Supporters try to resist police water cannon as police storm the ashram of controversial Indian guru Sant Rampal, in search of him at Hisar in Haryana state, India, Tuesday. Image Credit: AP

Barwala, Haryana): Scores of people were injured as followers of controversial sect leader Baba Rampal fought pitched battles with security forces outside his ashram (monastery) in Haryana’s Hisar district on Tuesday.

The sect followers allegedly fired at the security forces and lobbed petrol bombs and acid pouches, police sources said, besides hurling stones and bricks.

The followers rained the missiles from the rooftop of the ashram complex whose outer walls are about 25 feet tall.

Minor explosions were heard as petrol bombs were thrown at the police as large numbers tried to enter the ashram.

Smoke could be seen on the roof of the ashram. A sect spokesman claimed, however, that Rampal was not in the complex and that he was in a hospital outside Haryana.

Police fired tear gas and used water cannons against the hundreds of determined followers of the self-styled godman as they moved closer to the ashram to get inside and arrest Rampal. Police also used canes.

Several media persons covering the stand-off and clash were injured when the police carried out an unprovoked attack on them.

The journalists were targeted suddenly near the Satlok Ashram, close to Barwala town, while they were covering the disturbances.

Security personnel transported some of the injured, including media persons, in ambulances to Barwala town.

Haryana’s Director General of Police S.N. Vashisht said the police attack on the media would be “looked into” after the operation against the ashram gets over.

“There was no intention or operational compulsion to attack the media. We will investigate and take action. It was easiest for us not to allow the media near the ashram. We permitted 86 reporters to reach the spot,” he said.

He said two policemen were injured by bullets fired by sect followers.

“We removed women and children [from the ashram]. We saw a lot of resistance from the ashram. Two policemen received bullet injuries. Till we arrest this criminal, we will not relent. Petrol bombs, stones, acid pouches and bricks were hurled [at security forces],” Vashisht said.

Asked about the whereabouts of Rampal, he said: “Our information is that Rampal is inside the ashram. Our strategy is to take out the baba [Rampal] and save the women and children. The operation has started and we are committed to carrying out the high court’s directions.”

Police sources said more than 20,000 security personnel, including the Central Reserve Police Force, Rapid Action Force and Haryana Police, had ringed the ashram complex, which is spread in over 12 acres of land.

Hundreds of Rampal’s followers, including women and children, have been camping outside his ashram for nearly a fortnight in a bid to prevent security forces from entering the complex.

The sect leader has been avoiding arrest and has failed to appear before the Punjab and Haryana High Court although non-bailable warrants have been issued against him on November 5.

Rampal’s supporters had indulged in vandalism in a court in Hisar in July when he was going there in connection with a 2006 murder conspiracy case.

The high court took suo motu notice of the Hisar incident and summoned Rampal to appear before it.