Dupattas covering their heads, a “battalion” of women devotees holding wooden sticks line the roads in and near Sirsa town in Haryana, waiting for a verdict to be delivered some 250 km away in a rape case against Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, the leader of the Dera Sacha Sauda sect.
The Dera is headquartered in Sirsa. Thousands of men, women and children have flowed into the town in the past two days, prepared for a prolonged stake-out in solidarity of their leader, who has been accused of sexually exploiting two women followers 15 years ago.
Outside the gates of the sprawling Dera complex on the outskirts of the city, the women followers standing guard say they believe in their “Guruji”.
"I came to Dera three days ago with my husband to support guru ji. We will not sleep tonight as with the guru's blessing, my family has progressed," said Surmeet Kaur, a resident of Hisar, on Thursday.
"We are carrying sticks to guard the Dera against anti- social elements," said Dera member Navjyot.
The women devotees kept watch through the night, coordinating their breaks; separate arrangements have been made for their stay by the Dera management.
The 50-year-old Ram Rahim, known as “Guru in bling” for his flashy costumes and jewellery, draws hundreds of thousands of disciples to the town each month for a “Darshan” or glimpse. They participate in Satsang and “simran (meditation)” and sing praises of the Dera chief.
Some 50,000 devotees are believed to be in Sirsa at present, but they insist they will not resort to violence.
Last night, the army carried out a flag march in Sirsa.
The police have sealed roads leading to the Dera headquarters and barricades have been put up in the neighbouring areas.
Verdict or not, Ram Rahim’s followers were convinced that he had been falsely charged.
"I have come here to support guru ji who has done nothing wrong. We are fully confident the court verdict will be in his favour," said Jaipur resident Rajesh Meena, a follower.
Because of prohibitory orders, cars are being stopped from moving towards the Dera headquarters and checked.
Ram Rahim last night put out a video appeal for peace and also tweeted that he would go to court even though he had a backache.