BARWALA/CHANDIGARH: After two weeks of brazen defiance of the judiciary and the police, controversial preacher Rampal was arrested outside his Satlok Ashram – the scene of pitched battles between his followers and the police – on Wednesday around 9.30pm.
Rampal was led into an ambulance and whisked away to an undisclosed location. Five women and an 18-month-old infant were killed in the preceding day’s violence, and more than 200 people injured including around 70 journalists and 105 policemen.
Squeezed inside his 12-acre ashram by authorities, Rampal had held out against the cops with his groupies creating a human shield of nearly 15,000 followers from different parts of the country. To deter them from arresting Rampal, they had laid elaborate security plans for the ashram with armed militia at vantage points.
After Tuesday’s day-long battle, the Haryana government slapped sedition charges against him and his supporters, apart from murder, attempt to murder, conspiracy, hoarding illegal weapons and aiding and abetting suicide-mongers, among others.
By Wednesday evening, 492 of his followers were arrested for violence and 71 of them jailed after appearing in a Hisar court. Those imprisoned included Rampal’s key aide Purushottam Das. The goons had attacked police with firearms and Molotov cocktails – petrol and diesel bombs – when they had stormed the ashram on Tuesday, leaving many cops badly injured.
The move to arrest him began after Rampal defied summons and fell in contempt of court, with the Punjab and Haryana high court issuing non-bailable warrants against him on November 5. Innocent people bore the brunt of the violence that followed after his storm-troopers scaled up their savagery to shield Rampal from the law. Many of the followers later said they were held in the ashram against their will.
The five women who died included two from Uttar Pradesh, and one each from Rajasthan and Rohtak in Haryana. The boy who died was suffering from jaundice since birth and had come to the ashram from Madhya Pradesh for faith healing.
The cops have denied that the victims died because of police action but family members of the devotees said they died or were seriously injured in a stampede triggered by the cops using tear-gas on Tuesday.
Among the victims was a 45-year-old woman Santosh from Rohtak. Her sons Pawan and Sandeep told TOI that she was being used as a shield along with other women followers and children. “At 4pm on Tuesday, the ashram called us to say that she had lost her life during police action,” Pawan said.
The victims also included Malkiat Kaur from Punjab. Her husband Jarnail Singh was inside the ashram with her during the police raid. He said his wife fell unconscious because of the smoke. “We brought her to the ashram dispensary. She died when the doctors were treating her,” said Singh at the Agroha medical hospital.
Around 15,000 followers were brought out from the ashram after they surrendered before the cops. A large number of them were women and children. Most of them are from Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Bihar, Rajasthan and Madhya Pardesh.