Followers of Indian guru end impasse
SIRSA, India – Agence France-PresseThousands of supporters of a controversial Indian guru ended a tense standoff with soldiers yesterday, avoiding renewed violence after their leader’s rape conviction sparked riots in which at least 36 people died.
Followers of Ram Rahim Singh, whose loyalists went on a rampage after he was found guilty on Aug. 25, began trickling out one by one under army guard from the compound of their spiritual headquarters in Sirsa, a town in the northern state of Haryana.
Hundreds of soldiers and riot police had blocked approaches to the premises spread over 404 hectares and were urging those holed up inside to surrender peacefully.
Indian authorities have been on high alert in Sirsa and Panchkula, the city where Singh faced judgement, since rioting and arson broke out minutes after the self-styled godman was found guilty of raping two of his followers. Police said at least 36 people were killed as tens of thousands of followers went on the rampage, attacking television vans and setting fire to dozens of vehicles.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi said yesterday it was “natural to be worried” amid days of violence, which even briefly reached the capital New Delhi.
“Violence is not acceptable in the nation, in any form,” Modi said in his monthly radio address. “Those who take law in their hands or take to violence will not be spared, whoever they are.”
A curfew imposed in Sirsa, where soldiers patrolled empty streets, was briefly lifted yesterday to allow Singh’s followers to leave the headquarters.
Under close guard, supporters left one by one from the compound as spiritual anthems blared from megaphones.
Singh will be sentenced today at the prison where he is being held in Rohtak, which authorities have transformed into a fortress to avoid any repeat of violence.