A Panchkula court on Friday convicted Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh in a 2002 rape case.
The quantum of sentence will be declared on August 28.
The sect chief, who has lakhs of followers in Punjab, Haryana, and other states, has been accused by a former sadhvi (female follower) of raping her more than once inside the sprawling Dera campus on the outskirts of Sirsa town in Haryana, 260 km from Chandigarh.
The alleged rape and sexual exploitation of the female follower was first reported through an anonymous letter in 2002 to the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and the Chief Justice of the Punjab and Haryana High Court.
The woman said that Singh had raped her in 1999. She also accused the sect leader of raping other female followers in the sectâ€™s campus.
Soon after, a suo motu case was taken by the Punjab and Haryana High Court. The High Court had ordered a Central Bureau of Investigation probe into the matter and the CBI registered a sexual exploitation case against Singh the same year.
According to The Times of India, the CBI questioned 18 sadhvis, two of whom said that Singh had raped them.
One of the women said that Singh had justified the rape saying the act would â€śpurifyâ€ť her. One also said that the when she once entered Singhâ€™s chamber â€“ the doors of which automatically close â€“ she found him watching a pornographic film.
Their statement was recorded and the CBI filed a chargesheet in 2007.
The case has taken nearly 15 years to reach the verdict stage.
A journalist, Ram Chander Chhatrapati, who had first reported the sexual exploitation at the sect campus, was shot dead in October 2002.
The murder conspiracy case against Dera officials and the sect chief is being heard by the court separately.
Tension prevails in several parts of Haryana and neighbouring Punjab as the Dera sect has millions of followers in both states. A large garrison of Army, state police personnel and over 15,000 paramilitary forces have been put on high alert to tackle any situation arising after the court's verdict. Thousands of supporters have gathered outside the Panchkula court.
An indefinite curfew has been imposed in Sirsa, which is the headquarters of Dera Sacha Sauda, along with in three adjoining villages.
Authorities have suspended mobile internet services and all SMS services. All dongle services provided on mobile networks, except voice calls for the next three days were also stopped.
In addition, the railways on Friday cancelled over 200 Haryana-bound trains as security concerns mounted ahead of CBI court's verdict.
Despite charges of murder, conspiracy, and rape against him, the Dera chief enjoys Z-category security provided by Haryana Police and moves around in a fleet of bulletproof luxury sport utility vehicles.