India is deploying thousands of riot police and shutting down internet services in two northern states, of supporters of Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh left his headquarters in Haryana’s Panchkula on Sunday as authorities relaxed a curfew a day ahead of his sentencing for rape case.
At least 38 people were killed and more than 200 injured in the violence in Haryana, and Punjab officials said, drawing sharp criticism for the state government run by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
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Police spokesman Surjeet Singh said the curfew imposed in Sirsa, where the headquarters is located, was relaxed for five hours on Sunday to help people buy food and other essential items and outsiders to return home.
MODI PROMISES TOUGH RESPONSE
The Haryana government has faced severe criticism from opposition Congress and a state court for failing to stop the rioting and vandalism.
Singh, whose verified Twitter profile calls him a saint, philanthropist, sportsman, actor, singer, movie director, writer, lyricists, and autobiographer, has been photographed with senior BJP leaders including Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar.
Last year a Haryana minister announced the state would donate 5 million Indian rupees (US$78,000) to Singh’s Dera to promote sports.
Bir Kumar Yadav, BJP’s Haryana spokesman, said the party had been associated with Singh only in his capacity as a social worker who had spread awareness about public sanitation and cleanliness.
Modi also weighed in on Sunday, vowing tough action against anyone trying to break the law.
“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 any government will tolerate it,” he said in his monthly radio address, without directly mentioning the recent violence.
Singh’s conviction in a rape case is the latest in a series of cases involving spiritual leaders who have been accused of sexually abusing followers, amassing untaxed money and finding favour with politicians.
Besides the rape charges, he is also under investigation over allegations that he convinced 400 of his male followers to undergo castration, allegations he denies.