PANCHKULA: At least 28 people were killed and 250 injured today in widespread violence, arson and police firing triggered by the rape conviction of self-styled godman Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh.
Thousands of followers of Ram Rahim, who is the head of Sirsa-based Dera Sacha Sauda, went on the rampage, setting fire to vehicles, buildings and railway stations soon after a special CBI court convicted him in a 2002 rape case.
Police responded by opening fire. The unrest which began in Panchkula where the verdict was handed down, spread to other parts of Haryana and Punjab and even New Delhi where a bus and train were set on fire.
"Seventeen people are dead and at least 200 are injured," said Vivek Bhadu, Chief Medical Officer at the civil hospital in Panchkula. Another seven deaths were recorded at PGIMER hospital in Chandigarh and four at Government Medical College in Chandigarh, officials said.
Bhadu said that most of the deaths were due to bullet injuries.
Haryana DGP B S Sandhu, who visited the civil hospital at Sector 6 here, said that over a thousand Dera followers have been taken into custody.
"Dera followers have been flushed out of Panchkula while over a thousand have been taken into preventive custody," Sandhu said, adding the situation here is under control.
A stream of ambulances brought in injured people soaked in blood to the civil hospital here and at PGIMER hospital.
Police fired in the air, lobbed tear gas and let loose water cannons on the protesters who included a large number of women.
Curfew was also clamped in Panchkula. Curfew is also in place in Sirsa while Kaithal town was also brought under curfew this evening.
At least 32 incidents of violence and arson were reported from Malwa region of Punjab, police said. However, no casualty was reported.
Curfew was clamped in Mansa, Bathinda, Ferozepur, Patiala, Sangrur and Barnala and Faridkot, the areas considered as stronghold of the Dera followers.
But the curfew had little effect on the protesters, who also set fire to Malout and Balluanna railway stations in Punjab, according to the Northern Railways. Many motorcycles, cars and buildings, including an Income Tax building in Mansa in Punjab, were also set on fire.
Arsonists attempted to set fire to Dagru railway station which falls between Moga and Ferozepur, police said.
However, a Sewa Kendra was set on fire near Faridkot. Six columns of Army, comprising a total of 500 to 600 soldiers were deployed in Panchkula.
At least three OB vans of private television channels were damaged here. Two vans were overturned by a mob.
The India Today Group's TV channel showed pictures of its correspondent and cameraman being attacked while they were travelling in a van in Sirsa, the Dera's headquarters. The camera captured images of the windshield and windows being struck by men with sticks.
The glass shattered and one of the occupants of the van was heard moaning. The video then showed his bloodied face.
The police fired in the air and lobbed tear gas shells on sections of the crowds, many of them camping since last night on the streets of Panchkula.
CBI judge Jagdeep Singh, while holding the Dera chief guilty of raping a female follower more than 15 years ago, said the quantum of sentence would be pronounced on August 28.
The punishment can be a jail term of not less than seven years but may even extend to life imprisonment.