As soon as the news of arrest of controversial sect head Rampal broke late on Wednesday night, there were jubilant celebrations in parts of the town.
The reasons aren't difficult to find: Rampal's strongmen and their bullying tactics. The sect head and his followers were opposed to traditional religious practices and rituals and even tried to dissuade people from following those. Also, the presence of his followers in large numbers was seen as a nuisance.
The disaffection runs so deep that the police had to maintain a ring of security around the complex even after it was being vacated on Thursday to prevent the local residents from ransacking the ashram.
Angry youth had allegedly set afire and damaged a number of cars and other vehicles owned by the sect and its followers. They also welcomed the police forces, carting food packets, fruits, water and medicines for cops on duty.
"Rampal could have been picked up a few hours earlier, but there was apprehension of trouble from the town residents and an attack on the ashram. The sect followers have been riding roughshod over the locals. There are also allegations that they wanted to expand their ashram by trying to buy adjoining chunks of land," a top district official told HT, requesting anonymity.
Ram Prakash, a teashop owner in Barwala, said Rampal's disciples were a big nuisance. "Though there were lakhs of them visiting the ashram for satsang every month, they never made any purchases locally," he claimed. Echoing his views, a dhaba owner said the disciples were told to make purchases from stalls within the ashram.
Dheeraj Kumar, a pujari at the Hanuman temple in Barwala, griped that Rampal's followers were asked not to practice rituals such as fasting and holding wedding functions, or visiting pilgrimages, as these were termed by Rampal as a waste of time. "This insistence led to resentment," he added.
This is not the first time the sect disciples have had a run-in with local residents. In 2006, they had bloody clashes with the residents of Dighal village when his ashram was located in a neighbouring village, Karontha, in Rohtak. The villagers were up in arms against Rampal and his followers for alleged denigration of Arya Samaj.
Then, Rampal was safely evacuated from his ashram, but had to vacate the premises and was booked in several cases. During the search operations in Karontha, the police had found several objectionable items including a large number of condom packets, obscene material, weapons and high-tech gadgets