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Violence, arson and 38 dead: The 72-hour mayhem before Dera chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim is sentenced for rape today

New Delhi, August 28, 2017 - The violence that broke out following the conviction of Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh in the 16-year-old rape case has so far claimed 38 lives.

Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, who was convicted in a 16-year-old case of raping two of his women followers on Friday, is now awaiting the sentence to be pronounced against him today.

The sentence will be delivered at the District Jail premises in Sunaria, near Rohtak, where Dera chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh has been lodged since his conviction on Friday.

While Rohtak has virtually turned into a fortress, security across Haryana, Punjab and Delhi has also been heightened. Following Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh's conviction by a CBI special court in Panchkula, 38 people were killed in the violence that erupted in the city and soon spread to other parts of Haryana as well as Punjab and Delhi-NCR.

KNOW WHAT HAPPENED IN THE LAST 72 HOURS SINCE GURMEET RAM RAHIM's CONVICTION:

As soon as the CBI special court held self-styled godman Gurmeet Ram Rahin Singh guilty of rape and sexual exploitation, violence broke out near the court premises in Panchkula, Haryana. Living up to his reputation, the Dera chief reached the court flanked by a cavalcade of more than 300 cars. According to sources in the court, Gurmeet Ram Rahim stood with his hands folded and eyes closed when the court delivered its verdict.

The Dera Sacha Sauda chief was immediately flown out of Panchkula in a chopper and taken to the District Jail in Sunaria. Despite heavy security near the court premises, violent mobs took over the streets and set fire to dozens of vehicles. The mobs clearly outnumbered security forces personnel, with images of security forces taking cover getting circulated.

Subsequently, security forces fired at the rampaging mobs. On Friday, the death toll stood at 30 while more than 250 people, including security personnel and journalists, were injured in the mayhem. According to eye-witnesses, many of those with bullet wounds collapsed on the roads. Curfew was imposed in Sirsa, the headquarters of Dera Sacha Sauda, besides several districts in Punjab such as Mansa, Bathinda, Sangrur and Barnala. An electricity office in Sangrur was set on fire, while two Income Tax department vehicles were also torched in Mansa.

By evening, fingers were being pointed at the Manohar Lal Khattar-government in Haryana over alleged administrative failure for letting Dera followers assemble in Panchkula ahead of the verdict against Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh. Speaking to reporters, Manohar Lal Khattar admitted to lapses in managing law and order and said the government is"identifying the lapses".

Taking a stern stand on the violence unleashed by the mob following Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh's conviction, the Punjab and Haryana High Court said that Dera Sacha Sauda's properties could be attached"if it is found that sect followers were responsible" for the large-scale violence."Dera Sacha Sauda shall submit a list of its assets and properties, which can be attached in case it is found that they and their followers are responsible for the acts," the court observed.

In Delhi, two coaches of the Rewa Express were set on fire near Anand Vihar station while a few buses were torched in parts of west and east Delhi. Section 144 of CrPc was imposed in 11 police districts, including New Delhi area following the conviction of Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh.

BJP MP Sakshi Maharaj stoked controversy with his comment that"crores of people are supporting Ram Rahim, and only one person is complaining against him. Is one person right or are crores of people right"."Can the Supreme Court or High Court call the Shahi Iman of Jama Masjid in this manner? He is also wanted in many cases... Is he their relative? Ram Rahim is a simple man so he is being harassed," Sakshi Maharaj said while supporting the Dera Sacha Sauda chief.

By Sunday, the toll in the Dera violence following Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh's conviction rose to 38, with police identifying 24 of them. The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) advised airlines to"keep a check on airfares" for flights on the sectors connecting cities like Chandigarh, Jammu and Jaipur in the wake of the Dera violence.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi condemned violence in the name of faith, and said that people who take law into their hands will be punished. In his monthly Mann ki Baat, Narendra Modi said that"violence in the name of faith will not be tolerated, whether it is communal belief systems, whether it is subscribing to political ideologies, whether it is allegiance to a person or customs and traditions".

Ahead of the sentencing of Dera chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh today, the District Jail premises in Sunaria has been cordoned off and the Army has been kept on standby. Haryana Director General of Police (DGP) B S Sandhu said"we are fully prepared for any situation". Security forces in Haryana and Punjab are on high alert. The Dera chief's sentence could range from seven to 10 years in jail.

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