29 die in ri­ots af­ter In­dian guru found guilty of rape

200 000 take part in vi­o­lent protests over judg­ment, writes Rahul Bedi

Weekend Post (South Africa) - - WORLD -

AT least 29 peo­ple have died and a fur­ther 80 have been in­jured in In­dia’s north­ern Haryana state, as vi­o­lent protests erupted af­ter a court con­victed a self-styled “god­man” of rap­ing two women, an­ger­ing thou­sands of his fol­low­ers.

Au­thor­i­ties rushed hun­dreds of troops to the city of Panchkula af­ter fol­low­ers of guru Ram Rahim Singh, 50, torched cars, threw rocks and at­tacked tele­vi­sion vans, break­ing their win­dows and over­turn­ing one.

More than 100 000 were es­ti­mated to have gone to the city in Haryana state, where In­dia’s fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tions agency had set up a spe­cial court to rule on the charge that he had raped two fe­male devo­tees.

Po­lice also fired tear gas in an at­tempt to con­tain tens of thou­sands of the con­tro­ver­sial guru’s ag­i­tated fol­low­ers across Haryana and neigh­bour­ing Pun­jab states.

The vi­o­lence later spread to Delhi, where a bus was set on fire.

The crazed mobs, num­ber­ing around 200 000 ac­cord­ing to po­lice es­ti­mates, at- tacked tele­vi­sion news re­porters as se­cu­rity per­son­nel strug­gled to con­trol the ri­ot­ing.

“I have taken refuge in a house. They are at­tack­ing ev­ery­one,” an NDTV re­porter from Panchkula said. “The po­lice were sim­ply out­num­bered.”

The judge from the Spe­cial Cen­tral Bureau of In­ves­ti­ga­tion said Singh, who heads the Dera Sacha Suada or Place of Truth ashram in Sirsa, 190km to the north, would be sen­tenced on Mon­day.

Of­fi­cials said Singh could face a seven-year jail sen­tence.

Singh, a burly, bearded man who has scripted and starred in his own film – Mes­sen­ger from God or MSG – has been found guilty of rap­ing the two women fol­low­ers at his ashram in 2002.

Charges against him were filed in 2007, fol­low­ing an anony­mous let­ter to a for­mer In­dian prime min­is­ter de­tail­ing the rapes.

Par­tial to multi-coloured cloth­ing, Singh sports a rock- star im­age.

He claims a fol­low­ing of over 60 mil­lion devo­tees world­wide, and has also been accused by for­mer ashram in­mates of sur­round­ing him­self with some 400 cas­trated body­guards, sim­i­lar to me­dieval eu­nuchs.

Singh re­port­edly claims the cas­tra­tions bring his fol­low­ers “closer to God”.

Hordes of Singh’s fol­low­ers, who had gath­ered out­side the court­room armed with ba­tons, had threat­ened vi­o­lence if their guru was con­victed.

As a pre­ven­tive mea­sure to con­tain un­rest, the state au­thor­i­ties in Haryana and neigh­bour­ing Pun­jab state de­ployed thou­sands of po­lice and paramil­i­taries, keep­ing the army on standby.

They also sus­pended in­ter­net ser­vices to curb so­cial mes­sag­ing and im­posed a cur­few.

De­spite the ef­forts of au­thor­i­ties, thou­sands of angry sup­port­ers milled around the court as Singh was taken into po­lice cus­tody.

Ear­lier, Singh had arrived in the court in a 200-car cav­al­cade from his home­town, trav­el­ling in a bul­let-proof Range Rover.

The flam­boy­ant Singh has re­leased mu­sic videos and per­forms reg­u­larly in rock con­certs at­tended by tens of thou­sands of his fol­low­ers. – The Tele­graph

PHO­TO­GRAPH: GETTY IMAGES/ SUNIL SAXENA

IM­AGE UNDER THREAT: Spir­i­tual leader Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh has been found guilty of rap­ing two of his fol­low­ers

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