India’s Modi warns against violence as guru faces sentence

NEW DELHI, Siddhartha Kumar (dpa)- Indian Premier Narendra Modi on Sunday condemned the mayhem created by the followers of a guru convicted of rape and warned against further violence as the authorities tightened security a day ahead of his sentencing.
Thousands of supporters of Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh went on the rampage in the northern state of Haryana on Friday after a court found him guilty of raping two women in 2002.

The death toll from the violence on Sunday climbed to 38, with 32 fatalities in the city of Panchkula and six from the town of Sirsa, where Singh's Dera Sacha Sauda, or True Deal Sect, is headquartered. More than 260 people were injured.
"India is the land of Mahatma Gandhi and Lord Buddha. Violence is not acceptable in the nation, in any form," Modi said in his monthly radio address, referring to the recent clashes.
"I want to assure my countrymen that people who take the law into their own hands and are on the path of violent suppression - whether it is a person or a group - neither this country nor government will tolerate it," he said.
"Each and every person will have to abide by the law; the law will fix accountability and the guilty will unquestionably be punished."
The 50-year-old guru, who is lodged at a jail in the city of Rohtak, will be sentenced on Monday. He faces a minimum sentence of seven years in jail.
Monday's court proceedings will be held at the prison. Senior Haryana state official Ram Niwas said "elaborate" security arrangements were in place and Singh's followers were being prevented from reaching Rohtak.
"Our priority is Monday's sentencing at Rohtak. We are fully prepared and expect court proceedings will be conducted peacefully. We will take strict action and not tolerate any violence or untoward incident. Army has been kept on standby," state police chief BS Sandhu told reporters.
In a crackdown since Friday night, 926 followers were arrested while 103 congregation centres of the sect were searched, he said. Sharp-edged weapons, knives, axes, iron rods and petrol bombs had been seized.
While security restrictions had been lifted in other areas, the curfew was still in force in in Sirsa, where the 1,000-acre headquarters is located.
Broadcaster NDTV estimated 30,000 followers to be inside, with many of them refusing to leave despite requests by the administration. Riot police and army personnel had formed a ring around the campus.
"Many have been leaving the headquarters since Saturday on their own. We have channels of communications with inmates inside. We will make searches after the court proceedings tomorrow," Sandhu said.
Other officials said there were thousands living on campus on a permanent basis, making a full evacuation impossible.
The large-scale rioting and arson on Friday saw the guru's supporters targeting journalists and police, vandalizing government property and setting fire to vehicles.
Panchkula police chief AS Chawla said "almost all" of the 32 dead ïn the city were followers of the sect. Many of the victims suffered bullet wounds from police gunfire.
Singh has denied charges of rape, and spokespeople for his sect say that they will challenge Friday's verdict in a higher court.
Dubbed "Rockstar Baba" or the "Guru of Bling" by the domestic media, Singh is known for wearing shiny, glamorous outfits, singing at concerts for his followers and acting in films. He also has his own line of food products.
The inter-faith sect, which claims to have 60 million followers, was founded in 1948.
It promotes vegetarianism and has taken up campaigns against drug addiction and in favour of tree planting and the rehabilitation of prostitutes.

Monday, August 28th 2017
Siddhartha Kumar

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