A days-long stand-off between Indian police and a controversial guru wanted for questioning over a murder charge ended tonight with his arrest at his fortified compound – amid a mist of tear gas, flaming vehicles and violence that left at least six people dead.
The 63-year-old Sant Rampal was detained after thousands of devotees streamed out of the ashram (a spiritual hermitage) in Hisar, about 110 miles from Delhi, following clashes between his supporters and police in which nearly 200 people were injured.
The authorities want to speak to the guru about the death of one person during fighting between his supporters and another group in 2006. Rampal and 38 others were charged with murder and other offences over the incident, but he was freed on bail. This was cancelled after his followers entered a courtroom and threatened lawyers in July.
Rampal had ignored dozens of orders to appear in court and took refuge inside the compound along with up to 15,000 people, according to local media reports.
Jawahar Yadav, a Haryana state government spokesman, said Rampal was arrested and taken away in an ambulance. The self-styled guru will undergo a medical examination and will then be taken to Chandigarh, the state capital, where he was due to appear before a court tomorrow.
The ashram was damaged during repeated attempts by police to try to enter the compound.
On Tuesday, devotees armed with stones and clubs had defied police, who fired rounds of tear gas into the complex. At one point, police had to break through a human chain of supporters seeking to protect their spiritual leader. Local reports said that hundreds of people had been arrested by police.
Before his arrest, supporters handed over the bodies of four women believed to have died inside the compound during the clashes on Tuesday. A woman and an 18-month-old child also died in hospital after leaving the complex. The circumstances of the deaths were not clear. Autopsies were being conducted as police continued their investigation.
Despite the devotion shown by some, many of those that escaped said that they had been held against their will, some of them for days.
“They closed and locked the gates inside the compound and would not let us out,” Birender Satya told the Associated Press. He said he had travelled from central India with his mother to listen to Rampal’s preaching.
A senior police officer, Shriniwas Vashist, told Reuters: “The godman was using his devotees as a human shield.”
The full circumstances of Rampal’s arrest were unclear.
Speaking before he was detained, Mr Vashist said: “We are trying to restrain the use of force because we know that many followers are being compelled to fight by Rampal.
“They know that we will not allow innocent women and children to be caught in the crossfire and they are taking advantage of that.”
A court order was issued last week seeking his detention with the judge setting a date of Monday for the arrest.
Authorities tried to flush out Rampal by cutting off electricity and water to the compound.
Gurus and Hindu holy men are immensely popular in India, with millions of followers. People often consult gurus before taking important personal decisions.
Rampal’s supporters have repeatedly stated that he is too ill to make the 155-mile journey from his ashram in Haryana’s Hisar district to the court in Chandigarh. They had also claimed he was not in the ashram, but was receiving medical treatment at an undisclosed location.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies