“My son belonged to the Almighty and the Almighty has taken him away. I take it as my destiny. I am not interested in any probe, or even post-mortem. I don’t want to register any complaint against the ashram and I am sure it’s a conspiracy against the ashram and Bapuji. The ashram has treated my son very well. Even my daughter Vedanti is here and I am not going to take her back to Pune. And if I were to have the third child, I would have kept him or her here only.”
When Pooja Manmode was talking to mediapersons at the District Hospital in Chhindwara, where her son’s body was kept in the mortuary, she was aggressive, determined and composed—not a picture one would associate with a mother who lost her son less than 24 hours ago. Her five-year-old son Vedant was found dead under mysterious circumstances in Asaram Bapu’s gurukul, a day after another boy, Ramakrishna Yadav, was also found dead in a bathroom.
Last month, two boys of another gurukul of the same sect was found dead in Gujarat, sparking widespread protests in the state.
Her husband Krishna agreed with her. “Bapuji hasn’t even killed an ant in his life,” he said. And while giving a clean chit to the ashram, Pooja wanted a probe into the conspiracy against the ashram. Four-year-old Ramakrishna Yadav’s father Mohanlal, an advocate, too, have stood by the ashram.
But unlike the Manmodes and the Yadavs, many other parents think their children are not safe in the ashram. On Friday, scores of them took their wards away. “I called up the gurukul last evening after the news of the two deaths. I wanted to talk to my son, but they refused to let him come on the phone. I was worried, and angry too. So, I am taking him away,” said Rajendra Singh Raghuwanshi from Thakmora village. His son Rajat studies in eighth standard in the school.
“We are scared, so I am taking my son home,” said Nishikant Chaurasia from Umred village, whose 7-year old son Hariom studies in the school which has 800 students, 300 from Chhindwara and the rest from outside.
Already facing the heat after the double murders in Gujarat and the attack on the media that followed, the ashram authorities fielded the Manmodes to address the media_even before they were taken to the mortuary.
Asked why they preferred to talk to the media first, Pooja shot back, “You only caught up with us first.” Asked what were they told last evening, Pooja said, “We were told about Vedant’s death. He fell into a bucket in bathroom. We didn’t make any deep enquiry.”
Asked why they put the small kid in a school so far away from Pune when there are better educational facilities there, she said, “We found this school was the best. It gives, deeksha, shiksha and sanskar.”
In the mortuary, she broke down on seeing her child’s body as the father stood silent, holding her close.
The police registered a case of negligence against ashram manager Omprakash Prajapati and warden Manohar Jaiswal. Chhindwara Range Deputy Inspector General of Police K T Veiphei says the two could be arrested in a day or two.
“We are not ruling the possibility of a homicide. But we have nothing to base it on from the post-mortem report of Ramkrishna Yadav. It clearly says the doctors have no definite opinion about the cause of the death. There are no injury marks anywhere,” Vaiphei says. “We are not ruling out anything, including a possible conspiracy angle.”
The ashram management had told police that Vedant was found with his head immersed in a bucket of water in the bathroom. Prajapati says it’s a “conspiracy against the ashram.”
Though no poison could be traced in Yadav’s body, the viscera has been sent to the forensic lab in Jabalpur. A specialist from Bhopal was brought to perform Vedant’s autopsy. The report is awaited.
Both the boys died around same time on two consecutive days in two bathrooms adjoining each other. The bathrooms are just about five metres away from the dormitory where the boys were put up. Vaiphei says: “The prayer had started around 6 p.m.. but Vedant wasn’t there. Later, he was found dead in the bathroom… The kids don’t talk freely before the police, so we are trying other ways. We are also profiling the sadhaks.”
There were protests outside the ashram and most of the protestors belonged to the Samajwadi Party and Gondwana Gantantra Party. The BJP and the Congress, however, have preferred to wait and watch. “We met the Collector yesterday and have demanded a probe which has since been ordered. Why disturb peace? Let’s wait for the probe result,” says district BJP chief Ramesh Dube.
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