IT WAS feared but when it happened, it stunned the state and its police. At least 28 people were killed and over 250 others injured after followers of Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh went on the rampage for around three hours Thursday, minutes after a CBI court in Panchkula convicted him of raping two women between 1999 and 2001.
According to police, 27 people were killed in Panchkula, adjoining Chandigarh, where the CBI courts complex is located and where thousands of Dera followers had gathered over the last two days in anticipation of the verdict. Among the injured were 60 police personnel, including two SSPs and a DySP, and several media personnel. One person was killed in Sirsa, where the Dera is based, said police.
By Thursday night, a tense calm had settled over Panchkula. Haryana DGP B S Sandhu said that police used tear-gas and pellet-guns to disperse the mob at various locations, and recovered arms and ammunition from the convoy that accompanied Gurmeet Ram Rahim from Sirsa to Panchkula.
“Some tension is expected in Sirsa but the rest of the state is calm. The situation in Panchkula is totally under control. We dispersed around 50,000 to 1 lakh people from Panchkula in a three-hour operation. We seized three rifles, three pistols and some amounts of narcotics from the vehicles that arrived in Panchkula as part of the motorcade of the Dera chief. Further investigation is on,” said Sandhu.
Even as incidents of violence were reported from parts of Delhi and Punjab, where two railway stations were set on fire, six columns of the Army were deployed in Panchkula and four kept on standby for deployment in Sirsa. Curfew was imposed in Panchkula and Sirsa, and in several areas of Punjab, where the Army was called in. Prohibitory orders were issued in many parts of Delhi, with violence being reported from Loni and Anand Vihar.
In Panchkula, Dera followers damaged at least 100 private and government vehicles, and four government buildings, while also targeting the equipment of media personnel. At least two OB vans belonging to private TV channels were damaged, including one that was toppled over.
On Thursday evening, Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar called an emergency meeting of his Cabinet to review the situation. Later, he inspected a few of the locations that witnessed violence and the civil hospital in Panchkula, where some of the injured were admitted. On Thursday night, DCP Ashok Kumar was removed from the post.
The Dera chief, meanwhile, was taken to Rohtak jail in a helicopter, with arguments on the quantum of sentence scheduled for Monday.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Haryana Jail Minister Krishan Lal Panwar said Ram Rahim would be lodged at a guest house in Sunaria Jail. “The guest house has been declared a jail till further orders… We take such decisions when we face space constrains,” said Panwar.
DGP Sandhu said that arguments on the sentence would be held at an undisclosed location, and not at the CBI courts complex in Panchkula.
Earlier, in a severe indictment of the state police, a full Bench of the Punjab and Haryana High Court, comprising acting Chief Justice S S Saron and Justices Surya Kant and Avneesh Jhingan, told Advocate General Baldev Raj Mahajan that policemen were the first to run from the areas where clashes erupted. The court also asked the A-G to submit a detailed report Saturday on the alleged dereliction of duty.
The Bench said that all property owned by Dera Sacha Sauda would be attached because the group had submitted an undertaking in court that its followers would not damage public or private property or disrupt peace. The High Court also asked the central government to send more paramilitary forces to Haryana and said that it would monitor the case constantly and take it up again in the coming days.
On Thursday morning, the same bench had directed the Haryana government “to use weapons, if a need arises”. Hours later, the Dera chief, accompanied by his daughter Honeypreet Insaan, arrived in a convoy of over 100 vehicles and was brought to the courts complex. The convoy, however, was not allowed inside. Gurmeet Ram Rahim spent around 20 minutes inside the court room, where the verdict was announced by CBI judge Jagdeep Singh.
Speaking to The Indian Express, CBI counsel H P S Verma said, “The punishment can be a jail term of not less than seven years and may even extend to life imprisonment.”
The case was registered in December 2002 by the CBI on the directions of the High Court after the then Chief Justice received an anonymous letter about the alleged sexual exploitation of the two women followers of the Dera.
Gurmeet Ram Rahim denied the charges but in July 2007, the CBI filed a chargesheet in the Ambala court, which accused him of sexually exploiting the two women between 1999 and 2001. The CBI special court then framed charges against Ram Rahim under Sections 376 (rape) and 506 (criminal intimidation) of the IPC in September 2008. Subsequently, the court was shifted from Ambala to Panchkula.