Hundreds arrested after deadly riots over 'rape guru'

2017-08-26 12:30
Indian security personnel looks at burning vehicles set alight by rioting followers of a religious leader convicted of rape in Panchkula. (Money Sharma, AFP)

Indian security personnel looks at burning vehicles set alight by rioting followers of a religious leader convicted of rape in Panchkula. (Money Sharma, AFP)

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Authorities have arrested hundreds of people and cancelled over 500 trains in north India after at least 30 people were killed in clashes following the conviction of a controversial guru.

A curfew was lifted on Saturday, where rampaging mobs caused havoc in the streets after a court declared Ram Rahim Singh guilty of raping two of his followers.

"We have arrested between 600 to 800 people since yesterday. Security forces are carrying out searches of congregation centres belonging to the sect to seize any sharp-edged weapons, canes or batons," senior state official Ram Niwas told DPA news agency.

Security forces patrolled Haryana state's Panchkula city.

The town of Panchkula, the main trouble spot, was relatively peaceful and the area was cleared of protesters, said police officer Pradeep Kumar.

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Security forces were put on high alert to ensure there was no repeat of the violence that erupted on Friday afternoon.

Although the curfew was lifted, restrictions on public assembly remained in place.

Haryana police chief B.S. Sandhu told AFP news agency he feared the death toll would rise as some of the wounded were being treated for serious head injuries.

"The toll within the state is at least 30 dead and around 200 injured including about 50 police and security personnel," said Sandhu.

"Some of the injured didn't come to the hospitals fearing that they could face police action or arrests for involvement in the violence," he said.

'Guru bling'

The 50-year-old Singh is known as the "guru in bling" for his penchant for bejewelled costumes and claims to have 60 million loyal followers worldwide.

The rape case was brought against him after an anonymous letter was sent to then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 2002 accusing him of repeatedly raping the sender and several other women in the sect.

A judge asked the Central Bureau of Investigations to look into the accusations, but it took years to trace the alleged victims and it was not until 2007 that two women came forward and filed charges.

The conviction on Friday enraged his followers, with many saying they were in a state of shock over the verdict.

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"I have been with dear Ram Rahim Singh for around 14 years. I can bet that all the allegations against our guru are false," said Rajkumar, a shopkeeper from Haryana who was undergoing treatment at the hospital.

"He can't do any wrong... He works to rid the world of all its troubles," he told AFP, his head heavily bandaged.

Singh enjoys political patronage from several local politicians of the Haryana state government.

His group, Dera Sacha Sauda, has millions of followers.

In a 2014 tweet, Prime Minister Narendra Modi applauded Dera Sacha Sauda's efforts to take part in a campaign to clean up the streets.

The group campaigns for vegetarianism and against drug addiction. Singh describes the group as a social welfare and spiritual organisation.

Singh's sentencing will be announced on Monday.

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