Hundreds of followers of controversial religious leader Rampal holed up in his Haryana ashram were used as human shields to prevent police from storming the complex, but many managed to escape amid the sound of gunfire by breaking iron locks.
The 63-year-old Rampal’s supporters poured out of Satlok Ashram on the outskirts of Hisar over two days, some voluntarily and others evacuated by police.
Hours before police arrested the ashram head on Wednesday, Lalita, a visitor from Jaipur who managed to flee the ashram, said it was a harrowing experience.
“Doors were locked from inside and upset with the police action, we all wanted to run away. Soon, people broke open the chains and hundreds of people started moving out,” she said. “There was no shortage of food or water but it was a harrowing experience. Though we heard gunshots, no one with weapons was seen inside the ashram premises.”
Many devotees had come to attend the monthly satsang, or prayer gathering, at the ashram and were caught in the impasse.
“Most devotees were not even aware of the activities outside the ashram and since Monday we were told that police wanted to arrest Rampal and humiliate him,” said Karam Singh of Alawalpur in Ambala district, who fled the ashram with his family members on Tuesday night.
Some people like 70-year-old Ram Devi from Sitapur in Uttar Pradesh found themselves pushed outside to face an armed police force.
“We were holding satsang for the past few days but on Tuesday morning we were pushed outside the ashram to hold prayers on road. I was stunned to see police and we were all scared for our lives,” Devi said from her hospital bed at Barwala. Police cane-charged the unarmed sangat she added.
Digpal Dass from Uttarakhand said the ashram did not do anything to help the hapless devotees when police attacked them.
“I was told to perform sewa of women sitting outside the ashram on Tuesday,” he said. “Soon ashram members and police clashed and I injured my head. No one came out of the ashram for our protection.”