-proclaimed "godman" Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh. Hundreds of hospital beds have been reserved for possible casualties while, in the nearby city of Chandigarh, a cricket stadium has been prepared as a temporary jail, according to New Delhi Television.

Police attempted to stop the violence, with water cannons and tear gas.

More than 100,000 supporters of Ram Rahim, who heads the Dera Sacha Sauda - which translates as "True Deal Sect" - had gathered near the court premises in Panchkula before the verdict was announced.

Police said the violence had broken out in several places across the neighboring states of Haryana and Punjab. The self-styled guru was also under investigation in 2015 for allegedly encouraging 400 followers to undergo castrations at his ashram so they could get closer to God.Religious sects like the Dera Sacha Sauda have huge followings in India. Mobs also attacked journalists and set fire to government buildings and railway stations.

Riots erupted in Panchkula after Singh's conviction and the rioters burnt vehicles, including media vans.

CBI judge Jagdeep Singh, while holding the 50-year-old Dera chief guilty of rape, said the quantum of sentence will be pronounced on August 28, CBI counsel HPS Verma told reporters outside the court. Initial reports claimed that Ram Rahim entered the court through the back door and in the court room only 7 people were witnessing the hearing which includes two cops.

In the aftermath of deadly violence, army, and paramilitary soldiers were deployed as police put the northern town on a security lockdown for fear that a guilty verdict could spark violence.

Baba Ram Rahim Singh also had to deliver a televised appeal, pleading his supporters to act peacefully, regardless of the verdict.

The Dera followers made it to Panchkula over the past three days despite prohibitory orders under CrPC Section 144 being in force.

There were reports of largescale violence in Sirsa, Barnala and Malout towns as well.