Haryana Riots: Weapons Found Indicate Premeditated Violence; Death Toll 36

Petrol bombs, firearms and a large horde of sticks and sharp-edged weapons have been recovered from a various vehicles and Dera Sacha Sauda centres.

New Delhi: With petrol bombs, firearms including two AK 47s and a pistol, and a large horde of sticks and sharp-edged weapons being recovered from a various vehicles and Naam Charcha Ghars or centres of the Dera Sacha Sauda in Haryana a day after its followers went on rampage following the conviction of their spiritual guru Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh in a rape case, it has now become clear that the Dera followers had planned for action in advance in the wake of an unfavourable judgment.

Apart from Haryana, where much of the violence took place in Panchkula, large parts of southern Punjab and some places in Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan also saw destruction. Meanwhile, the death toll in the violence has risen to 36 while the number of seriously injured stayed at around 250.

Two AK 47s, petrol bombs recovered

The Director General of Police (Haryana) B.S. Sandhu said while the AK 47s and firearms were recovered from vehicles belonging to the Dera, thousands of sticks and sharp-edged weapons, and a large number of petrol bombs, were found on the premises of the Naam Charcha Ghars spread across the state. As many as 36 of these centres have also been seized by the state administration.

Incidentally, the Punjab and Haryana high court had in the wake of the violence on Friday directed the government to seize all the properties of the Dera to compensate the victims of arson and violence. Today the court again pulled up the BJP government in Haryana and at the Centre for their lacklustre approach towards the issue.

The high court today pulled up Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his handling of the situation. “He is the prime minister of not the BJP but of India,” the bench said. It also wondered aloud: “Is Haryana not a part of India? Why are Punjab and Haryana treated like step children?”

The judges were particularly severe on the Haryana government for allowing so much violence in Panchkula despite warnings. “You let a city like Panchkula burn for political motives,” they said.

Rioters smash television trucks during violence in Panchkula, India, August 25, 2017. Credit: Reuters/Cathal McNaughton

Rioters smash television trucks during violence in Panchkula, India, August 25, 2017. Credit: Reuters/Cathal McNaughton

Warnings ignored

Days ahead of the hearing, local media had been reporting how people were gathering in Dera centres in the city and stockpiling petrol and sharp-edged weapons. But the Manohar Lal Khattar government ignored the warnings.

Similar warnings were also issued by the Director General of Police (Law and Order) of Punjab ahead of the CBI court verdict, but even these could not prevent adequate timely action to prevent damage to properties in arson by Dera followers.

In the Malwa region of southern Punjab, while no loss of life or injuries were reported, Dera followers had resorted to large-scale arson and had hurled petrol bombs at government and private properties. In all 15 vehicles, six petrol pumps, eight power grids, 20 sewa kendras and three telephone exchanges were set ablaze. Apart from this, two stations were also attacked by them.

The Punjab government responded by imposing curfew in eight districts of Patiala, Muktsar, Mansa, Bathinda, Ferozepur, Fazilka, Moga and Sangrur.

The army was also called by the Punjab government to prevent any communal flare-up and the state police rounded up a large number of Dera state-level committee leaders. In a crackdown on the troublemakers, the police also arrested five Dera supporters who tried to set the Balluana railway station in Bathinda on fire and recovered two weapons from them.

Panchkula recovers from shock

Meanwhile, Panchkula, which witnessed the brunt of the violence after a special CBI court there pronounced its judgment in the 15-year-old rape case, appeared to be coming to terms with the violence which had rocked it yesterday. A large number of burnt buildings and remains of charred vehicles bore testimony to the scale of violence the Dera followers resorted to after Singh was convicted.

Not only did they beat people on the roads and in colonies they entered in Panchkula, a large number of residents in the city said the Dera followers were carrying jerry cans filled with petrol which they used to torch shops, shacks and stalls they came across.

In the Sector 16 market of Panchkula, where a restaurant was torched by the arsonists, the owners said the had to flee to the rooftop in order and jump to the neigbouring building in order to save their lives. “The Dera people were carrying petrol cans and set fire to whatever they could,” said a shopkeeper.

The violence not only left a trail of destruction across Panchkula, it also left behind several dead. While about 17 of the dead had not been identified till late on Friday night, the process of their identification began afresh today.