32 dead in violent protests over Indian guru's rape conviction
At least 32 people were killed and around 180 injured in violent protests in northern India over a guru's rape conviction on Friday, local media reported.
Local media said Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) Friday in its verdict said, self-styled godman and spiritual guru Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh was sentenced for the crime of rape. Court sentenced him to seven years imprisonment and will be moved to jail in northern city Ambala on Monday.
Following the verdict, Singh's angry followers rushed out into the streets at Panchkula district, near Chandigarh, the joint capital city of Punjab and Haryana states, apparently in a bid to show solidarity with Singh.
They smashed cars and burned media vans.
The court has sought personal appearance of Singh on Friday while delivering the verdict. Singh arrived in a cavalcade of 200 cars.
BBC reported violence also broke out in India's capital city New Delhi, where two train coaches were set on fire, according to reports.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi condemned the violence on Twitter, saying "the instances of violence today are deeply distressing."
He said the federal government was monitoring the situation and urged everyone to "maintain peace."
Singh is accused of sexually assaulting two of his women followers in 2002 at his Dera headquarters on the outskirts of Sirsa town in Haryana.
The Dera chief was charged in 2007 and the trial began the following year after India's premier investigating agency – CBI took the testimonies of the two women.
Singh has denied the charges against him.
The 50-year-old Singh heads a religious sect locally called Dera Sacha Sauda (DSS). The sect claims to be a "social welfare and spiritual organization."
Singh has been heading the DSS for last 27 years now and, at that time, earned himself the reputation of a social reformer by organizing multiple cleanliness, sanitation and blood donation drives, diabetes and cholesterol screening campaigns, and by establishing a disaster relief and welfare agency.
Singh, the flamboyant and controversial chief, claims to have 50 million followers, particularly in the states of Punjab and Haryana, where the DSS is headquartered in the town of Sirsa, about 260km from Chandigarh and runs a spiritual empire.