Controversial sect leader held as police find 6 bodies
November 19 2014 10:51 PM
Followers leave the ashram of self-styled ‘godman’ Rampal Maharaj yesterday.
Followers leave the ashram of self-styled ‘godman’ Rampal Maharaj yesterday.

Police yesterday arrested controversial sect leader Rampal Maharaj from his ashram in Haryana, officials said.

He was whisked away in an ambulance which was followed by a number of police vehicles.

Earlier, police discovered five bodies after storming the ashram where thousands of followers have been holed up for days, as a sixth supporter died in hospital.

Authorities made the discovery after they used tear gas and batons to force their way into the heavily-guarded ashram of self-styled “godman,” who is wanted on a series of charges including conspiracy to murder.

They found the bodies of four women and an 18-month-old child at the sprawling compound 175km northeast of New Delhi, said Haryana Director General of Police S N Vashisht.

The child appeared to have died of natural causes but it was unclear how or when the four women lost their lives, he said, adding that another woman died after being taken to hospital apparently suffering from a heart condition.

“All dead bodies have been sent to the hospital where they will undergo a postmortem to ascertain the exact cause of their deaths,” he said.

Rampal’s key aides, including his brother Purshottam Dass, and spokesman Raj Kapoor were earlier taken into custody, police said. At least 425 supporters, including private commandos, were arrested yesterday.

Thousands of people have poured out of the ashram since Tuesday when police stormed in, but authorities say 5,000 followers are still holding out inside the 12-acre compound.

Authorities are sending 500 paramilitaries to the town of Barwala, where the ashram is located, to try to quell the unrest, a home ministry source said.

Followers armed with stones, petrol bombs and other weapons had guarded the ashram for days after the Haryana High Court ordered the arrest of their guru, before police went in with water cannon and tear gas.

Police were seeking Rampal’s arrest after he repeatedly refused court orders to appear to answer charges including conspiracy to murder, inciting mobs and contempt of court.

“We have already saved around 10,000 lives and around another 5,000 people are inside. We will save their lives and arrest the wanted man,” said Vashisht.

Several supporters said they had to fight their way out of the ashram, while police claimed they had been used as human shields to protect the guru.

“What started as a trickle hasn’t yet stopped and we have dropped off around 10,000 people at nearby bus and train stations,” assistant police superintendent Jashandeep Singh said of the followers.

“The people who left the ashram mostly said that they were being held against their will, as a shield for the guru against any police action,” Singh said from outside the ashram.

Police earlier said they were checking those leaving the ashram in case Rampal, a former engineer who considers himself an incarnation of the 15th-century mystic poet Kabir, was hiding in the crowd.

They accuse him of ordering his disciples to fire on villagers during clashes in 2006 in which one person was killed and scores injured - charges Rampal’s website says are “false.”

Rampal claims his hundreds of thousands of followers across India have had chronic illnesses cured and “ruined families have again become prosperous” by devoting themselves to his teachings.

Disciples must give up alcohol, smoking, meat, eggs, adultery and gambling, while singing and dancing is banned along with worship of “any other god or goddess.” 

Born in a village in Haryana to a family of farmers, Rampal obtained a diploma in engineering and later worked at the state’s government’s irrigation department.

Rampal went door to door proselytising on behalf of a seer called Ramdevanand and, with an ever growing flock of disciples, opened his ashram in 1999.

Meanwhile, Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar, who has otherwise avoided much comment on Rampal issue, yesterday tweeted: “Serious charges of sedition against Rampal & several followers by Haryana Police. Operations to continue till he is arrested from Ashram.”

“Govt. & Police are committed to ensure strict compliance of High Court orders, priority is to uphold the law without loss of innocent lives,” he wrote in another tweet.

India has been rocked by several scandals involving immensely popular “godmen,” mostly Hindu ascetics who claim to possess mystical powers. Last year one was charged with sexually assaulting a schoolgirl.

For many Indians, gurus play an integral role in daily life. They say they offer a pathway to enlightenment in return for spiritual devotion and often give donations to ashrams, temples and charity projects.

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