M A I N   N E W S

Police crack down on ashram; Rampal elusive
Over 150 injured as violent clashes erupt
Sect head booked for sedition
Operation on to arrest him
Deepender Deswal/Geetanjali Gayatri
Tribune News Service

Barwala (Hisar)/Chandigarh, November 18
A fierce battle broke out between the Haryana Police and followers of Kabirpanthi Sect head Rampal as the police launched an operation to arrest the “godman” facing murder charge at Satlok Ashram, near Barwala, today.

More than 150 persons, including policemen, ashram followers and mediapersons, were injured as pitched battles raged for over three hours. The police, however, could not arrest Rampal. “He has been booked under sedition charges (IPC Section 124 A),” said Hisar SP Satyender Gupta.

Well past midnight, long queues of Rampal’s followers were seen outside the ashram. The police said the followers were first frisked and then taken to the railway station and bus stands. Earlier, the police used teargas shells, water cannons besides resorting to cane-charge to disperse Rampal’s supporters, who allegedly retaliated with gunfire, Molotov cocktails, stones and even acid, forcing the security personnel to retreat.

Haryana Director General of Police SN Vashisht claimed the police decided to storm the ashram after exercising “tremendous restraint” given that Rampal was using women and children as a human shield.

He said scores of people were being held hostage inside the ashram. They were not being allowed to leave despite the administration asking them to vacate the premises by Rampal’s “commandos”. “We received calls of people desperate to leave the ashram. On verification, we found the calls had been made by ‘devotees’ who were being prevented from leaving the ashram,” Vashisht said. Two FIRs had been registered against Rampal and his supporters.

A police contingent led by two Deputy Superintendents of Police began the charge 500 metres from the ashram around 12 pm. The senior officers, including Inspector General of Police Anil Kumar Rao and SP Gupta, Ashiwn Sainvi and Parul Kush Jain, were present near the ashram.

As the force closed in, some followers doused themselves with kerosene and threatened to set themselves ablaze. The police lobbed tear-gas shells at the followers, who retaliated by opening fire.

The police raided the ashram simultaneously from three sides by bulldozing its way through a 20-foot-wall using a JCB machine. As they forced their way inside, they had to retreat after finding an LPG dump inside the ashram. A JCB machine was later set on fire after it was hit by a Molotov cocktail lobbed by ashram followers. At the gate, Rampal’s private guards attacked the police with gunfire, stones and Molotov cocktails. During the operation, the police targeted around 30 mediapersons covering the incident.

The police apparently got upset over the media coverage of the clash. “Our entire focus was to minimise casualties and the biggest challenge was to remove the women and children first. There have been no deaths in the operation so far and we have razed walls to gain entry into the ashram. At least 105 policemen were injured in the operation. Nine of them suffered gunshot injuries,” said Vashisht.

“We began by snapping water and power supplies to the ashram. Amid firing from inside the ashram, women and children were moved to safety in at least 10 buses. While we gained entry into the ashram, the operation was halted to enable the devotees to leave. This operation will continue till Rampal is arrested,” he said.

The police have registered two FIRs — one pertaining to self-immolation bid by 50 youths and the other against the ashram head for “illegal confinement” of devotees.

A third FIR will be registered against Rampal for the violence and injuries to people, he said. “Ex-servicemen and former police officers have helped followers accumulate weapons in the ashram,” the DGP said. On police attack on mediapersons, Vashisht said: “If there was any error, we will investigate once the operation is over. We will hold an independent inquiry.” Principal Secretary to CM Sanjeev Kaushal said the police exercised restraint to ensure the safety of people.

Countdown to clashes

July 2006
Clash between Rampal’s followers and Arya Samaj supporters over shifting of Karontha’s Satlok Ashram results in death of a person. Rampal is charged with murder and arrested. HC Bench grants him bail.

July 2014
Rampal’s followers prevent lawyers from entering Hisar court. On Bar Association’s complaint, HC proceeds against Rampal. In August, the HC directs Rampal to appear before it.

november 5
Non-bailable warrants issued by HC against Rampal and his aide Dhaka for failure to appear in court. Police fail to arrest sect head. Devotees throng Satlok Ashram in Barwala for Nov 6 satsang.

november 10
HC issues fresh warrants against Rampal and Dhaka. Tells the state government to produce the duo by November 17. Rampal’s private securitymen guard the ashram.

november 17
High Court gives the police time till November 21 to produce Rampal. His aide Dhaka appears in court, cites sect head’s illness for absence. Officials snap water and power supply to the ashram.

november 18
Police storm ashram to arrest Rampal. Violent clashes erupt as godman’s supporters attack the police with petrol bombs. Despite massive use of force, the police fail to arrest Rampal.

The state government has not been able to responsibly resolve the Rampal issue. The police should have exercised restraint as the mediapersons were only doing their duty and not siding with anyone.
Bhupinder Singh Hooda, former cm

The state machinery failed to execute the orders of the Punjab and Haryana High Court. However, more condemnable was the attack by the police on mediapersons, who were doing their duty.
RS Choudhary, inld general secretary

The delayed operations to arrest Rampal have exposed the inexperience and immaturity of the Khattar government. The unprovoked attack on the mediapersons has brought the brutal face of the Haryana police to the fore.
Rajeev Godara, aap’s haryana chief spokesman

Our entire focus was to minimise casualties... This operation will continue till Rampal is arrested and the court’s directive implemented.
SN Vashisht, dgp





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