Deadly clashes broke out Friday in northern India after a flamboyant spiritual leader was found guilty of raping two of his followers.
Police said that at least 17 people were killed as followers of Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh clashed with officers in the city of Panchkula.
Singh, known as the “guru of bling” on account of his flashy dress sense and penchant for diamonds, was convicted of raping two women in a case that dates back to 1999.
He is the spiritual leader of Dera Sacha Sauda, a controversial spiritual sect founded in 1948. The group describes itself as a “selfless socio-spiritual organization” and claims millions of followers worldwide.
After news of the verdict filtered out, supporters went on a rampage in towns across the northern Indian states of Punjab and Haryana, Reuters reported.
Television vans were attacked, cars set on fire and hospitals struggled to cope with scores of injured.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Narenda Modi has appealed for calm.
“The instances of violence today are deeply distressing. I strongly condemn the violence & urge everyone to maintain peace,” Modi said on Twitter.
The instances of violence today are deeply distressing. I strongly condemn the violence & urge everyone to maintain peace.
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) August 25, 2017
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