Police arrest guru ending India standoff

AP News
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Posted: Nov 19, 2014 9:31 PM
Police arrest guru ending India standoff

NEW DELHI (AP) — Indian police have arrested a controversial religious leader at his sprawling ashram in the northern part of the country, ending a days-long standoff in which six people died and hundreds were injured.

Jawahar Yadav, a Haryana state government spokesman, said police had arrested Sant Rampal and taken him away in an ambulance.

No violence or confrontation took place between his supporters and the police at the time of his arrest, Yadav told reporters.

Nearly 15,000 of his supporters were evacuated from the ashram before he was taken into custody, Yadav said.

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

The 63-year-old Hindu guru is wanted for questioning in a 2006 murder case, but has repeatedly ignored orders to appear in court.

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

More than 400 people have been arrested after Tuesday's violence, Yadav said.

Riot police tried to storm the ashram in Haryana state on Tuesday, but Rampal's followers, some of them using guns, rocks and batons, fought them off, authorities said. About 200 people were injured, including security forces.

On Wednesday, the guru's followers handed over to police the bodies of four women who apparently died inside the 12-acre (5-hectare) complex, about 175 kilometers (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.

The circumstances of the deaths were not clear and autopsies 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, said many of the thousands of people holed up with Rampal were held against their will or were used as human shields to prevent police action.

"They know that we will not allow innocent women and children to be caught in the crossfire and they are taking advantage of that," Vashisht said.

Authorities earlier tried to flush out Rampal by cutting off electricity and water to the compound. Thousands of people began streaming out of the ashram Wednesday, and many said armed followers of the guru had prevented them from leaving earlier.

"They closed and locked the gates inside the compound and would not let us out," said Birender Satya, who had traveled from central India with his mother to listen to Rampal's preaching.

Rampal and 38 others have been charged with murder and other offenses after a clash between his supporters and another group killed one person in July 2006. He was freed on bail, which was canceled after his followers entered a courtroom and threatened lawyers in July.

Since 2010, 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, which he ignored.

His supporters said he was too ill to make the 250-kilometer (155-mile) journey from his ashram to the court in the state capital, Chandigarh.