12 dead in violence after Dera chief's conviction in rape case

12 dead in violence after Dera chief's conviction in rape case

12 dead in violence after Dera chief's conviction in rape case

As Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, a flamboyant self-proclaimed guru, made his way to a court in India's northern Haryana state on the morning of August 25, some news channels ran live coverage of the 200-car cavalcade, that included several black SUVs, as it made its almost 250km journey from Sirsa to Panchkula in Haryana.

He is due to be sentenced on Monday.

In the meantime, state authorities of Haryana faced criticism over allowing a huge mob of around 100,000 of Singh's followers to amass outside the court building. Media vehicles were vandalized by Dera supporters, some OB vans were set ablaze.

Dozens of people were killed in street violence on Friday in Panchkula, in the Indian state of Haryana, with more than 250 people injured and over 2,500 detained by police.

In 2002, an anonymous mail was sent to the former indian Prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, in which a woman accused the guru of rape.

As news of the conviction spread, groups of Ram Rahim's followers carried out arson attacks and attacked journalists and police.

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Soldiers and extra police have been deployed at public buildings and around large gatherings for more than a year. The soldiers were not seriously hurt in the attack but one had a facial wound and the other's hand was wounded.

Security personnel were still guarding Panchkula, which was among the worst affected towns during the violence, as some shops started to reopen and people came out of their homes.

Curfew was imposed on Panchkula and several other districts of Haryana and Punjab.

The sect claims to have 50 million followers and runs a spiritual empire that promotes vegetarianism and campaigns against drug addiction. It has also taken up social causes such as organizing the weddings of poor couples. It's not unusual for leaders of these sects to have small, heavily armed private militias protecting them.

Train services were canceled through the area, leading to railway delays across north India. School and colleges have been ordered shut, the government said.

Not ruling out the possibility, the judge recommended a central agency investigation and therefore, on the High Court directive, the CBI registered the case on December 12, 2002.

Such cases have prompted public violence in the past.

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At least 23 people have been killed in violent protests over the rape conviction of a popular religious leader in north India.

Security forces are also on "standby" outside the spiritual leader's headquarters where some 10,000 followers remained holed up, the Director General of Police in Haryana state, Baljit Singh Sandhu, told India Today news station.

"Like other thousands of gurus in India, Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh is, above all, a powerful man", says a France24.com report, which was translated using Google.

"I consider guru-ji to be only next to God", he said as he squatted on the ground in a Panchkula park.

The case has also highlighted the Indian heartland's fascination with spiritual gurus, who enjoy enormous political clout for their ability to mobilize millions of followers frustrated by the shortcomings of the state.

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