There are still thousands of Dera followers inside the sect headquarters, around 260 km from Chandigarh, sources said.

Army moves in to vacate Dera headquarters in Sirsa local residents angry at CM KhattarTwitter / Deepak
news Violence Saturday, August 26, 2017 - 13:49

Army and paramilitary forces moved in to get the Dera Sacha Sauda headquarters vacated near Sirsa town in Haryana on Saturday, a day after the sect chief was convicted of rape, sparking large-scale violence by his supporters.

There are still thousands of Dera followers inside the sect headquarters, around 260 km from Chandigarh, sources said.

On Friday, tens of thousands of supporters of Dera chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh went on the rampage in Haryana and Punjab, to vent their anger against the court verdict.

Always regarded as a peaceful second option to adjoining Chandigarh, Haryana's Panchkula town saw its peace shattered by mayhem carried out by thousands of unruly Dera followers on Friday leaving a trail of deaths, over 200 injured and property worth hundreds of crores destroyed.

After a night of uneasy calm with streets deserted, all establishments closed and burnt vehicles strewn all over, Panchkula struggled to get back on its feet on Saturday morning.

The nearly three hours of arson by the marauding Dera supporters, after their sect chief was convicted on Friday for rape and sexual exploitation of two female disciples in 2002, left the town badly scarred. Of the 30 people killed in Friday's violence, 29 were from Panchkula.

"What happened was shocking. Panchkula is such a peaceful city to live in. How could the (Khattar) government allow thousands of people with such criminal tendencies to flock outside our home in the name of devotion towards a criminal. 

"The political leadership, officers and police should be held responsible for this mess," Monica, a housewife from Sector 4, whose house was in the vicinity of the main violence in the town on Friday, said.

Local residents pointed out that Khattar, a former Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) ideologue who became Chief Minister in October 2014 despite no political experience, had failed to take action on the tens of thousands of violent Dera followers who unleashed mayhem in the town.

Entry points to Panchkula from all sides, including the busy main road from Chandigarh, were blocked by security personnel since Friday night due to curfew imposed in Panchkula by the administration.

The Army has also been deployed in Panchkula along with thousands of paramilitary force personnel and Haryana Police.

Several barricades have been put across the town and all its entry and exit points.

So volatile was the situation during Friday's violence that Panchkula's Deputy Commissioner Gauri Prashar Joshi had to climb a wall and jump over pointed iron rails to save her life from the marauding mobs. 

Security personnel had to help her escape from the place.

The Haryana Police, which was the first line of defence against the agitated Dera followers, virtually abandoned their duty and ran to save their lives when the mobs attacked them with stones and sticks.

The mobs set scores of vehicles, including private and government cars, on fire. Police and fire brigade vehicles were also set on fire.

Government buildings and private property were damaged and torched in some places in the vicinity of Sectors 2, 3, 4 and 5.

"It was like a war zone. All we could hear was gunshots, bomb-like sounds and see plumes of black smoke rising from several places in the sky. We never imagined that things would be so bad. We fear venturing out even now," Manmohan Goel, a resident of Sector 6, said.

Haryana Director General of Police (DGP) BS Sandhu said that all Dera followers had been driven out and Panchkula was "absolutely safe" now.

CBI special court judge Jagdeep Singh held the Dera chief, who has lakhs of followers mainly in Punjab and Haryana, guilty of raping and sexually exploiting two female disciples in 2002.

The sect chief was shifted to a prison near Rohtak town (about 70 km from Delhi).

Panchkula district, adjoining Chandigarh, shares its border with Punjab, Chandigarh and Himachal Pradesh.

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