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Police ask Rampal followers to vacate Hisar ashram

Haryana police have threatened further action if the armed devotees of Rampal do not move out of his Hisar ashram. The godman who is holed up inside, has been booked under sedition charges.

india Updated: Nov 20, 2014 11:27 IST

Haryana police have asked remaining devotees of godman Rampal to move out of his fortified ashram in Hisar, failing which they threatened to launch another crackdown.

On day 2 of the operation there is a strong police presence outside the ashram, even as some of Rampal's supporters are still holed up inside the premises. Most of the Satlok ashram is now empty, many the godman's commandos were rounded up at night, and the women and children transported to safety.

Authorities had called off the operation on Tuesday evening after violent resistance from Rampal's followers foiled police attempts to enter the ashram.

The godman is still elusive. While Haryana DGP SN Vashisht said they believe Rampal was inside the ashram, its spokesperson Raj Kapoor said Rampal was "unwell" and was being treated at an "undisclosed location".

"Baba Rampal has already been shifted out of the ashram and is undergoing treatment in a private hospital outside the state," Kapoor was quoted as saying by the Indian Express.

The police had 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.

More than 200 people were injured as police lobbed teargas and used batons to disperse hundreds of stone-throwing supporters who vowed to prevent his arrest.

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.

'Tough operation'

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.

“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.

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.

(With inputs from agencies)

First Published: Nov 19, 2014 08:14 IST