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Ashram showdown: Supporters being evacuated, several hundreds held

Source: PTI
Last updated on: November 19, 2014 22:28 IST
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Evacuation was still at the Satlok ashram at Hisar in Haryana, on even as self-styled 'godman' Satpal was arrested by the police. Earlier in the day, the police had arrested his close aide Purshottam Das and had detained between 250 and 450 devotees.

Meanwhile, the police has slapped sedition and other serious charges against him and several of his followers while ruling out any negotiations with him, a day after armed clashes took place.

Haryana Director General of Police S N Vashisht on Wednesday asserted that police will continue its “operation” till he is arrested for production before Punjab and Haryana high court on Friday in a contempt case.

Followers of Sant Rampal leaving the Satlok Ashram in Hisar. Photograph: ANI/Twitter

He said the ashram authorities have handed over bodies of four women and two sick persons, including an infant, who also died in a hospital later. The cause of their death will be investigated.

Police use batons and water cannon to disperse supporters of controversial guru Sant Rampal outside Satlok Ashram on Tuesday. Photograph: PTI photo

“There is no possibility of negotiations... There is not even any plan.. He is accused of serious crimes. My suggestion to him is that he should surrender before the law,” Vashisht said while addressing a press conference in Chandigarh.

A large number of followers of godman Rampal, who had been holed up in his ashram for days, came out on Wednesday and narrated how they were virtually confined there along with thousands more who too were desperately wanting to leave the premises.

Hailing from various parts of the country, the followers claimed that “private commandos” of Rampal had been “forcing” them not to leave, but they managed to persuade and come out.

A supporter hold a photograph of Satguru Rampalji Maharaj, a self-styled godman as he takes part in a protest march in New Delhi. Photographs: Anindito Mukherjee/Reuters

Haryana Director General of Police S N Vashisht told reporters that about 15,000 people were inside the ashram, out of which 10,000 have come out.

Police registered fresh cases on Tuesday night against Rampal, ashram spokesman Raj Kapoor, another key functionary Purshottam Dass and several other followers under under various sections of the Indian Penal Code.

Supporters of Rampal, a self-styled godman take shelter under placards as they are hit by a police water cannon during a protest outside the ashram of Rampal in Hisar . Photographs: Reuters

The cases have been filed under sections 121 (waging, or attempting to wage war, or abetting waging of war, against the government of India), 121A (conspiring to commit certain offences against the state) and 122 (collecting arms etc. with the intention of waging war against the government).

The fresh cases were filed after clashes broke out at the ashram between police and Rampal’s supporters, who allegedly resorted to firing and threw petrol bombs.

Rampal is already an accused in a murder case. Earlier this week, Punjab and Haryana HC gave the government time till Friday to produce Rampal in contempt of court case, after which authorities have been asking the devotees in and around the Satlok Ashram to disperse and help them comply with court order.

Earlier this week, Punjab and Haryana high court gave the government time till Friday to produce Rampal in contempt of court case, after which authorities have been asking the devotees in and around the Satlok Ashram to disperse and help them comply with court order.

About the deaths, the DGP said there were no wounds on the bodies of the four women. The police was not sure under what circumstances they had passed away and police will investigate all deaths to ascertain the cause, he said.

“Post-mortem examination of the bodies will be conducted to ascertain the exact cause behind their deaths,” he said. The infant belonged to Rewa district of Madhya Pradesh.

He said the operation had been temporarily halted on Tuesday night to allow more followers to come out of the ashram. “So far, as many as 10,000 followers have come out. We believe nearly 5,000 followers are still inside. These followers include women, children and very old persons as well. Most of them hail from places like Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.

Around 500 paramilitary personnel are being rushed to Haryana to deal with law and order situation at Rampal's ashram in Hisar even as the Intelligence Bureau has warned that there could be more violence if police attempt to arrest the 'godman'.

Responding to an urgent request of the Haryana government, the Home Ministry has dispatched the personnel to assist the state police which are facing violent resistance while trying to arrest Rampal.

"We are mobilising the force from nearby areas and they will reach the spot soon," a Home Ministry official said.

Meanwhile, in a report submitted to the Home Ministry, the Intelligence Bureau said the situation at Rampal's ashram continues to be tense and "there is all likelihood of further violence in case police attempt to get the ashram vacated and arrest Rampal."

"In view of apprehension of retaliation by the inmates of the ashram, there is need for police to tread cautiously," it said.

The report said that around 12,000 followers are still inside the ashram. Though the police issued ultimatum to the inmates to vacate the ashram, the inmates have not relented and the standoff continues.

“We are committed to protecting the lives of innocents. Therefore, we are not setting any deadline for this operation as our over-riding priority is to save the lives of innocents,” said Vashisht, who was flanked by Additional Chief Secretary (Home) P K Mahapatra and Principal Secretary to CM, Sanjeev Kaushal.

He said so far the security personnel have not entered the ashram and denied that there had been any delay or laxity on part of the police.

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