Police question ashram battle guru

Published: Friday 21st November 2014 by The News Editor

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Police have begun questioning an Indian guru after he was arrested at his sprawling ashram with more than 400 followers following a 10-day deadly stand-off.

Self-styled guru Sant Rampal appeared in court in Chandigarh, the Haryana state capital, where the judge gave police five days to question him.

Rampal had repeatedly ignored orders to answer a 2006 murder charge against him. Police have filed additional criminal charges against him and his supporters over the siege that left six people dead and about 200 others injured.

For more than a week Rampal’s followers, some of whom were armed, fought riot police attempting to enter the fortified estate about 110 miles from New Delhi. On Wednesday police broke through and took him away in an ambulance.

Police are investigating the deaths of the six people.

Nearly 15,000 supporters of the Rampal, 63, were evacuated from the compound. Another 4,000 left the ashram yesterday as police took over the complex and began searching the area.

The guru’s followers handed over the bodies of four women who apparently died inside the 12-acre complex. Another woman and an 18-month-old child died in a hospital after leaving the ashram. The circumstances of the deaths were not clear and tests were being conducted.

Gurus and Hindu holy men are immensely popular in India, with millions of followers. People often consult them before making important personal decisions. But the enormous power wielded by the self-styled holy men has led to scandals in which they have been accused of exploiting devotees.

In September last year, another controversial spiritual guru, Asaram Bapu, was arrested on a rape charge filed by a teenage girl in the north-western Indian state of Rajasthan. He is still in custody and facing a trial.

Director-general of state police SN Vashisht said many of the thousands with Rampal were held against their will or used as human shields.

Authorities had tried to flush out Rampal by cutting off electricity and water to the compound.

“They closed and locked the gates inside the compound and would not let us out,” said Birender Satya, who had traveled from central India with his mother to listen to Rampal’s preaching.

Rampal and 38 others have been charged with murder and other offences after a clash between his supporters and another group killed one person in July 2006. He was freed on bail, which was canceled after his followers entered a courtroom and threatened lawyers in July.

Since 2010, Rampal, a former engineer, has ignored 43 court summonses, seeking exemptions each time. The court set a final deadline for him to appear in court on Monday, which he ignored.

His supporters said he was too ill to make the 155-mile journey from his ashram to the Chandigarh court.

Published: Friday 21st November 2014 by The News Editor

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