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Rohtak braces for Ram Rahim sentencing today, city on edge

The controversial and flashy self-styled guru Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, found guilty of raping two followers, will be sentenced in a few hours from now amid multiple layers of security in several towns in Haryana and a virtual lockdown in Rohtak, where he is in a special jail.

The Rohtak police has warned that it may shoot at any sign of trouble, three days after violence and rioting by supporters of Ram Rahim's Dera Sacha Sauda sect claimed 38 lives. Dubbed as the "Guru in bling", Ram Rahim - who has starred in films and claims to have 50 million followers - could face seven years in jail to life imprisonment.

CBI special court judge Jagdeep Singh, who declared the Dera chief guilty of rape and criminal intimidation of the two women disciples in 2002, will be flown to Rohtak, where Ram Rahim has been lodged since Friday. All access to the jail on the outskirts of Rohtak has been blocked and close to 3,000 paramilitary troops have been stationed.

"Anyone creating trouble will be given a warning first and if he still pays no heed, then he will have to face the bullet," Rohtak Deputy Commissioner Atul Kumar told reporters.

On Friday, as soon as the judge held Ram Rahim guilty of rape, tens of thousands of his supporters burnt cars and buses, vandalized property and targeted the media and others. Thirty-eight people have died in the clashes and property worth crores was destroyed in Panchkula, where the verdict was announced.

More than 900 people were arrested in Haryana since. The Punjab and Haryana High Court ordered that the judge will be flown to Rohtak to check violence today.

Nearly 30,000 followers of Ram Rahim, refusing to budge from the Dera main base in Sirsa town, were cleared out yesterday in scores of state-transport buses. Hundreds of soldiers and riot police have blocked approaches to the Sirsa premises spread over 1,000 acres.

All schools and colleges are closed in Haryana, and some also in neighbouring Punjab. Schools are also shut in Ghaziabad and Noida.