Six persons, including a self-styled preacher, were found dead in a house at Kotla Mehar Singh Wala village in Punjab’s Moga district on Thursday morning. Police suspect the preacher murdered five, believed to be his followers, before killing himself. Two of those killed were women.
Police officials said preacher Harinder Pal Singh — in his 70s — possibly first poisoned the victims and then slit their throats. The victims were identified as Sandeep Kaur (20); her cousin Rajpal Kaur (23); Harpal Singh (20), a priest at the local gurdwara; Dharminder Singh (18) and Akashdeep Singh (15). Sandeep Kaur is the daughter of the house owner Bachint Singh.
Police found empty bottles of sulphas tablets in the house. Some pills lay scattered in the room where the bodies were found. Five of the victims had froth in the mouth and bore injuries caused by a sharp-edged weapon, police said. The preacher’s body had no injury marks but his kurta had blood stains, they added.
“The scene indicates that the preacher must have first poisoned his followers and later slit their throats. After killing the five, he consumed poison. A case of murder has been lodged against Harinder Pal Singh and investigations are on to find out further details,” said Moga SSP Jatinder Singh Khera.
Harinder Pal Singh had a following in the village and periodically performed rituals here, family members of the victims said. According to Baldev Singh, Sandeep Kaur’s brother, Harinder gathered the victims at Bachint’s house to perform a Sukhmani Sahib Path (religious ceremony). He reportedly told other family members not to disturb them till 4.30 am.
“Babaji often used to come to our house. A room had, in fact, been dedicated to him. Last night, he came around 11 pm as six of them were to do the Sukhmani Sahib Path. We were all lying in the open verandah due to the hot weather, but Babaji bluntly told us to go inside. He even told us that we should stay away from the room,” Baldev said.
In the morning, they woke up to find Harinder’s body lying in the verandah while those of the remaining five were found inside the room along with their religious books.
Village sarpanch Jhirmil Singh said no one knew the preacher’s antecedents. “He had come to our village about 12 years ago. Members of the SC community, who are about 1,500 in number, are his followers. He stayed in the gurdwara meant for this community outside the village and used to visit their houses. We had never heard anything bad about him,” he said.
Some villagers refused to blame the preacher. “Babaji often used to leave his body for 2-3 days but would come back. He always did things for our welfare,” said Bachint Singh, father of Sandeep Kaur. He refused to believe the police version of events.