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18 dead, over 150 injured as Dera followers go on the rampage

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August 25, 2017


At least 18 people were killed and over 150 injured in widespread rioting after enraged followers of self-styed godman Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh went on a rampage to protest his rape conviction on Friday.

Within two hours of his conviction by a Central Bureau of Investigation court, the violence had left a trail of burnt vehicles, buildings and railway stations in Punjab and Haryana.

Hospitals were overwhelmed with the stream of injured people being brought in

At least 12 people were killed, said Vivek Bhadu, the chief medical officer of the Civil Hospital in Panchkula, a suburb of Chandigarh where Ram Rahim was earlier pronounced guilty.

Police fired in the air, lobbed tear gas and let loose water cannons on the protesters to quell the violence, which spread beyond Panchkula to many places in Haryana, Punjab and even Rajasthan.

The injured included journalists and police personnel.

Media reports put the number of injured at more than 100.

A reporter of CNN News 18 TV said a steady stream of ambulances was bringing scores of injured people to the hospital, soaked in blood. He described the scene as “war zone.” It was not clear if the injuries were due to police action or violence by Dera followers, which included a large number of women.

“The flow of injured is not stopping,” said the reporter in his dispatch, which also showed pictures of vehicles burning.

“My motorcycle has been burnt down. I had parked it near the road and gone nearby for some work,” said a young man working with a private company.

Ram Rahim is the chief of the Dera Sacha Sauda, a quasi-religious group, and was accused in 2002 of sexually exploiting two female followers. He was whisked away after the conviction and the sentencing will take place on Monday. He faces imprisonment of seven years to life imprisonment.

Security was also beefed up in parts of northern India, including New Delhi and Lucknow.

Although prohibitory orders were in place in Panchkula, it had little effect on the protesters, who also set fire to Malout and Balluanna railway stations in Punjab, according to the Northern Railways. Many motorcycles, cars and buildings, including an Income Tax building in Mansa in Punjab, were set on fire.

Six columns of army, comprising a total of 500 to 600 soldiers were deployed in Panchkula

The situation was worsening in parts of  Punjab, mainly in Malwa region, the stronghold of Dera Sacha Sauda.

At least three OB vans of private television channels were damaged. Two vans were overturned by a mob.

The India Today Group’s TV channel showed pictures of its correspondent and cameraman being attacked while they were travelling in a van in Sirsa, the Dera’s headquarters. The camera captured images of the windshield and windows being struck by men with sticks.

The police fired in the air and lobbed tear gas shells on sections of the crowds, many of them camping since Thursday night on the streets of Panchkula

Friday’s violence which broke out here was third major incident after last year’s Jat agitation violence and November 2015 when there was a two-week tense standoff between some of the self-styled godman Rampal’s followers and the police in Hisar during which five women and a child had died.

Rampal had later been arrested after tense standoff between some his supporters and the police after close to 15,000 of his followers were evacuated from the sprawling premises.(Agencies)

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