29 killed, 250 injured in violence after Panchkula court convicts Dera Sacha Sauda chief in rape case

Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh
Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh
At least 29 people were killed and more than 250 others suffered injuries as thousands of followers of Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh went on the rampage after he was convicted in a rape case by a special CBI court in Panchkula, Haryana today.
The quantum of punishment for the 50-year-old self-styled godman will be pronounced on August 28. Meanwhile, he was taken into judicial custody and flown in a helicopter from Panchkula to Rohtak, where he was lodged in a special jail.
Police officials said 28 people had died in Panchkula, which bore the brunt of today's violence, several of them in police firing. There were clashes between Ram Rahim's supporters and the police in Sirsa, where the Dera Sacha Sauda headquarters are located.
One person died and four people suffered injuries in police firing in Sirsa, where the situation remained tense, with large numbers of Ram Rahim's followers gathered inside the Dera headquarters.
The officials said the police had been able to clear the mobs off the streets in all other towns in Haryana.
About 60 policemen also suffered injuries in today's incidents, including two senior superintendents of police and one deputy superintendent of police, they said.
In Delhi, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, who returned during the day from a visit to Kyrgyz Republic, spoke to Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar and Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh and discussed the situation with them. Mr. Rajnath Singh assured them of all necessary assistance from the Centre.
Union Home Secretary Rajiv Mehrishi said he had talked to the Chief Secretary of Haryana who had told him that the situation was being brought under control. "The situation is tense but under control," he said, adding that the Centre was monitoring the situation continuously.
Thousands of Singh's supporters had gathered at different points in Panchkula and other parts of Haryana and Punjab and violence erupted shortly after news of his conviction came.
29 dead as Dera followers bring Panchkula to its knees
In Panchkula, scores of vehicles, including fire tenders, outdoor broadcast vans of television news channels and two-wheelers were set ablaze. The mobs also attacked some government property. Police used teargas, lathi-charges, pellet guns and finally resorted to firing to disperse the mobs.
A former follower of Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh had accused him of repeatedly raping her inside the Dera campus near Sirsa in Haryana in 1999. The first information report in the case had been filed in 2002.
The mobs targetted media vehicles and attacked some journalists reporting from the scene.
Incidents of violence were also reported from various other places in Haryana as well as Punjab, Rajasthan and Delhi.
In Delhi, some buses in Jahangirpuri and other localities and two coaches of a train parked in the railway yard at Anand Vihar were partially burnt after they were set on fire by miscreants. Police said reinforcements had been rushed to all affected and patrolling had been stepped up all across the city. The situation was under control, they added.
Though thousands of policemen had been deployed in Panchkula and elsewhere in Haryana to prevent any untoward incident, they were unable cope with the wave of violence that started after the verdict was pronounced. Police used teargas shells to try and disperse the mobs. Curfew was imposed in some towns of Punjab.
Television pictures showed ambulances bringing scores of injured persons to the government hospital there.
The Railways had, as a precautionary measure, cancelled some 300 mail, express and passenger trains passing through  Haryana in the past few days.
The Centre had sent several companies of central armed police forces to Haryana at the request of the state government and the Army's assistance had been sought at some places.
Mr. Khattar urged people to stay calm and maintain peace. He said strict action would be taken against those who disturb the peace and took law into their own hands.
In Gurgaon, near here, the police staged a flag march which passed through Kherki Daula, IMT Manesar, Bilaspur, sohna, Bhondsi and Badshapur as a precautionary measure.
"A close watch is being kept on the anti-social elements and miscreants who try to take advantages of such situation," a press release from Gurgaon Police said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the "instances of violences" were "deeply distressing". He said he strongly condemned the violence and urged everyone to maintain peace.
"The instances of violence today are deeply distressing. I strongly condemn the violence & urge everyone to maintain peace," he said on micro-blogging site Twitter.
"The law & order situation is being closely monitored. I reviewed the situation with the NSA & Home Secretary," he said.
"Urged officials to work round the clock to restore normalcy and provide all possible assistance that is required," he added.
In Delhi, the police has imposed prohibitory orders under Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code, banning the assembly of five or more persons, as a precautionary measure in 11 districts, including New Delhi.
"Adequate police arrangements in place & Law & Order situation under control. Officers with reserve force on rounds to maintain peace," the Commissioner of Police said on Twitter.
"Appeal to all to maintain peace & order. #DelhiPolice on full alert. Strict legal action will be taken against miscreants for any violation," he added.
Meanwhile, the Congress has demanded the resignation of Mr. Khattar and urged the Prime Minister to put the interests and safety of Indians before his party's interests.
Congress President Sonia Gandhi expressed grave concern and shock at the violence.
Ms. Gandhi spoke to Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh about the situation. She urged the Governments of Punjab and Haryana and the Union Territory of Chandigarh to ensure the safety and security of citizens. She also appealed to the people to maintain peace and harmony.
"Violence & brutality have no place in our society. Condemn the rampage and lawlessness in Haryana & appeal to restore peace and tranquility," Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi said on Twitter.
Mr. Amarinder Singh appealed to the people of Punjab to maintain peace and harmony. "We won't allow anyone to disturb the peace and tranquility of our state," he added.


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