A special Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) court here on Friday convicted self-styled godman Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh in a 2002 rape case, triggering widespread violence and arson by his supporters in Punjab and Haryana.
At least 30 people were killed and more than 250 injured in the violence that left a trail of destruction and vandalism, a Haryana government official said.
CBI judge Jagdeep Singh held Ram Rahim, the 50-year-old Dera Sacha Sauda chief, guilty of rape in a case registered on the basis of an anonymous written complaint in 2002 that alleged he had sexually exploited two women followers. On the basis of the report, a case was registered against him in December 2002 by the CBI on the directions of the Punjab and Haryana High Court.
The quantum of sentence will be pronounced on August 28, CBI counsel H P S Verma told reporters outside the court.
Ram Rahim reached the court in Panchkula more than five hours after he left the sect headquarters in Sirsa by road at about 9 am. Army personnel and central paramilitary forces took positions around the CBI court complex in Panchkula, even as the area close to the complex was sealed.
The uneasy calm in Sirsa and Panchkula exploded into violence after the verdict, as Ram Rahim’s followers went berserk, attacking media vehicles and personnel. With police apparently helpless to stop the violence, the emboldened protesters set fire to vehicles and buildings, including two railway stations in Punjab.
Meanwhile the sect described the court’s verdict as “unjust” and said it would appeal against it. In a statement, by spokesperson Dilawar Insaan, the dera also appealed for peace amid widespread violence.
Responding to the violence, the Punjab and Haryana High Court ruled that the losses caused to property due to violence and arson will be recovered from Dera Sacha Sauda, according to a senior government lawyer.
Under fire over the handling of the situation, Khattar admitted there were lapses but asserted appropriate action was being taken.
The army was also called out and curfew was imposed in 10 districts of Punjab’s Malwa region as violence spread to the state following the dera head’s conviction. He has now been taken to Rohtak, where he is lodged in the district jail.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi strongly condemned the “deeply distressing” violence and appealed for peace. Modi reviewed the situation with National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and Home Secretary Rajiv Mehrishi and said officials have been asked to work round-the-clock to restore normalcy.
In the national capital, the police imposed prohibitory orders in most parts on Friday. The orders would be in force till September 8, a senior police officer told PTI. “As a preventive measure, we have enforced Section 144 of the CrPC in Delhi in 11 police districts,” said SBK Singh, special commissioner of police (Law and Order, North). Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) of 1973 empowers an executive magistrate to prohibit an assembly of more than four people in an area.
Meanwhile, the Congress called for the resignation of Khattar, with party chief Sonia Gandhi expressing grave concern over the violence in the state. The Congress president appealed for peace, while party Vice-President Rahul Gandhi stressed that violence and brutality had no place in society.