A day after a child died under mysterious circumstances in a Chhindwara gurukul run by the Asaram Bapu ashram, a five-year-old boy was found dead in similar conditions at the same school today, triggering protests by local residents who demanded the closure of the gurukul and the arrest of the sect leader.
The back-to-back incidents come close on the heels of the discovery of bodies of two boys of the sect’s Ahmedabad gurukul which triggered violence, bandhs and forced the Gujarat government to order a probe.
Vedang Manmode, a 5-year-old from Pune who had joined the gurukul on Parasia Road in Chhindwara only a month ago, was found lying in a bathroom around 6 pm by an 11-year-old. He was taken to hospital but was declared dead-on-arrival. A day earlier, four-and-half-year-old Ramkrishna Yadav from Mumbai was found dead in almost identical conditions — he too was found lying on the bathroom floor and declared dead-on-arrival at the hospital.
In both cases, there were no external marks on the bodies. In Ramkrishna’s case, the police had virtually given the ashram a clean chit, saying the post-mortem report did not pinpoint the cause of death. Since the report was inconclusive, the viscera was being sent to the Forensic Science Laboratory in Sagar.
But DIG (Chhindwara) K Vaifai told The Indian Express that the two deaths in succession had raised doubts and the police would question every employee of the ashram. He said over 400 villagers had gathered outside the ashram, demanding its immediate closure. Tyres were burnt and stones pelted as news of the second death spread.
Collector Nikunj Shrivastava said a magisterial inquiry had been ordered into the incident. He said it was too early to comment on the cause of death. He said the administration would ensure the safety of the remaining children. More than 370 students study at the Chhindwara gurukul.
Vedang’s parents could not be traced in Pune. The family home in Sadashiv Peth in the city was locked. Neighbours said Vedang’s father Krishna Waman Manmode had left the house with his wife and daughter Vedika around 7.30 pm without telling anyone where they were headed. According to the neighbours, the Manmodes had moved into Vishnu Apartments last February.
The Asaram Bapu ashram is named after its founder who settled in Ahmedabad after Partition. It has grown into one of the country’s largest, wealthiest spiritual abodes over the years — with properties worth several hundred crores, 111 campuses within India and nearly 1200 meditation centres worldwide.
In Ahmedabad earlier this month, the bodies of two boys, Dipesh Vaghela and Abhishek Vaghela, wards of the gurukul, were found on the Sabarmati riverbed. The bodies were mutilated, internal organs missing in one. Parents of the boys alleged foul play and allegations of a shoddy police probe led to widespread protests. The Gujarat government asked Justice D K Trivedi, a retired High Court judge, to probe the deaths. The inquiry commission will submit its report within three months.
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