India guru rape: Troops patrol city after Ram Rahim Singh verdict

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Media captionViolent clashes took place on Friday in Panchkula (footage by Sudeep Sachdeva)

Hundreds of troops are patrolling the northern Indian city of Panchkula after the rape conviction of a religious leader sparked deadly clashes.

At least 30 people were killed on Friday during protests after the ruling against Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh.

They were believed to be followers of the self-styled guru, many of them killed by gunfire.

Singh was found guilty of raping two women at the headquarters of his sect, the Dera Sacha Sauda, in 2002.

Security forces were deployed to prevent further bloodshed after angry supporters rampaged through Panchkula, near Chandigarh.

The state government in Haryana has ordered a search of all centres there that belong to Singh's followers.

Officials said security personnel would seize any weapons they found.

Troops have approached the sect's headquarters near the town of Sirsa, and are trying to establish contact with those inside, local reports say.

The troops told the BBC the current strategy was to prevent any access to the complex but also to allow out any of the guru's followers who wished to leave.

Barricades have been placed at entry points to the premises, where around 100,000 people are believed to be sheltering.

The campus covers a vast area, almost 1,000 acres, and includes schools, a hospital, a sports village and a cinema.

Troops surround sect's headquarters

BBC's Justin Rowlatt in Sirsa

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Thousands of security forces are in Sirsa

Sirsa is like a ghost town. The shops are shuttered and the streets are empty, thanks to a strict curfew imposed by the Indian army.

Local people estimate as many as 5,000 soldiers have been deployed here, and they have shut off all access roads to the sect's stronghold. The closest we could get was two kilometres away.

A journalist who managed to get in on Friday said rudimentary fortifications had been put in place, with a series of checkpoints or roadblocks between different sections of the campus.

He said he saw piles of lathis - bamboo sticks - and other basic weapons, suggesting, he believed, that some of the guru's followers were prepared to defend the complex from attack.

There is no suggestion at the moment that the authorities have any intention of entering the sect's complex. Their primary concern at the moment is maintaining order.

Police arrested some 2,500 of the guru's devotees after 200,000 flocked to Panchkula ahead of Friday's verdict. Some smashed cars and set media vans alight, insisting he was innocent.

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Image caption Crowds smashed television trucks in Panchkula after the verdict

Thousands of army, police and paramilitary forces were deployed. They fired tear-gas canisters and water cannon into the crowd to try to restore control, says the BBC's Ravinder Singh Robin in Panchkula.

At least 200 people were injured, 50 of them from the security forces.

Violence also spread to the capital, Delhi, where two train coaches were set on fire.

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Mobile phone services remain disrupted in some parts of Haryana state and in neighbouring Punjab, where authorities imposed a curfew after the clashes.

The curfew in Panchkula was lifted on Saturday, but restrictions on public assembly are still in place.

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Image caption Injured followers of Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh pictured at the civil hospital in Panchkula

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi called the clashes "deeply distressing," tweeting: "I strongly condemn the violence & urge everyone to maintain peace."

Pressure is growing on the country's central government to replace the chief minister of Haryana, Manohar Lal Khattar, over the riots.

Mr Khattar has insisted that security arrangements were made, and that "a few miscreants" triggered the violence.

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Media captionViolence also spread to Delhi, as Justin Rowlatt reports

Singh, 50, had arrived at court in Panchkula in a convoy of more than 100 vehicles.

He was taken into protective custody by the army after his conviction.

The guru is expected to get a prison term of at least seven years when he is sentenced on Monday. Authorities fear more violence could follow.

Who is Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh?

  • Controversial leader of the Dera Sacha Sauda sect, which claims to have 60 million followers around the world
  • Took over the sect - which describes itself as "a non-profit social welfare and spiritual organisation" - when he was 23
  • Performs at rock concerts, acts in films and even has his own line of food products
  • Known as "rockstar baba" and "guru of bling" because of his shiny, colourful clothes
  • Has been accused of mocking Sikh and Hindu figures
  • Has been investigated for murder and rape, charges he denies
  • Has been accused of forcing followers to undergo castration to "get closer to god"

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