Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh was found guilty of a 2002 rape case by a CBI court on Friday, in Panchkula.
The verdict triggered a widespread violence across Haryana and the events led to a riot which left at least 30 dead and over 250 injured.
The quantum of sentence against Ram Rahim will be declared on Monday. Curfew encircled Panchkula and several other places after the situation spiralled out of control, with frenzied followers wreaking havoc on the streets, setting ablaze vehicles, buildings and railway stations.
Delhi, Punjab and Rajasthan too followed suit within a few hours of the pronouncement of the judgment by the CBI court.
CBI judge Jagdeep Singh held Ram Rahim guilty, albeit post 15 years, in a case that was registered on the basis of an anonymous written complaint by a sadhvi that the Dera chief had sexually exploited her and other sadhvis.
In the letter addressed to then prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Haryana CM and host of other top institutions, the sadhvi had pleaded for an inquiry.
The Punjab and Haryana High Court took cognizance of the complaint and a case was registered against him in December 2002 by the CBI on the court’s direction.
Although the quantum of the sentence is yet to be pronounced, hence the punishment can be a seven years jail term also extendable to life imprisonment.
Meanwhile, post the verdict by the court, the magnitude of violence changed by leaps and bounds. From simply the crowding the court premise and camping for hours in Ram Rahim’s support, to an infuriated mob of thousands that engulfed the city into a massive riot.
The accused was lodged in the Rohtak district prison in Sunaria following his conviction in the rape case. Soon after the verdict was out, followers went on a rampage and clashed with security personnel. While 28 people were killed in Panchkula, two died in Sirsa, the headquarters of Dera Sacha Sauda.
Several media persons and their belongings were targeted by the mob and Police and paramilitary force had to resort to firing teargas shells to control the volatile situation.
The Dera followed had defied prohibitory order section 144 of the CrPc, which prohibits the assembly of more than four people at one place.
More than 30 incidents of violence and pyromania were reported from Malwa region of Punjab.
In the entire episode, passenger trains, road transport and internet connectivity were compromised. People travelling were stranded, as the trains and road transport had to cross via Punjab and Haryana if travelling to north or vice versa.
Northern Railway spokesperson Neeraj Sharma said Malout and Balluanna railway stations were partially set to fire in Punjab. In light of the deteriorating condition of the state, the Northern Railway cancelled as many as 445 trains till August 28. Neeraj Sharma added, “485 train services have been affected (due to the violence). Of these, 445 stood cancelled.”
The ferocity spread itself even up to Delhi where two coaches of a stationary train were set on fire at Anand Vihar Railway Station. Subsequently, prohibitory orders were imposed in 11 districts of the national capital. Reportedly, two buses were set ablaze by a mob at the Loni Golchakkar in northeast Delhi.
In the wake of the increasing violence, Haryana police chief B S Sandhu said 60 policemen, including two SSPs, were also injured in the violence, adding that 550 people have been rounded up and three rifles and as many as pistols along with live cartridges were also recovered. Six columns of the Army, consisting of a total of 500 to 600 soldiers, were deployed in Panchkula, the epicentre of the storm that arose.
In view of the large scale destruction to the lives and public property by the mobs, the Punjab and Haryana High Court have ordered that the losses caused due to the violence will be recovered from the Dera Sacha Sauda institution.