Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 15 December 2019

Six dead after police storm India guru’s ashram

Thousands of followers poured out of the ashram overnight, but police said they believed another 5,000 were still trapped inside.

BARWALA, INDIA // Police discovered five bodies inside the ashram of a wanted guru in northern India on Wednesday where thousands of his followers have been holed up for days.

A sixth supporter died in hospital.

They were discovered a day after police stormed the heavily guarded ashram north-east of New Delhi where they believed self-styled “goodman” Rampal Maharaj, who is wanted on murder charges, was still hiding.

The bodies of four women and an 18-month-old child were found, said SN Vashisht director general of police. The child appeared to have died of natural causes but it was unclear how or when the four women died.

Another woman, who appeared to have been suffering from a heart condition, died after being taken to hospital. Mr Vashisht said the bodies will be sent for post-mortem to ascertain the exact cause of their deaths.

Riot police on Tuesday stormed the ashram, which has been guarded by hundreds of followers for days after a court ordered the arrest of their guru on charges including conspiracy to murder.

Police used water cannon and tear gas on the followers, some of who were armed with stones, petrol bombs and other weapons, television footage showed.

Thousands of followers poured out of the ashram overnight, but police said they believed another 5,000 were still inside the inner sections of the compound sprawled over 4.8 hectares.

Some who fled claimed they had been held inside against their will, while police claimed they had been used as human shields to protect the guru.

“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,” Mr Vashisht said.

“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,” Mr Singh said from outside the ashram in Barwala town.

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

They are seeking his arrest after he repeatedly refused court orders to appear to answer charges including conspiracy to murder, inciting mobs and contempt of court.

They accuse Mr Rampal of ordering his disciples to fire on villagers during clashes in 2006 which killed one person and injured scores.

Mr Rampal, an engineer by trade whose website says the charges against him are “false”, has said his disciples must obey his instructions and may not worship traditional gods or engage in “unnecessary charity”.

Several supporters said they had to fight their way out of the ashram, while others said they lost their children in the melee.

“I can’t trace my daughter who was with me inside the ashram ... I somehow came out of the complex, but am very worried about her,” Roop Rani said.

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.* Agence France-Presse

Updated: November 19, 2014 04:00 AM