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Haryana tense but under control, Army marches inside Dera Saccha Sauda

Agencies: An estimated one lakh people, including women and children, are present at the sect headquarters. The Army and district authorities have been making announcements through loudspeakers, asking those inside to leave the premises. Fifteen Dera supporters have been arrested since last night here, the police said. “We will not spare those who have taken the law in their hands. We will take strict action against then,” IG (Hisar) AS Dillo said outside the Dera premises.

An indefinite curfew has been imposed in Panchkula, Sirsa and Kaithal in Haryana after yesterday’s violence. Mobile internet services had earlier been cut off in the region. However, curfew has been relaxed for four hours today in some towns in Punjab to enable residents to buy food and other essential items. “The law and order situation is under control as there has been no report of violence since last night,” said a senior police officer. Army also conducted flag march in riot-hit regions. According to Reuters, nearly 1,000 members of his Sacha Sauda group were detained for violence and arson.

After the conviction of the Dera chief, his supporters rampaged in response, attacking railway stations, petrol pumps and television vans in towns across Punjab and Haryana. Dozens of cars were burning in Panchkula town while a bloodied body lay in the middle of a road. The media was attacked; an NDTV live broadcast van was set on fire and totally destroyed. An NDTV engineer was held down by a mob and hit on the head. Protests also erupted in Punjab, New Delhi and the neighbouring state of Rajasthan. Two train stations were set on fire in Punjab in the towns of Malout and Balluanna. Nearly 200 trains that run through Punjab and Haryana have been cancelled. In Delhi, a bus and two coaches of an empty train were set on fire. The capital has been placed on high alert. Public gatherings have been banned in several parts of Delhi along the border with Haryana.

By 5 pm yesterday, the Army was called in to Panchkula and Sirsa to help regain control after the riots caused by more than 1.5 lakh followers of the guru. Before that, the police used tear gas and water cannons to try and disperse mobs of Ram Rahim supporters. Intense clashes took place between the police and members of the Dera Sacha Sauda in Sirsa, massive base of the sect. Several buildings were set on fire. Two people were killed, both Dera members.

Justifying the violence, one of the lawyers of the Dera chief said his followers had every right to express their outrage, according to news agency Reuters. Ram Rahim’s sect will appeal against Friday’s verdict. In tweets, Prime Minister Narendra Modi condemned the violence, saying it was “deeply distressing” and added the situation was being closely monitored. The Prime Minister’s officer has reportedly instructed central and state officials to work round the clock to restore law and order.

The police was caught on camera retreating as Ram Rahim supporters advanced menacingly. The Punjab and Haryana High Court has indicated the policemen involved will be punished. The court has said the many properties of Ram Rahim’s sect will be seized to pay for the massive damages caused today to public property. A hearing will be held at 10 am today by the full bench of the High Court.

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