Curfew was imposed in towns in 10 Punjab districts and in three Haryana towns, including Panchkula and Sirsa, after supporters of Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim went on a rampage after a court held him guilty of rape. The towns where curfew has been clamped include Mansa, Bathinda, Patiala, Fazilka, Ferozepore, Faridkot, Malout, Sangrur, and Barnala. Haryana’s Panchkula, adjoining Chandigarh, where a CBI court gave a guilty ruling against the Dera chief, resembled a war zone. Besides Panchkula, curfew was imposed in Sirsa, headquarters of Dera Sacha Sauda where one person died in the violence, and Kaithal towns.
Security has been beefed up in Himachal Pradesh’s Baddi and Parwanoo towns, which share a border with Haryana. Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh and Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar appealed to the people to maintain calm. “The state had taken all steps to prevent any untoward incident and would not allow the law and order situation to deteriorate at any cost,” an official statement quoting Amarinder Singh said.
He said soldiers did a flag march in Zirakpur and Banur towns, located close to Panchkula. The Chief Minister spoke to Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh to apprise him of the situation in Punjab and said he was keeping a close watch on the developments. He also spoke to Union Defence Minister Arun Jaitley. Haryana Chief Minister Khattar said some anti-social elements mingled with the followers of Dera Sacha Sauda after the verdict and resorted to violence.
“No one is above the law and strict action will be taken against anyone who tries to take the law into his hands,” he said in a statement. Attempts were made to burn two railways stations in Punjab’s Malout and Mansa towns by agitated followers of the self-styled godman. An electricity office in Sangrur town was set on fire. Reports said miscreants damaged and set on fire two Income Tax department vehicles in Mansa town.
In Sangrur district, miscreants set a tehsil office in Lehragaga town on fire. In Lambi town in Muktsar district, masked men lobbed petrol bombs on a telephone exchange and fired in the air to trigger panic. After the verdict, traders in Haryana downed their shop shutters in most towns as a precautionary measure. In Panipat town, four vehicles were set on fire, while in Sirsa two incidents of arson were reported.
In Panchkula town where the CBI court is located, the sect followers set afire and damaged more than 100 vehicles after the court verdict. Journalists were assaulted by the Dera followers in Panchkula and Sirsa towns. The sect chief was taken into custody following his conviction in a rape case by trial court judge Jagdeep Singh. The sentencing is set for Monday.