Six die as Rampal remains elusive; aides, 425 supporters arrested

Six die as Rampal remains elusive; aides, 425 supporters arrested

At least six people - five women and an infant - have lost their lives, as self-styled godman Rampal continued to elude the police Wednesday. Top police officers in Haryana claimed that their "successful" action to arrest him was nearing its end.

Haryana Police Wednesday confirmed that five women and a child died during the stand-off between the controversial sect leader's followers and the security forces.

Over 10,000 followers Wednesday came out of the ashram near Barwala town, 210 km from Chandigarh.

Rampal continued to evade arrest even as hundreds of his followers left his ashram Wednesday morning.

Rampal's key aides, including his brother Purshottam Dass, and spokesman Raj Kapoor have been taken into custody, police said. At least 425 supporters, including private commandos, were arrested Wednesday.

"Our operation is in the final phase. We will arrest him (Rampal) soon. Our operation was better than we had thought," Additional Director General of Police Mohammed Akil told the media outside the ashram near Barwala.

Unlike Tuesday's violent clashes between sect followers and security forces, no clash took place Wednesday.

However, tension mounted Wednesday evening as agitated villagers near Barwala, who are opposed to the sect leader, set some vehicles parked nearby on fire.

Haryana DGP S.N. Vashisht told the media that bodies of four women were handed over by Satlok Ashram authorities to police Wednesday.

One woman, who had a heart ailment, and an 18-month-old child, reportedly suffering from jaundice, died in hospital due to lack of timely medical care, he said.
The DGP said none of the victims bore any bodily injuries.

He said the exact cause of their death would be known only after post-mortem examination.

"Our operation will continue till we arrest the accused (Rampal). We had given a deadline to people inside the ashram to vacate the premises. Many of them have been forced to stay inside. No negotiations would be held with him (Rampal)," Vashisht said.

"Police have neither fired a shot nor entered the ashram so far," the DGP said.
Police sources said Rampal and a private army of volunteers were holding followers hostage inside the premises. "They are using women and children as shields," a police officer said.

Fearing more police action Wednesday after Tuesday's clashes left nearly 300 people,  including 110 policemen, injured, the followers stranded inside the ashram started  leaving.

District authorities said over 10,000 people, who were inside the ashram complex for the past few days, started leaving early Wednesday after a portion of a 20-foot-high wall of the 12-acre ashram complex was brought down.

While the ashram management claimed Rampal was not inside the complex, the DGP said the sect leader was hiding inside.

Most of the followers of the self-styled godman said they were forced to stay inside by volunteers and the private commando force.

Police have booked Rampal - who is already facing charges of murder, inciting mobs and contempt of court - for sedition.

He has now also been booked for attempt to murder, criminal conspiracy, illegal detention, rioting and preventing government servant from performing duties, the DGP  said.

"Police have shown a lot of restraint since yesterday (Tuesday) and have not fired a single shot," Haryana's Additional Chief Secretary (Home) P.K. Mahapatra told the media here.

Supporters of Rampal Tuesday clashed with security forces to prevent them from entering the ashram premises. The area around the ashram resembled a battlefield as sect supporters resisted police action.

Sect followers fired at police, lobbed petrol bombs and acid pouches, besides hurling stones and bricks outside the ashram, clearly indicating that the sect was well-prepared to resist the security forces.

The sect leader has been avoiding arrest and failed to appear before the Punjab and Haryana High Court although non-bailable warrants were issued against him Nov 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 incident and summoned Rampal.

Meanwhile, Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar, who has otherwise avoided much  comment on Rampal issue, Wednesday tweeted: "Serious charges of sedition against Rampal & several followers by Haryana Police. Operations to continue till he is arrested from Ashram."
"Govt. & Police are committed to ensure strict compliance of High Court orders, priority is to uphold the law without loss of innocent lives," he wrote in another tweet.

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