Chandigarh and its nearby Panchkula town wore a deserted look on Friday with curfew-like restrictions in place ahead of a crucial verdict in a rape case against Dera chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh.
Over two lakh followers of the sect have gathered in Panchkula and refused to vacate the place despite the Army called in to assist the central paramilitary forces and Haryana Police in maintaining law and order.
"We have literally been holed up in our homes. We are not moving out as thousands of Dera followers are stationed in our locality for the past three days," housewife Deepika Narang, a resident of Sector 6 in Panchkula, told IANS.
She said there was no milk and other essentials, besides her asthmatic father-in-law S.D. Narang was also running short of medicines.
Fearing threat to their lives, another Panchkula resident Shivani Bhatnagar said: "So far the Dera followers have been silent. They have not posed any threat to us. But if the verdict went against their spiritual leader, there are chances of A riot-like situation."
"They are stationed in front of our houses and there is threat to our lives and property," Bhatnagar added.
As a precautionary measure, the police have installed barbed-wire fencing around some of the localities in Panchkula, to restrict the Dera followers' reach.
The verdict in the rape and sexual exploitation of a woman devotee allegedly by self-styled godman in a 15 year old case was likely to be announced around 2.30 p.m.
Haryana Director General of Police (DGP) B.S. Sandhu said that 20 columns of the Army have been requisitioned. They have been staging flag marches since Friday morning.
This is in addition to thousands of paramilitary forces and Haryana Police personnel already deployed in Panchkula.
Almost all shops and other business establishments remained shut in Panchkula, fearing violence after the verdict.
"We prefer to keep our shops closed as there is a high possibility of violence and riots after the verdict," shopkeeper Ramesh Jain said.
He said despite the massive exercise by the security forces to evict the Dera followers from Panchkula late on Thursday night, no one has moved out. "This is a precarious situation," he added.
An erie silence prevailed in Chandigarh ahead of the verdict.
Though Dera followers have not swarmed the city, there was anxiety among the residents largely owing to a huge congregation of followers in adjoining Panchkula.
Chandigarh and another adjoining Mohali in Punjab were turned into fortresses.
Curfew-like restrictions have been imposed in various areas in the tri-city area, with educational and government institutions shut on Friday, trains cancelled and bus services disrupted.
Authorities have suspended mobile internet services and all SMS services. All dongle services provided on mobile networks, except voice calls for the next three days were also stopped.
Most of the streets in Chandigarh, especially the Madhya Marg and The Tribune crossing, the main entry point in Chandigarh for the traffic from Ambala, wore a deserted look as vehicles remained off road.
Chandigarh DGP Tajender Luthra said: "We can understand this intensive security beef up is hampering the citizens' movement but it's required for their safety."
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Updated Date: Aug 25, 2017 11:56 AM