Unrest, deaths, over rape conviction of Indian religious leader

Police patrol next to concertina wire barricade outside a court in Panchkula in the northern state of Haryana India

Followers of the Dera Sacha Sauda sect were there to support its chief, Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, known as India's "rock-star baba" and the "guru of bling" for his garish rhinestone-studded costumes and on-screen performances.

At least 29 people were killed in Panchkula town where the court returned its verdict on Singh and more than 200 people were injured in Haryana state. His sentence is expected to be announced on Monday.

A court in north India has convicted a flamboyant guru of raping two of his followers.

Images broadcast by television channels showed security forces heavily armed forces taking up position around the headquarters of the guru.

Police had erected heavy metal barricades topped with barbed wire along main roads in Panchkula, a quiet residential suburb of Chandigarh, which is the common capital of Haryana and Punjab states.

Ram Rahim Singh, who had denied the charges, was taken into custody and is being housed in a jail in the nearby town of Rohtak until his sentencing hearing on Monday, prosecutor HPS Verma said.

As news of the conviction spread, groups of Ram Rahim's followers carried out arson attacks and attacked journalists and police.

Authorities lifted the curfew in the town of Panchkula, the main trouble spot, after the night passed relatively peacefully and the area was cleared of protesters, said police officer Pradeep Kumar.

More than 15,000 police and paramilitary soldiers were posted in and around the court where the guru appeared before a judge, as Panchkula administrators feared an outbreak of violence.

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Curfew was imposed on Panchkula and several other districts of Haryana and Punjab.

The group, which is based in the northern states of Punjab and Haryana, claims to have 50 million members, promotes vegetarianism and campaigns against drug addiction. It has also taken up social causes such as organising the weddings of poor couples.

However, thousands of the Dera Sacha Sauda sect descended onto the streets, protesting his innocence.

Train services were cancelled through the area, leading to railway delays across north India.

The town of Sirsa, home to Singh's headquarters, is already under lockdown with school and colleges being shut, Reuters reports.

Such cases against high-profile gurus have prompted violence in the past.

Ram Rahim has been accused of everything, from rape to murder and forcing his followers into harmful practices including disrespect and ridicule of some other religious sects in India and their spiritual leaders.

Police say around 2,500 of Singh's followers have been arrested.

The CBI court, which found Singh guilty of abusing at least two of his women followers, reinforced for many Indians their faith in the law, after the rulings on triple talaq and the right to privacy by the Supreme Court earlier this week.

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