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am Rahim Singh poses prior to the release of his film 'MSG Messenger of God' II in New Delhi, India
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/Str

Convicted guru's followers end standoff

August 27, 2017

Supporters of an Indian sect leader convicted of rape are leaving his headquarters, where they were holed up. His conviction sparked riots, and more violence is feared when the guru's sentence is announced on Monday.


Thousands of supporters of controversial Indian guru Ram Rahim Singh on Sunday left his headquarters in the town of Sirsa in Haryana state, where they had been holed up since going on a rampage when their leader was convicted of rape two days before.

The guru's followers were responding to appeals by authorities to surrender peacefully in a bid to prevent a repeat of Friday's violence in Sirsa and the town of Panchkula, in which at least 36 people died. Police say 524 people were arrested.

Police spokesman Surjeet Singh said a curfew that had been imposed in Sirsa had been relaxed for five hours to allow people to buy food and other essential items and to permit outsiders to return home.

People react during violence in Panchkula, India
Rioters angered by the verdict attacked television vans and set fire to dozens of vehiclesImage: Reuters/C. McNaughton

Fears of more violence

The presence of nearly 10,000 people in the Sirsa headquarters, which was surrounded by soldiers and riot police after the violence, has raised fears of renewed riots when Singh's sentence is handed down on Monday.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday condemned Friday's violence, and warned against further riots.

"People who take the law in their hands or take to violence will not be spared, no matter who they are," he said in his monthly radio address.

Singh is to be sentenced at a prison in the town of Rohtak, where he is currently being held. The town has been put under police and military lockdown. 

Flamboyant personality

The 50-year-old guru, who had denied the charges of raping two women at his ashram in 2002, faces seven years to life in prison.

The sect led by Singh - known as the "guru of bling" because of his predilection for bejeweled costumes - claims to have some 50 million members worldwide. It preaches vegetarianism and non-use of drugs.

Singh was accused in 2015 of encouraging 400 followers to be castrated so they could come closer to God, and also stood trial in 2002 for conspiracy over the murder of a journalist.

tj/jlw (AFP, AP)

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