Thu, Nov 20, 2014 - Page 6 News List

Six dead after police raid ‘ashram’ of wanted guru

HIDING INSIDE?Police clashed with hundreds of Rampal Maharaj’s supporters as they tried to arrest him on murder charges, before finding five bodies at the ‘ashram’

AFP, BARWALA, India

A supporter of Rampal Maharaj, a self-styled “godman,” prays while standing as he takes part in a protest march in New Delhi, India, on Tuesday.

Photo: Reuters

Police discovered five bodies yesterday after storming the ashram of a wanted guru in northern India, while another of the man’s followers died in hospital, an officer said.

Director-general of police S.N. Vashisht said the bodies of four women were found at the sprawling compound, but it was unclear how they died, while an 18-month-old child appeared to have died of natural causes.

Another woman apparently suffering from a heart condition also died after being taken to hospital, Vashisht told reporters.

“All dead bodies have been sent to the hospital where they will undergo a postmortem to ascertain the exact cause of their deaths,” he said.

Police stepped up their search for the 63-year-old guru, Rampal Maharaj, whom they believe is still holed up inside the compound spread over 4.8 hectares.

Police on Tuesday stormed the ashram, which has been guarded by hundreds of followers for days after a court ordered their leader arrested on murder and other charges.

Police fired water canons and tear gas, and baton-charged the supporters who were armed with stones, petrol bombs and other weapons, television footage showed.

Overnight on Tuesday, followers poured out of the ashram with some of them saying they had been held inside against their will.

“What started as a trickle hasn’t yet stopped and we have dropped off around 10,000 people at nearby bus and train stations,” assistant police superintendent Jashandeep Singh said of the followers.

Police said they were checking those leaving the ashram in case Rampal, who considers himself an incarnation of the 15th-century mystic poet Kabir, was hiding in the crowd.

“The people who left the ashram mostly said that they were being held against their will, as a shield for the guru against any police action,” Singh told reporters from outside the ashram in the town of Barwala.

Police are seeking Rampal’s arrest after he repeatedly refused court orders to appear to answer charges including conspiracy to murder, inciting mobs and contempt of court.

India has been rocked by several scandals involving immensely popular “godmen,” mostly Hindu ascetics who claim to possess mystical powers. Last year, one was charged with sexually assaulting a schoolgirl.

For many Indians, gurus play an integral role in daily life. They say they offer a pathway to enlightenment in return for spiritual devotion and often give donations to ashrams, temples and charity projects.

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