Gurmeet Ram Rahim convicted of rape: As Haryana burns, we must ask why were officials not better prepared

Everybody knew the rape case against Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim was likely to result in a guilty verdict. Why then was a curfew not imposed on the sensitive towns and villages of Haryana? It should have been imposed days in advance. But it wasn't, and now his goons have gone wild, and even as we write these words of despair and outrage, public properties are being razed by multiple fires.

Even the media has not been spared, and one is hard-placed to understand why preemptive measures were not taken. Even the Centre was quiet in the lead-up to the verdict, and it appeared like it was the media alone which was pushing for an awakening on the fallout of the violence. That media vans have been burnt indicates how poor preparations were, and it's clear that Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar severely underestimated the extent of violence.

Vehicles were set on fire in Panchkula. Reuters

Vehicles set on fire in Panchkula. Reuters

Six columns of the army have been deployed, and from the video footage available, it appears like motley groups of police are being intimidated by the rampaging mobs. As things stand, unless air support is given to the troops, and shoot-on-sight orders are declared loud and clear, the conflagration will spread. It is already lapping at the borders of Delhi, and reports have said buses and trains were set alight in the capital.

Cities of Panchkula and Sirsa in Haryana, and Punjab's Patiala, Mansa, Faridkot, Bathinda, Mansa and Ferozepur are worst affected and the slamming of a curfew is now mandated. With the death toll at 11 already and even more casualties likely, dusk will not bring any relief. As government buildings burn and vehicles turn into funeral pyres, it is going to be a long night. And as is the norm, victims will slowly become innocent men, women and children caught in the crossfire. Reports from Panchkula indicate the sky is black with toxic fumes from burning rubber and other synthetic material.

The violence is in its sixth hour, but the reaction of the state machinery has been slow at best. The Centre is watching and indications are that Home Minister Rajnath Singh is being apprised of the developments. This seems like a very flimsy defence to the frenzy we are witnessing. With Panchkula the centrepoint of the violence, it is necessary to ensure safety of the public. Simply "taking stock of the situation" is not enough; there has to be some tangible support to Haryana by way of men and machines. Worrying about who will pay for the destruction is irrelevant at this juncture and even harnessing the Dera Sacha Sauda's property is not exactly the priority.

The logical corollary to this sort of widespread violence is attacks on enemies, real and imagined. One can only hope Judge Jagdeep Singh, who passed the guilty verdict, is safe and his whereabouts not public knowledge.

As things stand, this is not a time to discuss the verdict but to bring a forced peace into play. From what one can see, this is an organised effort and the hoodlums are not just a few gangsters but people who seem to have mapped out a blueprint for the eventuality that Gurmeet would be declared a rapist.

And the clampdown must stay in force till well after Monday's sentencing, and in the interim these gangs have to be split and arrested. The first thing to do is to block social media platforms. India has not seen anything like this since Delhi went berserk after Indira Gandhi was assassinated.

Updated Date: Aug 25, 2017 19:22 PM

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