His religious convictions and the massive following over the years seem to have given him a false high that ultimately proved his undoing and brought disgrace on Barwala ashram head Rampal.
Some of his old friends and former colleagues Hindustan Times spoke to said Rampal Singh Jatin, born into a marginal farmer’s family at Dhanana village of Sonepat district on September 8, 1951, did his schooling from the village and later Gohana before enrolling for a diploma in engineering from a polytechnic at Nilokheri.
Being religious-minded, he was initiated by his teacher Swami Ramdevanand, who in 1994 told him to initiate others, following which he resigned his government job in May 1995 and took to religion as his calling.
Jai Singh, a childhood friend and later colleague, recollects, “He was a simple lad. We were together in school and college and even joined the Haryana irrigation department together as junior engineers.
“He was religious-minded and would seldom play with us. However, with times, we saw him getting more and more engrossed in religion, especially in worshipping Lord Hanuman. He was soft-spoken and helpful and at times would sit in front of the idol of Hanuman for hours on end. Once I even went to his Karontha ashram, but as I was made to wait for hours, I returned without meeting him and have not met him since.”
Rajinder Singh, a senior journalist from Sonepat, recalls the days when Rampal, attired in a kurta pyjama, would frequent his office with press releases and persistent requests to publish reports about his discourses in nearby villages. “When I told him that I could not oblige him repeatedly, he would say that by getting those published I would be doing a great service to the poor.”
One of his staunch followers, on condition of anonymity, said he had been associated with the ashram head for the past 12 years.
He said that earlier Rampal used to stay at the house of a follower whom he had initiated into the fold for no less than three days, which later shrank to two and then to a single day.
“Later, his influence increased so much that he would have no time to stay at followers’ houses but would initiate them at the Karontha and Satlok ashrams.
According to followers, Rampal, who mostly delivered his discourses in Haryanvi, laced with couplets from Kabir, gave his followers only a spoonful of ‘holy’ water and a pouch of “makhanas” as prasad.
“As the number of followers swelled fast, and with it the donations, his ashrams have come up at many places and he has a fleet of around 100 vehicles, including buses, cars and jeeps,” another follower said, adding, “Though followers like me are not well-educated, we have seen many senior officials making a beeline to his ashram, but he treats them all alike.”
Anil Kumar from Rohtak, whose brother Sanjay Kumar had written a book ‘Bhagwan Ya Shaitan?’ against Rampal in 2006, said Sanjay wrote it as a protest. “My brother wrote how Rampal was using people, including women, for meeting his ends,” he added.