A major trial of a spiritual leader convicted of raping two females in India is blocking millions of people from getting the internet on their phones.
In an effort to control rumors and chaos sparked from online comments and social media, the government shut down mobile internet services during the trial and sentencing of Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, the leader of the cult-like group Dera Sacha Sauda.
The Indian states, Haryana and Punjab, shut down 2G, 3G, 4G, CDMA and GPRS, and all SMS services on mobile phones Thursday and aren’t lifting the block until Tuesday. More than 25 million people live in each of those regions.
That means all those people in the regions couldn’t send texts or use the internet on their phones as the guru’s followers wreaked havoc, setting fire to cars, buildings, and railway coaches as well as initiating violent brawls that led to the deaths of 38 people.
On Friday, Singh was convicted of raping two women from his group in 2002. On Monday, he was sentenced to 20 years behind bars for the crimes.
According to NDTV, broadband internet was also blocked in the group’s headquarters in Sirsa, a small city in Haryana.
The local government said the internet block is meant “to prevent any disturbance of peace and public order in the state,” NDTV reported.
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The internet shutdown shows how controversial and powerful the guru is. The spiritual group claims it has 60 million followers around the world.
During extreme rioting or upheaval in India, public services, such as public transportation, may be shut down, along with commercial business centers, but cutting off internet services isn’t common.
Indians are just as dependent on mobile phones as Americans. Cheap data plans provide a main connection to the internet and online services. SMS, or texting services, are also a main communication tool.
The conviction and sentencing is effecting more than just people’s ability to get online. Garbage has piled up, schools have been closed, businesses have shuttered, hotels have cancelled bookings, and hundreds of train rides were canceled after the guru’s followers set fire to railway coaches, Quartz reports.