Rampal: Controversial Indian guru remanded in custody

Controversial religious leader Sant Rampal stands by the door of a police van as he is brought to a court, surrounded by police personnel in Chandigarh, India, Thursday, Nov. 20, 2014. Image copyright AP
Image caption Rampal was arrested late Wednesday night and produced in court on Thursday

Controversial Indian guru Rampal, who was arrested on Wednesday night after a week-long stand-off at his ashram in Haryana state, has been remanded in custody until 28 November.

The self-styled guru is wanted in connection with a 2006 murder case and for contempt of court.

He was arrested a day after his supporters fought a pitched battle with the police at his ashram.

At least six people died during the stand-off, police said.

The bodies of four women and a child were found at the site on Wednesday.

A fifth woman, aged 20, died at a local hospital after leaving the ashram. The causes of their deaths are being investigated. Police say the bodies did not "bear any injuries".

The 63-year-old guru, who is facing charges of waging war against the nation, told reporters on Thursday that he "regretted" the deaths, but denied police allegations that he had used his followers as human shields during clashes.

"I did not use them (as shields). They were acting on their own," he said.

The guru also denied all the charges against him saying "I am innocent, all the charges against me are baseless".

After being led out of his fortress-like complex in an ambulance late on Wednesday, the guru was taken for a medical examination.

Before arresting Rampal, the police managed to evacuate more than 16,000 followers from the ashram and sent them home in buses and trains.

"There could still be between 3,000 and 4,000 people inside the complex," local police official Satender Kumar Gupta told reporters after the guru's arrest.

Police accused his armed devotees of holding people hostage, and using women and children as human shields.

One man said the private securitymen - who were known as "commandos" - had threatened the people inside the ashram and refused to let them leave during Tuesday's bloody clashes.

"We were separated from our families so that we couldn't leave. They also used coercion to make us attack the [police] forces and said they would shoot us if we didn't throw stones to protect the guru," Ram Kumar, a follower, told The Indian Express newspaper.

More than 200 people were injured in the clashes - police fired tear gas and water cannon, and used bulldozers to try to break into the sprawling complex, while ashram members threw stones and other missiles and opened fire.

At least 270 people have been arrested in connection with the violence and charged with rioting, illegal detention, attempt to murder and waging war against the state.

Who is Rampal?

Image copyright AFP

Rampal is accused of involvement in a murder case dating from 2006 in which a man died in a clash at another of his ashrams.

He denied the allegations and was released on bail. The authorities ordered his arrest on contempt charges after he repeatedly failed to appear in court.

The Punjab and Haryana High Court had set a final deadline for Rampal to appear in court on Monday in the contempt case.

Rampal ignored the summons and his lawyers said he was too ill to make the 250km (155-mile) journey to the court in Chandigarh, which serves as the capital of both states.

The judges criticised the government, saying they "lacked the will" to arrest the guru and said he must be in court by Friday.

Many people visit the guru, believing he can cure illnesses.

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