SIRSA: The sprawling Dera Sacha Sauda headquarters in Sirsa is witnessing a steady exodus of its followers who had been camping there in large numbers ahead of Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh's rape conviction.
Tension had gripped the locals yesterday with the frenzied followers of the sect asserting that they were in for the long haul and ready to go to any extent to avenge their spiritual leader's conviction. But today, several devotees made their way out, first in small groups, and as the day progressed, in larger numbers.
The local police, which had been urging those inside to vacate the sprawling premises through loudspeakers, said they were expecting the premises to empty out soon. "Earlier they were leaving in some small groups but now they are streaming out in bigger groups.
We are expecting the Dera premises to be vacated in a few more hours," said a senior police officer. A Dera follower, who left the headquarters along with his companions from Rajasthan, said his faith was intact in Ram Rahim and claimed he had done nothing wrong. "We were not expecting such a judgement against our Babaji who has done nothing wrong. He has been working for humanity for a long time," he said. Police and administrative officers said the exact number of followers still inside the Dera headquarters was unknown, but it was believed that many were still inside.
"We are trying to find out the exact numbers of those inside but it is believed that most of them will leave till late night," said a district administration official. The conviction of the Dera head in a rape case by a special CBI court in Panchkula yesterday triggered arson and violence across Haryana that claimed 36 lives and injured over 250 people.
In Sirsa, four people died and 58 have been injured. The violence also spilled over into neighbouring Punjab, Rajasthan and Delhi. The Army, along with the police and paramilitary forces, has put up barricades at entry points of the Dera premises. It is estimated that one lakh people, including women and children, are present in the sect headquarters.
The sprawling campus is spread over nearly 1,000 acres and is a township on its own, with schools, sports village, hospital and cinema hall. The Dera's followers had also torched a nearby electricty sub-station, which resulted in the headquarters plunging into darkness. The sect's supporters also set afire a police gypsy, a vehicle of the electricty department, and five bikes. officials said.
Earlier in the day, a senior Army officer had said there were no immediate plans to enter the Dera headquarters to vacate it as maintaining law and order was the priority in Sirsa. "There is no plan so far to enter the Dera headquarters here.
We are focusing on maintenance of law and order presently," General Officer Commanding(GOC), 33 Armoured Division, Maj General Rajpal Punia said in a media briefing. The Sirsa district administration has decided to relax the curfew from 6 AM to 11 AM tomorrow.
The situation in the town is being closely monitored by the police, army and paramilitary personnel on the ground, officials said. 2 companies of Army and 10 companies of paramilitary forces, besides local police have been deployed.
Locals have been asked to stay indoors by the police. Fifteen Dera followers have been arrested since last night here, police said. "We will not spare those who have taken the law in their hands. We will take strict action against then," IG (Hisar) A S Dillo said outside the Dera headquarters.