Controversial Indian guru Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh broke down in tears in court on Monday, 28 August, after he was handed down a 20-year prison sentence for raping two of his women followers. The verdict was delivered at a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) special court inside a prison building in Rohtak, in the northern Indian state of Haryana.

Security was beefed up in and around the city in the run-up to the sentencing of the 50-year-old self-styled 'godman'. The court has also ordered the godman to pay financial compensation to the rape victims. Singh is expected to move the high court challenging the judgement, which awarded him 10 years for each rape.

Ram Rahim, dubbed the "guru in bling", is head of the socio-political organisation Dera Sacha Sauda and is estimated to be worth £26m. He commands an estimated 50 million followers worldwide. He has previously been questioned over the murder of an investigative journalist in 2002.

In a bizarre accusation, a man has claimed that the guru forced him to get castrated to be "able to meet God". Some 400 people are similarly said to have been persuaded in the year 2000.

On Friday, 25 August, a court found the flamboyant guru guilty of the rape charges. The judgement triggered violent protests among his supporters, leading to the death of about 40 people. Trains and buses were torched in Indian capital Delhi.

During the pre-sentencing hearing, the CBI sought maximum jail term, 10 years, for the guru while Singh's lawyers asked for leniency, calling him a 'social worker'.

The Dera chief also pleaded for a lighter sentence, saying "mujhe maaf kardo" (please forgive me).

The judge instructed prison authorities not to allow any special treatment for the rape convict. Ram Rahim was given jail clothes immediately after the sentencing and will not be permitted to carry his personal belongings.

Singh reportedly had to be forcibly removed from court on Monday after he refused to cooperate with the security personnel for a mandatory medical examination. There was also drama outside the makeshift court facility as Ram Rahim sought urgent medical assistance. "I need urgent medical help and the state will be responsible if anything happens to me," he said. Following this, a second medical checkup was done.

Fearing a repeat of the riots that followed his guilty verdict, police are on high alert and army personnel have been placed on standby. Thousands of paramilitary troops and anti-riot forces have blocked off key roads leading the prison facility where the judgement was delivered. No civilians are being allowed within a 10km radius of the prison facility. Schools and colleges across Haryana have been shut, and mobile services suspended.

There is concern that some of the thousands of the guru's supporters gathered in the Dera headquarters in Sirsa are heavily armed.

Chief ministers of the states of Punjab and Haryana have held top-level security meetings with their respective state officials to discuss the security situation.

"There is total normalcy, our forces are on their toes," said Punjab's Chief Minister Amarinder Singh. "Will not let any untoward incident happen. This [sentence] must be accepted by the people and peace must prevail."

Godman
Self-styled 'Godman' Gurmeet Ram Rahim SinghAFP