5:51 am - Wednesday April 24, 2019

5 Dead at Rampal’s Ashram Including 18-Month-Old: 10 Developments

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HISAR, HARYANA:  Four bodies have been found at controversial guru Rampal’s ashram in Haryana’s Hisar and two more including an infant died in hospital after thousands of his supporters clashed with the police on Tuesday and used bombs, stones and gunfire to try and stop his arrest in connection with a murder case.

63-year-old Rampal, an engineer-turned-guru, has been charged with sedition and rioting, the police said today.

The police said no injury marks have been found on the bodies of four women handed over by the ashram, and a post-mortem will establish how they died. A fifth woman, a 20-year-old, reportedly had a heart condition and died in hospital.

An 18-month-old baby who had congenital jaundice also died in hospital. Unconfirmed reports suggest his treatment was delayed because people were not allowed to leave the ashram by Rampal’s followers. The police say they will investigate all the deaths.

Rampal, who has been hiding in his ashram for days using women and children as shields, is believed to inside the ashram with around 5,000 followers. The complex, spread over a 12-acre area in Barwala town, is built like a maze and has deadly traps within, the police said on Tuesday.

Ordered by a court to arrest Rampal by Friday, the police have repeatedly warned Rampal’s followers to come out before they storm the ashram again today to find the guru.

Over 200 people including policemen were injured in Tuesday’s violence. Among the injured were over 70 journalists, including the NDTV crew.

Some 10,000 people are believed to have left the ashram at night. Many of them said they had escaped; they had been invited to attend a discourse but were used as a human wall that included women and infants.

Those who left the ashram have told the police that there were deaths due to cold and lack of food and medicines. Water and electricity supply had been cut off to the complex earlier this week.

On Tuesday, the police used water cannons and teargas to try and disperse devotees before breaking into the fortified ashram. Armed devotees calling themselves ‘Baba’s Commandos’ allegedly attacked the police with acid pouches, petrol bombs, sticks and stones.

In anticipation of more violence, there is heavy security in the town today. A unit of the paramilitary Rapid Action Force is on stand-by and security personnel are patrolling the roads on bikes and horseback.

Rampal, who was sacked as a junior engineer with the Haryana irrigation department, is out on bail in the 2006 killing of a villager in firing by his supporters. The Punjab and Haryana High Court ordered his arrest after he repeatedly failed to show up for questioning in the case. Rampal has skipped court 43 times in four years.

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