Guru Ram Rahim Singh rape verdict draws crowds
Tens of thousands of supporters of an Indian guru accused of rape have flocked to the north of the country ahead of his arrival at court.
Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, 50, is due to appear at a court in Panchkula, Haryana state, on Friday to hear the verdict in a case involving the rape of two women.
As the crowds gathered, large parts of Punjab and Haryana were placed in lockdown and mobile internet services were suspended in some areas.
Ram Rahim Singh denies the accusations.
The case relates to allegations dating back to 2002.
The crowds in Panchkula, where the court will deliver its verdict, have sparked a massive security deployment across the city.
Schools and offices in the area were closed, trains were halted, roads were blocked and three stadiums were set aside as makeshift prisons in case of trouble, officials said.
As many as 200,000 devotees of the highly influential guru have gathered, many desperate to get a glimpse of Singh as he heads into the court.
Authorities are concerned and are preparing for a possible public backlash from his supporters.
Ram Rahim Singh, who has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing in the long-running case, is one of India’s most powerful gurus, with a god-like status.
He wields considerable political influence and claims to have tens of millions of followers worldwide.
Ram Rahim Singh is described by devotees on numerous websites as a saint as well as an author, inventor, scientist, philosopher, philanthropist, peace activist and “the ultimate humanitarian”.