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Eye Witness Report: How A Convicted Rapist’s Followers Tore Apart The City Of Panchkula

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By Manoj Kumar for Youth Ki Awaaz:

The hearing was scheduled for 2.30 pm, but we were already outside the court early in the morning. Supporters gathered outside were raising slogans and singing bhajans. They seemed to be in high spirits believing they had put enough pressure on the government and the court, and that this would reflect in Baba’s verdict. Even then, many in the crowd were armed with petrol bombs and rods. Just in case.

About 12.30 pm, we received news that Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh Insan had left his ashram with about 200 vehicles in tow and that he would be greeting his followers before entering the court. Hearing this, the crowd got excited and started gathering closer around the court. Baba walked into the court hall at 2.35 pm, dressed in a white kurta with a pagdi on his head. He seemed quieter than his usual, boisterous self and was visibly tense. He did not greet or smile at anyone and just stood with his hands folded and head bowed.

As soon as the judge declared him guilty, the lawyer turned towards him and in that moment, he started crying. He did not even wipe away his tears. The Army then took Baba into custody without letting him interact with anyone.

Within 15 minutes, word about Baba’s conviction spread. With him being whisked away from the back gate, his anxious followers started getting even more restless.

Photo by Ravi Kumar/Hindustan Times

The first reports of violence came in from Panchkula’s Sector 2, which is closest to the CBI special court. Dera followers started raising slogans and attacking media persons outside court.

Followers who had appeared empty-handed were now armed with sticks and rods. They were soon joined by more followers carrying petrol and diesel cans. This happened despite the police claiming they had taken all precautions (While the police asserted they had thoroughly checked the belongings of the followers, sources in the department revealed that those who had arrived at Panchkula three to four days ago had not been checked and that they may have been the ones who brought the weapons).

Some volunteers who were managing the crowd earlier were now nowhere to be found. Within minutes, the crowd went berserk and started pelting stones.

In many places, the mob spread out like guerrilla armies and laid siege to residential areas, police vans and every road leading to and from Panchkula.

Photo by Ravi Kumar/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

The police personnel started running away and media persons hid in any corner they could find. Once the police force disappeared, the Dera supporters, armed with crude petrol bombs and tins of fuel, started torching parked vehicles near the court.

The mob went about targeting government buildings in the area. It first broke into the LIC building, smashed window panes, damaged furniture and then vandalised the Income Tax office.

Sensing the situation was worsening, the order to fire was given out and the police resorted to firing rubber pellets, tear gas shells, water cannons and shots in the air. About 10 people fell to the ground and were trampled upon by their fellow Dera supporters but that did not deter the mob.

Thousands of impassioned and armed Dera followers then started moving towards the centre of the city and residential colonies. Here, panic spread among the residents after they saw the Dera supporters enter their areas, and in some places even markets and buildings. The Army then swooped in and started detaining people who had entered residential colonies, handing them over to the police.

The situation improved slightly only after the paramilitary forces stepped in. Police sources informed us that by then, 15 people had died and hundreds had been injured. A source in the civil hospital revealed to me that the hospital was filled with stretchers and the injured were pouring in. The injured include policemen and media persons too.

It seems that the Dera supporters had a plan in place, just in case the verdict wasn’t in their favour. Between 3.30 pm and 7.30 pm, they attacked various sectors, including Sector 2 and Sector 15, which have been the worst-affected by the violence. These attacks started one by one so that the security forces had to scatter to control them. Despite restrictions on bulk buying of petrol, attackers were armed with petrol bombs and were torching vehicles along their route.

PANCHKULA, INDIA – AUGUST 25: Dera followers fire vehicles in Panchkula sector 4.
(Photo by Ravi Kumar/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

Attack On Journalists

The mob seemed to have had a clear plan as far as the media is concerned – avoid getting filmed as they set about creating a ruckus.

Hindi news channel Aaj Tak’s journalists were one of the first to bear the brunt of their wrath as did the channel’s OB van, which was set afire. Soon, the OB van of Network 18 was also overturned.

There was a systematic attack on the media to limit the coverage of the violence. Photo by Anil Dayal/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Media persons in Panchkula were understandably angry. They are shocked that supporters who were talking to them openly before the verdict, were now attacking them brutally.

Discussing the attack with other reporters, we realized there was another reason to attack the media this systemically. During the Jat protest, it was alleged that police personnel had sourced many photos and videos from media houses to identify and implicate the rioters. These had also been presented in court as evidence. Perhaps, the rioters wanted to avoid making similar mistakes.

The media was also targeted by the police who did not want to be captured as they fled the scene, or be recorded using undue force on the mob.

As Baba is whisked off to jail in a helicopter and armed forces continue to bring the mob under control, the locals have been left angry and terrified. Even though residents had anticipated tension, stocked up on supplies and ensured extra safety measures, the violence has caused massive damage to public property. Within a matter of hours, the town of Panchkula was torn apart at the hands of the angry few.


Manoj Kumar is a Chandigarh-based freelance writer reporting from Panchkula, Haryana. He is a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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