On Monday afternoon, Makhan Lal stripped to his undergarments and handed over his clothes and mobile phone to his wife Poonam — before entering an eight ft-deep sewer for his ‘daily seva’. “He told me he would clean the manhole and come back,” Poonam said. As Lal started to plow at the grimy water, Poonam fetched a bucket to collect the waste, while their two children watched. Slowly, Makhan started to tunnel deep into the sewer — until he stopped answering his wife’s calls.
“I started to shout. I heard him fall. The other devotees tried to help him but they lost consciousness because of the gas,” Poonam told The Indian Express. A day after his death, Poonam sat outside Sanjay Gandhi Hospital’s mortuary, flanked by several devotees of Rampal who videographed her conversation. “I do not want a police case in this matter. I do not want to conduct a post-mortem. I just want to leave with his body,” Poonam said as Rampal’s supporters nodded in agreement.
Lal and Poonam, along with their two sons aged two and three, had visited the ashram twice. Lal, who hailed from Janakpur vilage in Nepal, became a disciple of Rampal after he quit farming. Devotees at the ashram said Lal and Amarjeet, the other victim, used to look after electrification of tents and other facilities at various ashrams. Amarjeet’s relatives, who came from Haryana, said, “He was a farmer. How does his death matter to the police and those asking questions? Death is god’s will, you and me cannot decide it.”