Barwala (Hisar): Clashes erupted at the ashram of controversial 'godman' Rampal here in Haryana today with police lobbing teargas shells and using lathicharge to disperse his supporters who allegedly fired back.
A number of people were injured in the violence at the Satlok Ashram in this town of Hisar district. The stand-off of several days between the authorities and Rampal's supporters took a violent turn as the Haryana government was racing against time to get hold of the 'godman' to meet the deadline of Friday set by Punjab and Haryana High Court for producing him in a contempt case.
As security personnel including police and para-military forces stepped up efforts to disperse the followers, said to be in thousands inside the Ashram, they faced stiff resistance. A senior police official said supporters of the 'godman' were firing from inside the ashram but police was exercising maximum possible restraint to minimise casualties.
A portion of the outer wall of the ashram had been razed even as thick cloud of smoke was seen inside the premises. Police also said that stones were being hurled at them from inside the Ashram as several followers and Rampal's 'private army' had pitched themselves on the rooftop of the premises.
Authorities continued to face an uphill task in dispersing 'godman' Rampal's followers from the Ashram here. Police said they were facing a hostile crowd, some of them armed, from inside, but they were using restraint to keep the casualities to the minimum.
The 63-year-old 'godman' was to appear before the High Court yesterday but he did not do so, with his counsel saying he was "unwell" and could not travel from Barwala to Chandigarh, a distance of about 270 kms. He wanted more time for his production.
The High Court then issued a fresh non-bailable warrant against him and asked the authorities to present him on Friday. Rampal has cited health reasons for not appearing before the High Court earlier on three dates - November 5, November 10.
This morning, some disciples who managed to come out from the ashram claimed that "thousands" of people were inside the premises and a vast majority of them wanted to leave immediately but were being prevented by lathi-wielding supporters of the 'godman'.
A large number of women and children, are among those who are still inside the Satlok Ashram here, they claimed. A woman follower, aged around 40, who identified herself as Kusum from Uttar Pradesh, said she somehow managed to come out from inside the ashram today. "I forced my way out. There are scores of people still inside," she said.
Another middle-aged woman follower, who came out from the ashram, said, "I am from Dadri. There are so many people still inside and vast majority of them want to leave. But they are not being allowed to leave."
When asked who was putting pressure on them to stay back, a woman follower from Aligarh told reporters that, "I forced my way out. People are facing difficulty in getting food and water. But some men carrying lathis told us to stay back and tried to prevent us from leaving. They told us that the (court) decision will soon come and everything will be alright. We persisted that we wanted to leave and then we came out in a group".
A young male follower of Rampal from Haryana, said "I was forced to stay back. Some followers of the Baba who are from other states asked us to stay inside." He said Rampal should surrender before court immediately and let the law take its own course. "Thousands of followers are still inside the ashram and a vast majority wants to leave. But they are told that they will be given food here only. But now many people are not listening and are gradually coming out," he said, adding ration supplies too are running low.
He further said that ordinary followers like him had not seen Rampal all these days.