Satguru Rampalji Maharaj, an Indian religious leader who was at the center of days of clashes between his supporters and local police in the northern state of Haryana, was charged with murder on Thursday for the death of six people, local media reports said. Rampal will reportedly be detained until Nov. 28, and will be questioned by police.
Fresh charges of murder and violence were filed against Rampal after his followers clashed with riot police who attempted to enter his hermitage, locally known as an ashram, after a non-bailable arrest warrant was issued against him for failing to appear in court despite several summons. The 10-day long standoff also reportedly injured nearly 200 people. At least 270 supporters were reportedly arrested in connection with the violence, and have been charged with rioting, illegal detention and attempt to murder.
The bodies of four women and one child were handed over to authorities on Wednesday, while a fifth woman died at a local hospital, local media reports said. Rampal said Thursday that he “regretted” the deaths but denied police allegations that he had instigated the clashes and used his supporters as human shields, BBC reported.
Officials found several guns and ammunition at Rampal’s ashram on Thursday, but the exact numbers of weapons were not revealed, The Times of India, a local newspaper reported. The sprawling 12-acre facility, which can accommodate at least 50,000 people, is also equipped with a swimming pool and a medical center, First Post, a local news outlet reported.
“Rampal has been remanded and it is being investigated that from where he got the arms and ammunition. It is also being found out that where all he has links,” a lawyer said, according to a local report.
A special investigation team, led by a high-ranking police official, is searching the ashram for more evidence, and is expected to submit a report within the next two days, a local media report said.
On Wednesday, police had reportedly evacuated more than 16,000 followers from the ashram before arresting Rampal. "There could still be between 3,000 and 4,000 people inside the complex," a local police official told BBC after the 63-year-old’s arrest.
Rampal was reportedly accused of being involved in a murder case during clashes at another of his religious centers, in 2006, in which a man was killed and several others were injured. He has denied the allegations and was later released on bail.