India city on lockdown ahead of rape sentence for guru

India city on lockdown ahead of rape sentence for guru
28 Aug

Police in the northern Indian city of Rohtak has imposed heavy restrictions on the movement of people as a prison-side court prepared a hearing for Ram Rahim Singh, a popular guru whose rape conviction has sparked some deadly street protests.

Reports on Sunday said residents of Rohtak, a city in the state of Haryana, had been warned to stay indoors as roads were blocked with barbed wire and different parts of the city remained heavily fortified.

“We have made multi-layered arrangements so that nobody is able to reach the venue (prison) or enter Rohtak district itself,” police deputy inspector general Navdeep Singh Virk said, adding, “I am fully confident everything will go on peacefully and there will be no untoward incident tomorrow (Monday).”

The police official was referring to a final hearing on rape convictions of Rahim Singh, a figure known as “godman” for many in Haryana. A court announcement on Friday about the convictions sparked widespread rampage across the state. Some 36 people were killed in Sirsa, the city hosting Rahim Singh’s main headquarters, in clashes that erupted right after the ruling was announced. Police imposed a curfew in the city although the measure was lifted briefly on Sunday to allow loyalists to leave Rahim Singh’s compound and to surrender.

(FILES) This file photo taken on September 8, 2015 shows Indian chief of the religious sect Dera Sacha Sauda (DSS) Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh at a news conference to launch the score for his film ‘MSG-2 The Messenger’ in Mumbai. (AFP photo)

Official estimates suggest Rahim Sing has a popular base of about 200,000 devotees. The guru, who has starred in films and claims to have 50 million followers, was found guilty of raping two of his loyalists. The Monday hearing could see him land in prison for life. Loyalists say charges against Rahim Sing are part of a bigger conspiracy while the government has faced criticism for underestimating the risk posed by the followers.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said Sunday said his government would not tolerate violence as even people in the capital New Delhi began to feel it.

“Violence is not acceptable in the nation, in any form,” Modi said in his monthly radio address, adding, “Those who take law in their hands or take to violence will not be spared, whoever they are.”

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