Ending the nearly two-week standoff between his supporters and security personnel, which escalated into violence and high drama on Tuesday, Sant Rampal was arrested from his Barwala ashram on Wednesday night. Rampal was taken in an ambulance to Chandigarh and is likely to be produced before the Punjab and Haryana High Court on Thursday morning.
Rampal’s arrest came hours after thousands of his supporters staged an exodus from the ashram. Police confirmed that six bodies — five women and an 18-month-old child — had been found.
Earlier in the evening, Home Minister Rajnath Singh discussed the situation with Haryana Chief Minister M L Khattar. Mounting pressure on Rampal, the police also booked him on charges of sedition and waging war against the government.
“No injury marks were found on any of the bodies. The cause of death will be clear only after the post-mortem. So far, two persons are confirmed to have died a natural death. The cause of death of four other women, whose bodies were handed over by the ashram to the district administration this morning, has not been determined yet,” said Haryana DGP S N Vashisht.
According to the post-mortem reports of three women, no injury marks were found on the bodies. The remaining autopsies were underway till late on Wednesday night at the Medical College, Agroha.
Those dead have been identified as Savita, 31, from New Delhi, Santosh, 45, from Rohtak, Rajbala, 70, from Bijnaur, Malkit Kaur, 50, from Sangrur, Rajni, 20, a resident of Uttar Pradesh and Dhairya, 18 months, a resident of Madhya Pradesh.
“Till 7 pm on Wednesday, more than 16,000 people had left the ashram. The largescale exodus from the ashram began late on Tuesday night, and continued through the day today. No violence or confrontation has taken place at all,” said IGP Anil Kumar Rao. According to reports, at least 2,000 more people are still inside the ashram.
After a four-hour standoff with Rampal’s supporters who were resisting his arrest, the security personnel suspended operations on Tuesday afternoon as many started to walk out of the ashram. Many of those who left the ashram said they had come for a satsang, and had wanted to leave for the past four days.
“Inside the ashram, the ‘commandos’ threatened us and refused to let us leave. We were separated from our families so that we couldn’t leave. They also used coercion to make us attack the forces and said they would shoot us if we didn’t throw stones to protect the Baba,” alleged Ram Kumar Singh, who emerged from the ashram at 3 pm today.
Guarded by a large security cordon, they were ushered into buses and taken to different locations like the Hisar bus station, railway station and other nearby towns. Many women said they had been forced to remain in the front lines on Tuesday. “I come from a poor family. They said they wouldn’t return my belongings until I sat in front of the police. I never wanted to get involved and just want to go back home,” said Maya Devi from Chhaprauli.
Largely from Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa and even Nepal, there were a few who said they had remained at the ashram of their own volition. “I came because I wanted to see the parmatma, Sant Rampal. Today they told us that he was not in the ashram. We did not see him at all for five days, so I decided to leave,” said Nandan Rai.
So far, the Haryana Police have detained 270 people, including 22 who have been identified on suspicion of having created trouble from inside the ashram and prevented police action. “A few of them shall be placed under arrest,” said Vashisht.
Later in the evening, villagers from around the ashram who oppose Rampal set ablaze three vehicles belonging to his supporters, which had been parked in fields two kilometres away from the venue.
Meanwhile, denying any intelligence failure, Vashisht and Haryana Chief Secretary Sanjeev Kaushal said, “It is not true that the police were not aware of what is happening inside the ashram. We have given a status report to the Hon’ble High Court in a sealed cover. The details of the report’s contents can’t be shared.”
The court had earlier issued a non-bailable warrant against Rampal, after he ignored repeated summons to appear before it.