Dera Chaos

At least 30 people were killed and many more injured as the followers of Sirsa Dera chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim went on a rampage in several parts of North India after the self-styled godman was convicted in a rape case.

A CBI special court that held the 50-year-old guilty is scheduled to pronounce the quantum of sentence on Monday. He was taken into custody immediately and was shifted to the Police Training Centre rest house in Haryana's Rohtak district in a helicopter.

The mayhem on the roads of Panchkula, close to Chandigarh, was a grim reminder of the Jat agitation and when another self-styled godman, Ashutosh Maharaj from Karnal, was taken into custody. On Friday, the police had to resort to firing and lathi charge in several places to disperse violent mobs.

According to police sources, casualties in the latest incidents could increase as more injured were rushed to the district hospital in Panchkula. Curfew was imposed in Haryana's Panchkula, Sirsa and Punjab's Patiala, Fazilka, Ferozepur, Mansa, Faridkot and Bathinda.

Army had be called in around 4.30 pm as the situation deteriorated just before the court order. About 1.5 lakh Dera followers had been camping in Panchkula and Sirsa, two strongholds of the leader. Authorities had closed government offices, and educational institutions in Panchkula and Chandigarh.

Immediately after the verdict was pronounced by the CBI court, power supply in the residential areas of Panchkula was cut down as a precautionary measure.

Meanwhile, the Punjab and Haryana High court slammed the Haryana police for allowing thousands of Dera followers to assemble in Panchkula despite having clamped prohibitory orders there. The high court said it doesn't want a repeat of the Jat agitation where the police and state government had badly failed to deal with violent protestors.

The high court asked the Haryana police to use whatever force it needs to deal with the violence. It also told the police to register FIRs if any politician flares up sentiment.

Earlier, the dera chief, who enjoys Z-plus security, arrived at the CBI court in a cavalcade of 182 SUVs from Sirsa. Dera Sirsa is estimated to have a following of some 20 lakh people in Punjab and Haryana. Dera wields considerable political influence and its followers vote as a cult.

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