Thousands of India’s soldiers deployed Monday to stave off a repeat of Friday’s violent riots over a famous guru’s rape sentencing.
Troops deployed to the state of Haryana after a high court sentenced self proclaimed Sikh guru Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh to 20 years in jail Monday for raping two of his disciples in 2002, according to NPR. Singh’s followers erupted in violence after his conviction Friday, killing 30 people while burning cars, destroying government property, and vandalizing train stations.
“We’re here because the police couldn’t control the situation,” an army officer who wished to remain anonymous told NPR.
A convoy of military vehicles rode through the streets of the town of Panchkula to send a clear message to Singh’s remaining followers – stay down. Soldiers also surrounded Singh’s compound, or ashram, on Monday as some of his followers left voluntarily while others stayed and defied the order to evacuate. Authorities transported the judge via helicopter to read Singh’s sentence, as a precaution against the rumored repeat of violent outbursts.
Police arrested 900 people in connection with Friday’s riots, according to Manbir Singh, police commissioner of Panchkula.
Singh, whose sect is known as the Dera Sacha Sauda, commanded a loyal following comprised mainly of Sikh Dalits, formerly called India’s untouchable caste. Singh’s Dalit followers relied on his ashram for food and medicine, engendering deep loyalty among those whom his ashram supported.
No official count of Singh’s followers exists, but rumors of the size of Singh’s following allowed him to wield significant political influence. India’s ruling party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress Party publicly allied themselves with Singh. BJP State ministers in Haryana also collectively donated $175,135.86 to Singh.
The high court is seeking to seize all of the Singh sect’s assets, and Singh will face yet another trial for the charge of murdering a journalist in 2002 who exposed the rape cases for which the court convicted him on Friday.
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