A LOCAL court has convicted self-styled godman Rampal and 28 of his followers under murder charges and the quantum of the sentence will be announced on October 16 and 17. The verdict was in connection with two FIRs lodged at Barwala police station on November 19, 2014 in which Rampal and his associates were blamed for the death of six people.
Five women and a child had died due to suffocation during the violent confrontation between Rampal’s followers and Haryana Police near Barwala town in Hisar district in November 2014 and police had blamed Rampal (67) for the deaths, alleging that food and other facilities, including medicine, could not be provided to the followers “when they were made hostage in Satlok Ashram”.
Punjab and Haryana High Court had directed the police to arrest Rampal after he failed to appear in court, but his followers had barricaded themselves inside the ashram leading to the clashes. He was arrested on November 19, 2014 and about 20,000 followers were rescued after a two-week standoff.
Rampal, who was lodged in Hisar Central Jail-2, was Thursday taken to Central Jail-1 where a special court was held. The verdict was pronounced by Additional District and Sessions Judge DR Chalia.
An official of the prosecution department said that court proceedings concluded in 25 minutes as arguments over evidence and other matters had already been looked into. “There were circumstantial evidences against Sant Ram as the followers, who died later, were not allowed to go out from the Satlok Ashram for medical assistance despite being ill. However, we would wait for the detailed judgment to know exact observations of the court into the matter,” added the official.
The 29 accused have been held guilty under Sections 302 (murder), 343 (wrongful confinement) and 120 B (conspiracy) of the IPC, the official said.
Satlok Ashram’s media in-charge Chand Rathee said that they would challenge the verdict before the Punjab and Haryana High Court. “Today’s verdict is injustice to us. First, we lost followers of our sect and now have been punished for their death… no one from the followers was made hostage. They were staying in the Satlok Ashram as per their own wish. The followers had even given affidavits in this regard,” claimed Rathee.
Police had made elaborate security arrangements and prohibitory orders were imposed in the town under Section 144 of the CrPc. Trial in two more FIRs lodged against Rampal is still pending. One was lodged under sedition charges while the other was in connection with various offences, like the alleged setting up of a dispensary inside the ashram without permission.
A total of six FIRs were lodged against Rampal. In two FIRs related to wrongful confinement and obstruction of duty of police, the self-styled godman was acquitted by court in August last year.
Before moving to religious activities, Rampal worked as a junior engineer in Haryana’s Irrigation Department after obtaining a diploma from an industrial training institute in Karnal. He left the job after working for 18 years in 1995, after which he took “Naam Updesh” from a 107-year-old Kabirpanthi Swami Ramdevanand, according to his followers.
His Barwala ashram was closed in 2014 after the violence and two others in Delhi’s Mundka area and Bhiwani are operational.