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Haryana: Rampal's supporters attack cops, 200 injured in clashes

After days of tense standoff, bloody clashes involving gunfire erupted between Rampal's supporters and the police when they tried to arrest him in Haryana on Tuesday, leaving over 200 people injured.

india Updated: Nov 19, 2014 09:37 IST
Sat Singh
Sat Singh
Hindustan Times

More than 200 people were injured in violent clashes at self-styled godman Rampal Maharaj’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.

Rampal’s 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.

His supporters challenged police to come near the property by pouring diesel on their bodies and burnt an effigy of the judge handling the case.

Police have so far failed to produce the controversial guru in court in connection with a contempt of court case. Rampal is on bail in another case in connection with the killing of a man in firing from his ashram in Rohtak in 2006.

Ambulances were rushed to Hisar after Rampal's devotees opened fire on policemen to protest against the non-bailable warrant issued against the self-styled godman, on Tuesday. (Sat Singh/HT Photo)

"Rampal supporters attacked us with lathis, acid pouches and petrol bombs," Haryana director general of police (DGP) SN Vashisht said.

"We initially practiced restraint as we didn't want innocent people to get injured."

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,” Vashisht said.

He added police believed Rampal was inside the ashram. Ashram spokesperson Raj Kapoor, however, said that Rampal was "unwell" and was being treated at an "undisclosed location".

Violence mounted as supporters of Rampal refused to heed to repeated announcements by the police over loud speakers to allow them to enter the premises.

Security forces dragged several people standing guard at the ashram gates to the local bus stop and railway station.

The forces managed to breach the wall of the ashram and remove 2,000 persons from inside. Hisar IG Anil Kumar Rao said the ashram’s main gate was demolished using heavy machinery but a second fortification lay beyond the main wall.

Police said people were being held hostage and women and children being used as “human shields” , forcing the troops to call off the charge in the evening. The operation will resume on Wednesday.

“A phone call traced to Satlok Ashram was received by police Tuesday morning where the caller said followers have been forcibly detained inside. A case has been registered in this regard. An appeal was also broadcast from the ashram where followers pleaded for evacuation. We believe innocent people have been held hostage,” Vashisht said.

Vashisht described the operation carried out by police and paramilitary forces as "very tough", since they were dealing with the presence of many women and children inside.

"Some people from inside the ashram said that they were being forced to stay inside," Vashisht said.

A JCB machine was set on fire by the miscreants inside the ashram as authorities attempted to break the third wall of the 50-feet high boundary wall surrounding the huge ashram building.

Mohammad Akil, additional director general of police, said 206 people, including 76 police personnel, were injured in the clashes. More than 25 journalists were among them.

The injured were admitted to various hospitals at Hissar, Barwala, Agroha and Uklana.

As many as 20 ambulances rushed the injured to hospital. Television channels showed injured people with their clothes bloodied.

Commenting on allegations that police restricted the media from covering the clashes, Vashisht said, "Everyone's life was in danger outside Rampal's ashram… we allowed 86 mediapersons to go for the coverage."

"It was our responsibility to make sure no one was hurt, including mediapersons. That's why we asked them to move."

He also denied allegations that an order was given to break mediapersons' cameras.

Watch:Rampal's supporters attack police

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 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.

District authorities cut off water and power to the ashram two days ago and blocked food deliveries in an attempt to disperse the protesters.

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.

Chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar was also closely monitoring the situation and was being given constant updates.

"The chief minister is keeping a close eye on the situation. He is regularly updating himself as the situation unfolds," Khattar's OSD Jawahar Yadav said.

Asked to comment on some mediapersons getting injured and cameras of some electronic media journalists getting broken in the melee at Satlok Ashram in Barwala town, Yadav said, "It is unfortunate. Media is fourth pillar of our democracy, but I don't know the exact details about the circumstances which led to the attack and injuries to many media personnel."

As the government failed to produce Rampal, who is being protected by a shield of armed supporters, the bench of justice M Jeyapaul rejected Rampal's counsel's request for hearing through video-conferencing or more time on account of ill health.

"We are prepared to address that health issue. The fact remains that contemnor Rampal is bold enough to hide in Satlok Ashram with a human shield."

While issuing fresh NBWs against Rampal, the HC had observed, "Police authorities cannot unduly wait for days together to execute the warrants issued by this court… (It) is bound to send a wrong signal to the public."

This is the third time within two weeks that NBWs against Rampal have been issued by the HC in the contempt of court case for allegedly interfering with proceedings at a Hisar court earlier this year.

Meanwhile, the court also set in motion the process for cancellation of bail to Rampal in the original case in which a man was killed in firing from his ashram.

When reports last came in, Rampal's supporters were engaged in clashes with the police. The police are trying to make their way into the heavily-fortified ashram.

'Without much bloodshed'

However, the court did somewhat soften its stand towards the government after a sealed report was submitted by Haryana advocate general BR Mahajan.

"We hope and trust that the NBWs issued by this court would be executed in a short while without much bloodshed," the bench said.

It did say again that if warrants were not executed the DGP and home secretary would have to appear at the next hearing. DGP Vashisht and additional chief secretary PK Mahapatra were present in court on Monday as well.

The AG explained to the court that warrants could not be executed as it would have resulted in mass casualties since a human shield was formed comprising by Rampal's followers, including women and children, to avoid his arrest.

He also submitted that water and electricity to the ashram had been disconnected and supplies from outside stopped. But the court asked if the state had registered any case against anybody who had not allowed officials to arrest Rampal. No immediate response was given by the state authorities.(with agency inputs)
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