Rescuers work overnight searching for survivors after a passenger train derailed in India's northern Uttar Pradesh state, killing at least 23.
AN Indian ‘godman’ who boasts millions of followers has been found guilty of rape as police ‘snap’ the internet and mobile phones and clash violently with his supporters.
India media reported at least 11 people were killed in clashes between authorities and members of Singh’s Dera Sacha Sauda sect.
The trial in Panchkula in the state of Rajistan, of self-styled guru Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh triggered a security lockdown, with police closing schools and converting a cricket stadium into a jail in Chandigarh.
“The court has convicted Ram Rahim Singh of rape charges,” Kohal Dev Sharma, a lawyer at the court said.
Shortly after the verdict was announced, the restive crowd attacked journalists and media vans that were parked outside the court, breaking windshields.
Army and paramilitary soldiers were deployed across th north Indian town where masses supporting the flamboyant guru gathered for the verdict in a court case accusing him of raping two of his followers.
The guru, who calls himself Saint Dr. Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh Ji Insan, left his ashram early Friday in a 100-vehicle convoy to appear in court in the town of Panchkula.
About 100,000 of his followers belonging to his Dera Sacha Sauda sect camped overnight in parks, on the streets and plazas of Panchkula, a quiet residential suburb of Chandigarh, the common capital of Haryana and Punjab states. Police have put the town on a security lockdown for fear that a guilty verdict could spark violence.
The road leading to the court had been sealed, while police on horseback patrolled roads nearby. Heavy metal barricades topped with barbed wire were set up on main roads.
“We are prepared to deal with any situation, but are confident that adequate measures have been put in place,” said B. S. Sandhu, a top Haryana police official.
Army soldiers will later march through the streets to garner a sense of security, Sandhu told reporters in Panchkula, as helicopters whirred overhead keeping a close watch on the tens of thousands of Ram Rahim Singh’s supporters.
The state government has snapped internet connectivity in the area and cellphone companies stopped their text messaging services across the two states.
Railway authorities Friday cancelled all trains passing through the area, affecting rail traffic across northern India. Schools and colleges were closed and shops and businesses shuttered as the town braced for any outbreak of violence by the devotees, many armed with sticks.
In a televised appeal, Ram Rahim Singh asked his supporters not to resort to violence, but some said they would not tolerate a verdict that went against their leader.
For farmer Malkit Singh, the 180km trip he made from his home in Jind district of Haryana was a “small offering” to his guru.
“I consider guru-ji to be only next to God,” he said as he squatted on the ground in a Panchkula park.
He said Ram Rahim Singh had cured him of his decadelong addiction to drugs, in what his followers believe to be one of the many miracles credited to the guru.
“We are not expecting the verdict to go against him,” said Malkit Singh.
The Dera Sacha Sauda sect claims to have 50 million members. It promotes vegetarianism and campaigns against drug addiction, and has taken up social causes such as organising the weddings of poor couples.
Such sects have huge followings in India. It’s not unusual for leaders to have small, heavily armed private militias protecting them.
Clashes in 2007 between the Dera Sacha Sauda followers and members of the Sikh faith left at least three people dead in north India.
In 2014, six people were killed when followers of another religious leader, guru Rampal, fought pitched battles with police who were attempting to arrest him for contempt of court after he repeatedly failed to appear in court in connection with a murder trial.