29 die in riots after Indian guru found guilty of rape
200 000 take part in violent protests over judgment, writes Rahul Bedi
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
IMAGE UNDER THREAT: Spiritual leader Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh has been found guilty of raping two of his followers