36 dead in violence after conviction of Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh
Chandigarh: The death toll in the violence following Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh’s conviction in a rape case climbed up to 36 on Saturday even as there was no report of fresh violence in Haryana.
State authorities are now trying to ensure that there are no untoward incidents tomorrow or on Monday when the special Central Bureau of India (CBI) court judge will be flown to the district jail in Sunaria in Rohtak for pronouncing the quantum of sentence.
“Thirty six people have died, out of which six casualties are in Sirsa and remaining are in Panchkula,” director general of police (DGP) B.S. Sandhu said Saturday evening. Thirteen persons from among the 36 deceased have been identified, the police said. No untoward incident was reported from neighbouring Punjab also as security forces conducted flag marches and kept a tight vigil in the sensitive areas.
Curfew was also relaxed at some places where it had been imposed. Facing flak over the failure to check violence by Dera Sacha Sauda followers, the Haryana government on Saturday suspended the deputy commissioner of police, Panchkula, alleging that a “defective” order by him allowed the crowd build-up in the district.
There was mayhem in Panchkula on Friday as Dera Sacha Sauda supporters went berserk after the sect chief’s conviction setting afire vehicles and pelting stones. The violence resulted in nearly 30 deaths in Panchkula itself. The Haryana government was also forced to terminate the services of the state’s deputy advocate general, Gurdas Salwara, for allegedly “accompanying” Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh on Friday after the sect head’s conviction.
The opposition stepped up its attack with former Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda demanding the dismissal of Manohar Lal Khattar government for its failure to handle the situation at Panchkula. Hooda sought the imposition of President’s rule in the state. The Khattar government came under sharp criticism from the Punjab and Haryana high court, which castigated it over the deadly violence, saying it had “surrendered” before the followers of Dera Sacha Sauda head for “political considerations”.
Meanwhile, as part of the crackdown on Dera centres, security personnel on Saturday conducted search operations at congregation centres across Haryana and Punjab and recovered a large number of sticks and sharp-edged objects. Many Dera centres in Haryana were being sealed and security personnel deployed outside their premises to prevent any untoward incident, officials said.
After Friday’s mahyem, Haryana government claimed that peace had prevailed in the state today. “Peace is prevailing throughout the state and no incident has occurred anywhere after 6.30 pm yesterday,” chief secretary D.S. Dhesi said. He also informed that ‘Z plus’ security cover which was given to Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh had been withdrawn the moment he was convicted on Friday. He termed as incorrect media reports alleging that special treatment was being extended to the Dera chief, who has been lodged in district jail in Sunaria in Rohtak, asserting that he was being treated as an “ordinary prisoner”.
All security arrangements have been made for 28 August when the quantum announcement sentence will be announced by the CBI court, Dhesi said. The high court ordered the Haryana government to make arrangements at district jail in Sunaria in Rohtak for the special CBI court judge to pronounce Dera Sacha Sauda chief’s quantum of sentence on Monday. The court directed that necessary arrangements for security and safe transport by air of the judicial officer and two staff members should be made.
The Haryana police, meanwhile, recovered an AK-47 rifle and a Mauser from the vehicle of a Dera follower, and two rifles and five pistols from another vehicle during the operations, DGP Sandhu said. As many as 552 persons have been arrested in connection with Friday’s violence and further investigations are underway, the DGP said. He said the police had made adequate security arrangements and Army presence had been requested to bolster confidence of the people.
“The law-and-order situation is being maintained and constantly monitored in the entire state. As many as 101 companies of paramilitary have been deployed in the state, six columns of the Army have been deployed in Panchkula and four in Sirsa. Curfew has been relaxed in Panchkula and Sirsa,” chief secretary Dhesi said.
The district administration of Sirsa with the assistance of police, paramilitary and the army is sanitising and securing the area outside Dera Sacha Sauda headquarters. “People inside the Dera want to come out but as the situation is tense, they would be taken out only after the situation normalises,” Dhesi added.
In Panchkula, security forces remained on high alert as an uneasy calm prevailed in the district, which was the epicentre of yesterday’s violence.
Punjab also launched a crackdown on Dera centres, with chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh stating that state police offices had visited all the 98 ‘Naam Sacha Ghars’ (congregation centres) of the Dera in the state and recovered lathis, pipes and rods, axes and petrol bombs.
Punjab has tightened security at vital installations and is ready to enforce curfew again in sensitive areas of the state on Monday, if needed, in view of the upcoming sentencing of Dera Sacha Sauda chief Ram Rahim, he said. Chief minister Singh said that Punjab remained peaceful and no loss of life was reported from any part of the state.