Ram Rahim rape trial: 50,000 Dera Sacha followers gather, stockpile weapons
The Panchkula police are on their toes as Sirsa-based Dera Sacha Sauda followers started reaching the sect’s Sector-23 based Naam Charcha Ghar three days ahead of the verdict in rape case against the chief, Gurmeet Ram Rahim, at the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) court here on August 25.
The sect head has been asked to appear in person before the court. Sources in the department confirmed that at least 50,000 followers have already gathered here, and the number is swelling every hour. This, despite the fact that security agencies were busy in intense frisking of auto-rickshaws and buses on the Zirakpur-Panchkula highway.
Police stopped several vehicles at the Zirakpur main chowk, but could not stop followers walking towards the city. A senior official said that while the situation in Sector 23 is still manageable as the area is across the highway and can be sealed, it will be a concern if the followers enter the main city.
Meanwhile, the Chandigarh administration has decided to convert the Sector-16 cricket stadium into a temporary jail for a day. A senior UT officer said orders have been issued to police to convert the stadium into jail on August 25, where at least 10,000 people can be kept. “If anybody tries to break law, we will arrest them,” he said.
The UT will also be deploying senior bureaucrats in various parts of the city to maintain law and order. They have been told not to take leave on the say and keep their mobile phones on and carry extra battery backup.
The Punjab police have also obtained information that the Dera Sacha Sauda’s ‘naam charcha ghar’ (congregation centres) have started storing petrol, diesel and weapons.
As per a letter issued by the inspector general of police or IGP (law and order), on behalf of the director general of police (law and order), to all SSPs, commissioner of police and IGPs, the officers have been told to be alert against such actions by the dera.
“It has come to light that the Dera Sacha Sauda in its naam charcha ghar have started storing diesel and petrol and have also started storing sharp-edged weapons on roofs.” states the letter.
Mini Malwa in Sector 23
Panchkula’s Sector 23 has turned into mini Malwa of Punjab with people gathering there from Batinda, Mansa, Moga, Abohar, Fazilika, Sangrur and Patiala, where the sect has a strong following. Majority in the crowd are girls and women, and the crowd has a mix of people from farm background and those doing white-collar jobs.
As the dera’s Naam Charcha Ghar has limited space, many followers are sitting on the roadside around it. Many have pitched tents or are taking shelters in parks, raising tension in the neighbourhood that has around 50 houses.
Sanitation is going to be a problem as there is no lavatory facility, although 24-hour langar has started. Premis, as they call themselves, have even set up stalls for medicines and other basic services.
Jagjit Singh from Moga, one of the coordinators,said followers are converging here peacefully. A teacher from Patiala alleged the case against Ram Rahim is fabricated.
Concern over law and order
Check posts set up at various points by police and central security forces to check vehicles entering and leaving the city slowed down the traffic movement. Traffic jams were witnessed at roads separating Sectors 2 and 4 and the roundabout near Major Shankla War Memorial in Sector 2. School managements in Panchkula want the administration to take call on closing schools ahead of the verdict for the safety of children.
Meanwhile, Panchkula deputy commissioner Gauri Prashar Joshi today convened a meeting with the Dera followers and urged them to lend support to the district administration in maintaining peace and law and order in the city. Panchkula MLA Gian Chand Gupta and Haryana additional chief secretary Ram Niwas also made the same appeal.
Police on their toes in tricity
The Panchkula police have virtually sealed Sector 1, with no person, including advocates, allowed to take their vehicles to the district courts complex. All roads leading to the complex, including the one separating Sectors 1 and 2 have already been sealed.
In Chandigarh, police have sealed all entry and exit points for checking vehicles. Sources said 5,000 police personnel, including 700 from paramilitary forces, will stand guard. Special checking is being carried out at the bus stand and railway station, and verification of people staying at guest houses and hotels is being done.
Punjab director general of police Suresh Arora visited Mohali to review the security arrangements. During the meeting that lasted for an hour, Arora asked all officers to be on their toes and carry out rigorous checking of buses, cars and hotels ahead of the verdict. Two companies of paramilitary forces with 80 personnel each have arrived in Mohali.