Indian police keep watch as followers of self-styled 'godman' Rampal Maharaj leave the ashram at Barwala in the district of Hisar, some 175 kilometres north of New Delhi on November 20, 2014. Image Credit: AFP

New Delhi, BARWALA: Haryana police onm Wednesday arrested Baba Rampal from the ashram of the self-styled guru and took him to Uklana police station where he was to spend the night.

He will be taken by road to Chandigarh this morning and brought before the Punjab and Haryana High Court.

Earlier, police discovered five bodies yesterday after storming the ashram where thousands of followers of Rampal 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 Rampal Maharaj, 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 175 kilometres northeast of New Delhi where Rampal was hiding, said Haryana state’s 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 died, 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 post-mortem to ascertain the exact cause of their deaths,” he said.

Hold outs

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 4.8-hectare (12-acre) compound.

Authorities are sending 500 paramilitary men to the town of Barwala, where the ashram is located, to try and quell the unrest, a home ministry source said on condition of anonymity.

Followers armed with stones, petrol bombs and other weapons had guarded the ashram for days after a court ordered the arrest of their guru, before police went in with water cannons 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,” Vashisht said.
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.

Against their will

“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.

Earlier, police 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”.

— with inputs from AFP