PANCHKULA, Haryana – At least 30 people have been killed and 250 injured in violent protests over the rape conviction of a popular religious leader, known as “rockstar baba”, in north India.
Large clashes, arson and violence erupted in the town of Panchkula in Haryana on Friday immediately after spiritual guru Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh was convicted of raping two women followers in a case dating back to 2002.
The victims are believed to be Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh’s followers. Angry supporters rampaged through Panchkula town, near Chandigarh, the Times of India reported.
About 2,500 of Singh’s followers have been arrested, police said. Earlier, his devotees smashed cars and set media vans alight, saying he was innocent. Violence also spread to the capital, Delhi, where two train coaches were set on fire, according to reports.
More than 200,000 of his followers had flocked to the Chandigarh area ahead of Friday’s verdict.
India:Violent clashes leave at least 12 dead following a rape conviction of a socalled indian guru who teaches a wicked doctrine.25-08-2017 pic.twitter.com/jvZUed9U7X
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Thousands of army, police and paramilitary forces were deployed. They fired tear-gas canisters and water cannon into the crowd to try to restore control.
Singh, 50, was taken into protective custody by the army following the conviction.
He will be sentenced on Monday and was flown out of Panchkula in a government helicopter to a guesthouse in Rohtak and later moved to a special prison cell.
Curfews have been imposed in several areas of Chandigarh city and across the state of Punjab, and internet services were suspended.
Schools and offices in the area were closed, trains were stopped, roads were blocked and three stadiums were set aside as makeshift prisons in case of trouble, officials said.
Controversial leader of the Dera Sacha Sauda sect claims to have 60 million followers around the world. He took over the sect – which describes itself as “a non-profit social welfare and spiritual organisation” – when he was 23.
The “guru of bling” performs at rock concerts, acts in films and even has his own line of food products.
Singh has been accused of forcing followers to undergo castration to “get closer to god”.