On Friday, thousands of supporters of self-styled godman, Sant Rampal, stood guard outside his ashram — some wearing helmets, others carrying placards of perceived injustices. They stood together with the conviction that their spiritual guru was unwell and would not be forcibly taken to court, despite a non-bailable warrant being issued against him.
For his disciples, finding themselves isolated is not new. For close to 20 years now, Rampal has portrayed himself as a liberal godman who does not believe in religious divides or idol worship. This has often pitted him and his supporters against staunch Hindu groups, including the Arya Samaj.
According to Rampal’s website, he was a “normal devotee” till 1994, when he was also a junior engineer with the Haryana government. “Guruji used to fast, visit temples and pray to idols like everyone else till he met Swami Ramdevanand ji Maharaj, who showed him how idol worship was futile, a ‘false web’ spread by Brahma. He told guruji that his destiny was to be a spiritual leader, and after studying all religious texts… guruji opened his ashram in Karauntha in Rohtak,” said Rampal’s close aide Rahul Das.
His growing influence in Rohtak and his views, which were in sharp contrast to the beliefs of the Arya Samaj, led to severe conflict in the following decade. In 2006, during a satsang at the Karauntha ashram, Rampal began pointing out “scientific problems” with formulations of texts followed by Dayanand Saraswati’s disciples. “He said that there was only one God, Kabir, and divisions of religion and caste were fictitious,” said Ramendra Singh, a devotee.
In his preachings, many of which are on YouTube and other social networking sites, Rampal asks people to refrain from going to temples or indulging in idol worship. “Guru ji also says that sex is an entirely natural process, and discrimination of women must not be allowed,” Singh said.
In 2006, there was a clash between members of the Karauntha ashram and Arya Samaj supporters from 25 villages across Rohtak, who wanted the ashram shut down. One person was killed, 51 were injured. Members of the ashram admit that police found weapons on the premises, but deny that bullets were fired from them. Nonetheless, Rampal was arrested and sent to prison for 21 months, while his ashram was sealed.
In 2012, Rampal began another ashram in Barwala. Sources said that the ashram is strategically placed, for the Arya Samaj has a limited influence in this district. “Rohtak, Jind, and Jhajjar have a lot of Arya Samaj supporters. This led to a constant conflict-like situation, which is why Hisar was chosen,” sources said.
When Rampal was to appear for a hearing at a Rohtak court in July 2014, thousands of supporters mobbed the court. It was then decided to hold proceedings by video-conferencing in Hisar. Here, too, his followers created a ruckus. The high court took suo motu cognizance of this and initiated contempt proceedings. Twice Rampal was summoned, but he did not appear. Instead, his followers gathered in Chandigarh. On Wednesday, they came despite the court’s order that it had called only Rampal and two others.
The Barwala Ashram spreads across 12 acres, with an in-house hospital, veterinary hospital and a huge kitchen.
On Sunday, more than a lakh supporters gathered at the ashram. Besides priming themselves for a fight, the supporters have resorted to other tactics, such as releasing booklets highlighting “corruption in the judicial system”.