Indian ‘guru’ seized from compound where six died

Sant Rampal is escorted from a police vehicle, surrounded by officers, following his arrest. Picture: AFP/Getty

Sant Rampal is escorted from a police vehicle, surrounded by officers, following his arrest. Picture: AFP/Getty

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INDIAN police have arrested a controversial religious leader at his sprawling base in the north of the country, ending a stand-off lasting several days in which six people died and hundreds were injured.

The government of Haryana state said police had ­detained 63-year-old Sant Rampal without violence.

The Hindu “godman” is wanted for questioning over a 2006 murder case but has ­repeatedly ignored orders to ­appear in court.

Police have also filed fresh charges against him and some of his supporters. These include sedition, murder, criminal ­conspiracy and detaining ­people illegally in his fortress.

Nearly 15,000 of his supporters were evacuated from the complex – known as an ashram – before he was taken into custody.

The self-styled guru was taken to Chandigarh, the state capital, where he is to appear before a court today.

Riot police stormed the ashram on Tuesday, but ­Mr Rampal’s followers, some of them using guns, rocks and ­batons, fought them off, the authorities said.

More than 400 people were arrested after the violence on Tuesday. About 200 were ­injured, including members of the security forces.

On Wednesday, the guru’s ­followers handed over to police the ­bodies of four women who had apparently died inside the 12-acre complex, which is about 110 miles from New Delhi.

Earlier in the day, a woman and an 18-month-old child died in a hospital after leaving the ashram.

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Officials said the circumstances of the deaths were not clear and that post-mortem examinations were being conducted.

Gurus and Hindu holy men are immensely popular in India, with millions of followers.

People often consult gurus ­before making important ­personal decisions. But the enormous power wielded by the ­self-styled holy men has led to scandals in which they have been accused of exploiting ­devotees.

Shriniwas Vashisht, director-general of police in Haryana state, said many of the ­thousands of people holed up with Mr Rampal had been held against their will or used as human shields to prevent action by ­police.

He said: “They know that we will not allow innocent women and children to be caught in the crossfire and they are taking ­advantage of that.”

Authorities earlier tried to flush out Mr Rampal by cutting off electricity and water to the ­compound.

Thousands of ­people began streaming out of the ashram on Wednesday and many said armed followers of the guru had prevented them from leaving earlier.

Birender Satya, who had travelled from central India with his mother to listen to Mr Rampal’s preaching, said: “They closed and locked the gates inside the compound and would not let us out.”

Mr Rampal and 38 others were charged with murder and other offences after a clash between his supporters and another group left one person dead in 2006.

He was freed on bail, which was cancelled after his ­followers entered a courtroom and made threats to lawyers in July.

Since 2010, Mr Rampal, a former engineer, has ignored 43 court summonses, seeking exemptions each time.

The court set a final deadline for him to appear in court on Monday of this week, which he also ignored.

His supporters claimed Mr ­Rampal was too ill to make the 155-mile journey from his ashram to the court in Chandigarh.

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