An Indian guru has been sentenced to 10 years for rape as police were ordered to shoot protesters on sight after his conviction triggered deadly clashes last week.
The guru, Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, was found guilty on Friday of raping two women in 2002, sparking protests by his supporters in various parts of north India.
At least 38 people were killed and more than 200 were injured and security was beefed up ahead of his sentencing in Haryana state today.
Such is the worry over tensions escalating, the sentencing judge was being flown to the prison in which Singh is locked up and the library is being converted into a court.
Indian security personnel stand guard along a road near Sonariya jail in Rohtak on August 28
Rapist: Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, 50, known as ‘the guru in bling’, has been found guilty of raping two female devotees
Conviction: A follower of Singh pleads for his safety after being hit with a stick during clashes between the controversial guru’s followers and security forces
Ram Niwas, a senior bureaucrat in Haryana in-charge of law and order, said: ‘We have issued shoot-on-sight orders if anyone tries to start a protest.’
Singh’s lawyer said his client was innocent and would appeal against his conviction.
Authorities imposed curfews in several areas of Haryana and Punjab states, while the capital, Delhi is on alert.
Niwas said Singh would not be taken to court to hear his sentence.
Instead, the judge who convicted him would be flown to the jail where he is being held in Rohtak town.
The prison has been transformed into a fortress, with journalists banned from approaching closer than a mile and roads lined with barbed-wire barricades.
‘A library in the jail has been converted into a courtroom,’ said Rajiv Pant, an official in charge of prisons.
There was also heavy security outside the headquarters of Singh’s spiritual cult, Dera Sacha Sauda, a 1,000-acre (400 hectare) compound in Sirsa town in Haryana.
Thousands of his supporters are believed to be inside the compound although many left following a tense stand-off with soldiers.
The Haryana state government, controlled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling party, has faced criticism from the opposition and a state court for failing to stop the violence that erupted on Friday.
In a monthly radio address on Sunday, Modi said it was ‘natural to be worried’ after the violence, that briefly broke out in Delhi.
The rape case against Singh was brought after an anonymous letter was sent to then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 2002.
The author accused Singh of repeatedly raping her.
The case has highlighted the Indian heartland’s fascination with spiritual gurus, who enjoy immense influence for their ability to mobilise millions of followers, many of whom are frustrated by the shortcomings of the state.
The 50-year-old Singh is known as the ‘guru in bling’ for his bejewelled costumes.
He says he has more than a million followers.
In 2015, Singh started a film franchise portraying him as MSG or ‘Messenger of God’, performing miracles, preaching to thousands and beating up gangsters while singing and dancing.