After violence in neighbouring Haryana over Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh’s conviction in a rape case, Delhi has been placed on high alert.
PANCHKULA: Just as feared, large clashes, arson and violence erupted in the town of Panchkula in Haryana immediately after spiritual guru Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh was convicted of raping two women followers. 28 people are reported dead and 250 injured in the violence in Panchkula; the violence quickly spread to other cities including Delhi. Ram Rahim will be sentenced on Monday and was flown out of Panchkula in a government helicopter, reportedly to Rohtak. By 5 pm, the army was called in to help regain control with 600 soldiers being deployed in Panchkula, which is on the outskirts of Chandigarh. Before that, the police fired in the air, and used tear gas and water cannons to try and disperse mobs of Ram Rahim supporters, but was easily outnumbered near the courthouse which declared him guilty. More than a lakh of Ram Rahim’s followers had congregated in Panchkula for the verdict, creating a precarious situation.
Here is your 10-point cheat sheet on this big story:
After Panchkula, where the violence subsided by about 7 pm with Ram Rahim’s supporter being moved out, the army was called into Sirsa, Ram Rahim’s massive base. Large and intense clashes took place between the police and members of Ram Rahim’s sect, the Dera Sacha Sauda. Several buildings were set on fire; there were reports of shots being fired into the air.
A bus and two coaches of an empty train were set on fire in Delhi. Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal appealed for calm; the capital has been placed on high alert. Fire safety officials said they had identified seven hot spots, mostly on the border with Haryana and were dealing with nine cases of arson. The police in its satellite city of Gurgaon said the area is calm.
The skyline of Panchkula was covered in thick smoke by 5 pm. Ambulances were shuttling injured people to local hospitals. At least one car and a fire engine were set on fire. The media was attacked; an NDTV live broadcast van was set on fire and totally destroyed. An NDTV engineer was held down by a mob and hit on the head.
The police were caught on camera retreating as Ram Rahim supporters advanced menacingly. The Punjab and Haryana High Court has asked for a report on this tomorrow morning and has indicated the policemen involved will be punished. The court has said the many properties of Ram Rahim’s sect will be seized to pay for the massive damages caused today to public property.
The violence spread quickly after the verdict to other towns including Bhatinda in Punjab. Two train stations were set on fire in Punjab in the towns of Malout and Balluanna. Nearly 200 trains that run through Punjab and Haryana have been canceled.
Ram Rahim arrived for the verdict in a 200-car cavalcade and stood with his eyes closed and hands folded in prayer as the verdict was delivered. By last night, Panchkula was over-run by more than one lakh followers of Ram Rahim – clusters of them proliferated over the last two days, despite the Haryana government’s claims of roping off the city.
Yesterday, the Punjab and Haryana High Court attacked the administration for failing to make adequate arrangements against the overwhelming presence of Ram Rahim devotees in Panchkula.
In a video message at midnight, Ram Rahim appealed to his followers to disperse and return home and urged them to keep calm.
His request did not deter his devotees in Panchkula who said they would remain in the town to show support for him. Many also said they wanted to glimpse him in person.
Mobile internet services have been canceled indefinitely in Haryana, though the city of Gurgaon, which hosts large offices of multinationals, is exempt.