Rampal charged with murder, taken to Hisar for probe
By Jaideep Sarin
Chandigarh, Nov 20 (IANS) Controversial sect leader Rampal finally appeared before the court Thursday and was sent to judicial custody after he and his close aides were charged with murder.
Haryana Police, which flushed him out late Wednesday from his ashram in Hisar district, slapped two cases of murder on Rampal and his aides for the six deaths caused in the stand off with security forces this week.
He was taken to Hisar by police for investigation, and was lodged in the Hisar Central Jail.
Security forces also searched the 12-acre ashram to recover weapons used by his supporters while resisting police action.
Refusing to accept Rampal’s plea that he could not appear in the court as his followers kept him captive, the Punjab and Haryana High Court directed that he be produced before the court Nov 28 when a contempt case against him will be heard.
Justice M. Jeyapaul and Justice Darshan Singh directed Haryana Director General of Police S.N. Vashisht to file a comprehensive affidavit on the massive, 10-day operation conducted to arrest Rampal.
The court sought a report on the nature of resistance offered by Rampal’s followers, casualties and injuries, and recovery of arms from his ashram, amicus curiae Anupam Gupta told the media.
Police were told to detail the expenditure incurred on arresting Rampal, a self-styled godman who has tens of thousands of followers in northern and central India.
The Haryana chief secretary was told to give a report on the properties owned by Rampal, a former junior engineer in Haryana.
Rampal was finally arrested Wednesday night from his Satlok Ashram near Barwala town, about 210 km from Chandigarh. He was brought to Panchkula by a large posse of policemen.
He was taken to the high court in connection with a contempt of court case. Earlier, the high court cancelled his bail in a 2006 murder case and sent him to judicial custody.
Six people – five women and an infant – died during the stand-off. Clashes between Rampal devotees and security forces injured nearly 300 people.
Vashisht said Rampal was sent to Hisar under judicial security.
He faces fresh cases of murder, sedition, attempt to murder, rioting and illegal detention and charges under the Arms Act.
Baljit, the second-in-command to Rampal, was also arrested. So was Rampal’s daughter Babita. Police seized a laptop, 17 mobile phones and three diaries from her.
Vashisht said 459 people from the ashram have been arrested. “They include 118 from Rajasthan, 116 from Haryana, 72 from Madhya Pradesh and others.”
On Thursday, the ashram was vacated after the last of about 4,000 Rampal followers left it, some still devotedly loyal to the man they saw as a divine incarnation and others claiming they were forced to remain in the ashram against their will.
After his bail was cancelled, Rampal was taken from the Sector 6 General Hospital, where he was admitted earlier, to the Sector 5 police station in Panchkula and put behind bars.
Rampal claimed he was innocent. “All the charges against me are baseless… The deaths were unfortunate. I am not responsible for these,” he told journalists.
Disappointment writ large on his face, Rampal stood in the lock-up holding the iron bars, occasionally looking down.
The court issued non-bailable warrants against Rampal Nov 17 and directed that he be presented by Friday.
B.K. Bansal, a doctor at the Panchkula hospital, said Rampal was medically stable.
Nearly 15,000 followers left the ashram Wednesday and were taken by police to the railway station and the bus stand, a police officer told IANS.
Rampal supporters indulged in vandalism in a Hisar court in July when he was going there regarding a 2006 murder case. The high court took suo motu cognizance of that and summoned Rampal. This led to the latest unrest.