CHANDIGARH, HISAR (TIP): Controversial godman Rampal and his close aides have been booked for murder on November 20. They have been blamed for the six deaths at Rampal’s Satlok Ashram near Barwala during the clashes with security forces. Haryana’s Director General of Police S.N. Vashisht told the media: “The murder cases relate to the six deaths at the ashram.” Vashisht said Rampal had been sent to Hisar for investigation of the fresh cases against him which include sedition, rioting, illegal detention and violation of Arms Act.
Earlier, he was sent to judicial custody till November 28 by the Punjab and Haryana High Court after days of stubborn resistance by his followers, which turned Barwala town in Haryana’s Hisar district into a virtual warzone. There was loud hooting as the godman emerged from the court after the hearing. Dressed in a shirt and track pant and wearing slippers, the godman sat through the hour-long hearings, which started earlier than scheduled. The court ordered that Rampal be immediately sent to jai as the Division Bench cancelled his bail in the 2006 murder case.
Rampal was put behind bars in Panchkula this morning after the high court cancelled the bail granted to him in April 2008 in a 2006 murder case. He was taken from a government hospital in Panchkula, where he was admitted early in the day, to the Sector 5 police station adjoining Chandigarh. Disappointment writ large on his face, Rampal stood in the lock up holding the iron bars, occasionally looking down. Before being taken to the police station, Rampal claimed that he was an innocent man. “I am innocent. All the charges against me are baseless,” he told journalists.
When asked if he sorry for the death of six people at his ashram during the Satlok Ashram standoff, he said, “I did not ask them to be there.” The 63-year-old godman was arrested on November 19 night, more than 24 hours after over 5,000 security personnel stormed his fortified ashram compound using water cannon, tear gas and batons. More than 500 devotees of Rampal, including nearly 250 members of his private army, called Baba’s Commandoes, were also arrested.
Controversial preacher Rampal’s private army was armed to the teeth with firearms and was capable of sparking a small war if it wanted to. When senior police officials finally entered Satlok Ashram in Barwala on Wednesday, they found at least a couple of almirahs stacked with revolvers, guns and ammunition. The cops came across a number of locked almirahs as well in which more firearms are believed to have been kept. From the two almirahs they opened cops found .32 bore revolvers, .315 bore rifles and 12 bore guns. The officials also found some ammunition, including several rounds for 7.62mm rifle used in self-loading rifles (SLR) and 303 rifles. The army, paramilitary forces and police used these previously but they have since migrated to 5.56mm INSAS rifles. The 7.62mm is prohibited bore for private individuals who are not allowed to own such firearms even if they have a licence.
Inside the ashram
Satlok Ashram of controversial sect leader Rampal Dass is built like a fortress, surrounded by high walls with watchtowers. “The ashram is built like a fort meant to ward off an invasion. It reminded me of the Agra fort,” said a senior police officer who was part of the Operation Samvedi (sensitive) conducted over three days to nab the “mouse”— codename for the 63-year-old engineerturned- preacher. The “fortress” saw bloody clashes Tuesday as the police tried to storm the ashram to arrest Rampal for contempt of court after he repeatedly failed to appear in the HC in a 2006 murder case.
The hall that can seat 50,000 has a special enclosure from where Rampal, who claims to be a devotee of mystic poet Kabir, delivered sermons from a hydraulic chair as his private militia stood guard. Dozens of air-conditioners and hundreds of fans can be seen. A local police officer gave the break-up: 10,000 ceiling and 1,000 exhaust fans under one roof. On the extreme left corner of the complex is a four-storey mansion Rampal lived in. A private swimming pool, state-of-the art elevators, 24 AC rooms with attached bathrooms fitted with top-of-the line fixtures, Rampal, whose followers largely come from lowincome strata, lived big.
One of the rooms had a massage bed, another treadmills as Rampal stared down from huge wall posters. Satlok Ashram’s kitchen had all the modern equipment to cater to a lakh of devotees. Huge quantities of rice, pulses, vegetables, paneer and other items are stocked up in the kitchen. A DSP-rank officer said the stock could have fed a lakh people for a month. According to the officer, during the Satsangs, Rampal’s aides used to collect food material to feed the devotees. Several Barwala residents said that vendors used to queue up in front of the ashram’s gate with huge quantities of vegetables and other food items.