13 dead in violence after Indian cult leader’s conviction for rape

Indian security forces walk next to burning vehicles set alight by rioting followers of a religious leader convicted of rape in Panchkula.
 Picture: MONEY SHARMA/AFP/Getty Images
Indian security forces walk next to burning vehicles set alight by rioting followers of a religious leader convicted of rape in Panchkula. Picture: MONEY SHARMA/AFP/Getty Images
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Mobs rampaged across a north Indian town yesterday, leaving 13 people dead and buildings in flames, after a court declared a quasi-religious sect leader guilty of raping two of his followers, authorities said.

Police used water cannon in an attempt to disperse the crowd in the town of Panchkula, and a spokesman for the guru’s sect urged his supporters to remain calm.

The violence left 13 dead, including some with bullet wounds, and more than 100 injured, according to Dr VK Bansal, chief medical officer at the state-run Panchkula Civil Hospital.

More than 15,000 paramilitary troops and police officers, some on horseback, were deployed in Panchkula.

Mobs set fire to government buildings, and attacked police and TV journalists, smashing the windscreenss of media vans and breaking broadcast equipment. Police initially used tear gas and water cannons, and then fired bullets in the air in an attempt to control the surging mobs as they vandalised bus stations and government vehicles.

A curfew was imposed in at least four districts of Punjab, said Amrinder Singh, the state chief minister.

The special court had announced the guilty verdict yesterday after hearing closing arguments in the 15-year-old case against the guru, who calls himself Saint Dr Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh Ji Insaan.

Ram Rahim Singh – who had denied the charges of raping the two women at his ashram in 2002 – was taken into custody and would be housed in a jailhouse in the nearby town of Rohtak in Haryana state until his 28 August sentencing hearing, prosecutor HPS Verma said.

Panchkula administrators had feared that a guilty verdict would trigger violence among the tens of thousands of followers who had camped overnight awaiting the verdict.

Violence also broke out in several places across the neighbouring states of Haryana and Punjab, police said. Railway stations in the towns of Malout and Balluana were ablaze, and two coaches of an empty train parked in New Delhi’s Anand Vihar station were also set on fire.

A spokesman for the Dera Sacha Sauda appealed for calm while the sect explored legal ways to pursue justice for the guru.

“I just want to request everyone to maintain peace at the moment,” said Dilawar Insan. “We will explore what legal options are available to us.”

Police were also on alert across the Indian capital, and had contained several small outbreaks of violence in New Delhi, according to a police control room officer.