At least 11 people were killed and scores injured as violent protests erupted in India on Friday after a court convicted a self-styled "godman" of raping two women, angering thousands of his supporters who said he was innocent, police and lawyers said.
Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, the head of a social welfare and spiritual group, was held guilty of raping two women followers in a case dating back to 2002 at the headquarters of his Dera Sacha Sauda group in the northern town of Sirsa.
Supporters rampaged in response, attacking railway stations, petrol stations and television vans in towns across the northern states of Punjab and Haryana, soon after the verdict was announced, witnesses said.
He did say how the deaths had occurred. A curfew was imposed in three districts in Punjab which are strongholds of the Dera Sacha Sauda group.
Tens of thousands of followers of guru Ram Rahim Singh had descended on Panchkula, where India's federal investigations agency had set up a special court to rule on the charge that he had raped two female devotees.
Singh has a vast following in the northern state of Haryana, where he runs a spiritual movement that claims to have millions of devotees around the world.
Troops and riot police had been deployed ahead of the verdict, but violence broke out as news of his conviction spread among the gathered devotees.
An AFP reporter saw police fire tear gas and water cannon into a crowd of protesters who threw stones and attacked two television vans, overturning one.
There were also unconfirmed reports of police firing into the air to disperse the crowd.
Media reports said Singh had been taken into custody under military escort. He will be sentenced on August 28.
"There has been violence in some towns in Punjab, we are taking all measures to maintain peace," said the state chief minister Amarinder Singh.
Singh commands a following that he claims is in the millions. Supporters started gathering in the streets outside the court in Panchkula town on Thursday.
"The court has convicted Ram Rahim Singh of rape charges," Kohal Dev Sharma, a lawyer at the court said.
"Justice has finally prevailed."
Sharma's sentencing will be announced later in the month, media reported. Sharma said the Singh faced a minimum of seven years in prison.
Singh, a burly, bearded man who has scripted and starred in his own films, denied the rape charge. He had called on his followers through a video message to remain peaceful.
"We all must respect the law and maintain peace," he said.
Some Indian holy men can summon thousands of supporters on to the streets. Their systems of patronage and sermons are hugely popular with people who consider the government has failed them.
Authorities had earlier imposed a curfew in Sirsa and ordered thousands of Singh's followers to go home.
Mobile internet services had also been suspended in the states of Haryana and Punjab to stop people from spreading rumours and causing unrest, senior government official Ram Niwas said.
The army was on standby.
In 2014, the attempted arrest of another guru on murder charges ended with his followers attacking police with clubs and stones.
LEAVE A COMMENT Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked*
Modi govt selling country, says Congress
Maharashtra government formation inches closer
Film festival marred by protests and arrests
Will call off protests only if demands met: JNUSU
Govt may extend ban on onion export to Feb
Teenager dead after French bridge falls
Pawar keeps Sena guessing after talks with Sonia
Police clash with JNU students over fee hike
Indian police battle baton charge students over fee protests