As many as 206 people, including 76 police personnel, were injured in clashes at self-styled godman Rampal's ashram in Haryana on Tuesday as police lobbed teargas and used batons to disperse hundreds of stone-throwing supporters who vowed to prevent his arrest, police said.
Police tried to storm Satlok Ashram on the outskirts of Hisar city to arrest the 63-year-old self-styled godman who is wanted on murder charges when his supporters fired with country-made weapons from inside.
Mohammad Akil, additional director general of police, said of the remaining 130 people injured, 25 journalists were journalists.
Earlier, the followers fought pitched battles by lobbing petrol bombs to thwart the charge by a 3,000-strong contingent of Haryana police commandos to storm the high-walled complex. The supporters challenged police to come near the property by pouring diesel on their bodies and burnt an effigy of the judge handling the case. Women and children were used as a human shield and security forces had to drag several of them who were standing guard at the ashram gates to the local bus stop and railway station.
The authorities called off the operation in the evening because of worries over violent resistance after police failed to enter the complex, where at least 2,000 followers are still holed up. The operation will resume on Wednesday.
"The siege of the complex will continue until Rampal is arrested and produced before the court," said the state director general of police SN Vashisht in Chandigarh.
"Our information is that Rampal is inside the ashram. Our strategy is to take out the baba and save the women and children … Petrol bombs, stones, acid pouches and bricks were hurled (at security forces)."
About 200 devotees managed to escaped the ashram in the cover of darkness on Monday, saying they had been kept there against their will for days with little food or water.
Bhanu, a woman from Meerut who was freed, said she was being held hostage by the ashram management which wanted to use them as human shields to prevent police action.
A tearful young girl, Varsha, said all devotes were given just one meal with a few cups of water in the past 24 hours.
Tensions rose after Haryana's top court rapped the state government on Monday for failing to arrest Rampal who has repeatedly defied court orders to appear before it on charges of conspiracy to murder, inciting mobs and contempt of court.
The standoff took a violent turn as the Haryana government moved in to arrest Rampal to meet a Friday deadline set by the Punjab and Haryana High Court for producing him in a contempt case.
Rampal - who is out on bail in a 2006 murder case, but it was cancelled in July after his supporters entered a court room and threatened lawyers -- has skipped court hearings 40 times since 2010.
He did not appear before the Punjab and Haryana high court again in a contempt of court case. Rampal's supporters say he is too ill to make the 250-km journey from his ashram to the court in Chandigarh.
The district authorities cut off water and power to the ashram two days ago and blocked food deliveries in an attempt to disperse the protesters.