Controversial Haryana spiritual leader Rampal may have had an army of supporters to keep police at bay for two days before he was arrested, but locals around his Barwala ashram celebrated the news with song and dance, showing their contempt for the man and his followers.
The disaffection runs so deep that police had to maintain a ring of security around the complex even after the ashram had been vacated on Thursday to stop angry mobs who allegedly set fire to a number of vehicles parked in and around the complex.
During the two-day-long operation, people welcomed police forces, carting food packets, fruits, water and medicines.
“Rampal could have been picked up a few hours earlier, but his arrest was delayed. There was apprehension of trouble from the town residents and attack on the ashram. Sect followers have been riding rough shod 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.
Locals said the ashram head opposed their practices and rituals and tried to dissuade them from going to temples or other religious places of worship. They also saw the presence of the large numbers of followers as a nuisance.
“Though there were lakhs of them visiting the ashram for satsang (prayer sessions) every month, they never made any purchases locally. They only affected our business,” said Ram Prakash, a tea-shop owner.
A dhaba owner echoed Ram’s views, saying that disciples were told to make purchases only from stalls within the ashram.
Dheeraj Kumar, a priest at the Hanuman temple in Barwala, said Rampal’s followers were asked not to practice rituals such as fasting and wedding functions, visit pilgrimages or recite prayers as they were nothing more than a waste of time.
This is not the first time Rampal has had run-ins with local residents. In 2006, when his ashram was located in neighbouring Rohtak, his disciples clashed with the residents of Dighal village, who were followers of Arya Samaj.
Rampal was booked in a murder case and had to leave the premises. Police later found several objectionable items, including a number of condom packets, obscene material, weapons and hi-tech gadgets at the ashram site.
On Thursday, authorities had to deploy Central Reserve Police Force personnel outside the Barwala ashram to prevent local residents from ransacking the place.