Above: Convicted of murder, Rampal faces trial in multiple other cases including sedition/Photo: UNI
Haryana government has deployed more than 4,000 police personnel in Hisar as Sant Rampal, found guilty of murder and forgery by a district judge, awaits sentencing
By Vipin Pubby in Chandigarh
There is no shortage of babas, saints and assorted godmen in Haryana but for quite a few of them, jail seems to be the preferred destination. The state faces another Ram Rahim moment as a Hisar court convicted self-styled godman Sant Rampal in multiple cases of murder and forgery. The court of Additional District and Sessions judge DR Chalia pronounced the verdict following final arguments on October 10. The quantum of sentence will be announced next week.
Apprehending mob violence of the scale that broke out in several districts of the state in August last year after Ram Rahim of the Dera Sacha Sauda sect was sent to jail by a Rohtak district judge, the administration has deployed more than 4,000 police personnel, besides paramilitary troops, in Hisar and surrounding areas. The state police, which had been at the receiving end during an earlier 2014 siege of Rampal’s ashram and later while dealing with the Jat agitation did not want to take any chances. Rampal, who has a huge fan following, is currently lodged in Hisar’s Central Jail-2. A special court was set up inside the jail premises to pronounce the judgment via video conference. Prohibitory orders under Section 144, CrPC, were also enforced to ensure that his supporters do not sneak into town and gather around the court premises.
Authorities at the ashram run by Rampal declared that they would challenge the verdict and called it an “injustice”. The media in-charge at the ashram, Chand Rathee, said: “First, we lost followers of our sect and now we have been punished for their death… no one among the followers was a hostage. They were staying in Satlok ashram as per their own wish. The followers had even given affidavits in this regard.”
Back in 2014, just a few months into office, the BJP government in the state led by Manohar Lal Khattar, a close aide of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, faced its first acid test in dealing with law and order problems, which it failed miserably, and repeated the performance in a series of similar tests in subsequent years. The first test was from a rather unexpected quarter. The little-known godman, in the land of several famous faces of his ilk, openly defied the orders of the state government as well as the Punjab & Haryana High Court. Sant Rampal, who was wanted in connection with several cases, was summoned by the Punjab & Haryana High Court in connection with certain murder cases. He, however, ignored the summons multiple times on one ground or another. Finally, the High Court issued non-bailable warrants against him and directed the police to ensure his presence in the Court.
When the police moved to arrest him, they found that thousands of his followers had barricaded the Satlok ashram spread over well-fortified 12 acres of land near Barwala town of Hisar district. Several hundred followers were confined inside the ashram. The stand-off continued for two weeks as Rampal dug in his heels and refused to receive the summons.
Rampal, who heads a sect that worships the 15th century poet and mystic, Kabir, known for a message of tolerance followed by people of varied faiths, holed himself up in the ashram as thousands of his followers gathered outside and prevented the security forces from entering the ashram. Subsequently, the police forced its way inside and arrested him and 27 of his followers. The two-week stand-off saw firing from inside the ashram and attacks on security forces trying to enter the premises. Several persons, including security personnel, were injured.
Those arrested were produced before the Punjab & Haryana High Court which sent them to jail. They were charged with murder and wrongful confinement after four women and a child were found dead in the Satlok ashram on November 19, 2014.
A case under Section 302 (murder), 343 (wrongful confinement) and 120-B (conspiracy) of the IPC was registered against Rampal and some of his followers. Another case on similar grounds was registered after a fifth woman found in a serious condition inside the ashram died in a local hospital. It was later learnt that the dead included sick inmates who were not allowed to step outside the ashram to seek medical assistance. A total of 80 witnesses, including doctors who conducted the post-mortem on the victims, deposed during the trial.
Six FIRs were lodged against Rampal after the stand-off. In two FIRs related to wrongful confinement and obstruction of duty of police, he was acquitted by the court in August last year. Trial in two more FIRs lodged against Rampal is still pending. One was lodged under sedition laws while the other was in connection with various offences, like the alleged setting up of a dispensary inside the ashram without permission.
The self-styled godman is likely to be in jail for the long haul.