1 killed, 46 hurt as ashram followers, youths clash
Tribune News Service
Karontha (Rohtak), July 12
One person was killed and more than 46 were injured when followers of Satlok Ashram, located on the outskirts of this village, fired at a mob comprising mainly youths of nearby villages around noon today. There was also a heavy exchange of brickbats.
The deceased has been identified as Sonu of Baghpur village in Jhajjar district. He was hit by a bullet in the neck.
Trouble began when a panchayat of 27 villages of the area was meeting at Dighal village near here this morning to finalise their strategy to get the ashram vacated. The panchayat leaders had met Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda on Sunday at Bahadurgarh and demanded that the ashram be wound up in three days.
However, even as the elders were trying to convince angry youths not to precipitate the matter, about 1000 youngmen, armed with sticks, left the panchayat and tried to gherao the ashram, where more than 500 followers of controversial preacher Rampal have been camping for the past several days.
As the mob approached the ashram, the preacherís followers, armed with guns and other firearms, began firing at the mob indiscriminately. They also pelted brickbats. Since the followers of the preacher were at a height, the youths became sitting ducks.
The villagers removed the injured to the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Sciences (PGIMS) at Rohtak.
The police resorted to a lathicharge to disperse the youths who had surrounded the ashram. When this did not work, the police also fired teargas shells and pressed water cannons into service. The mob later withdrew from there to some distance but the situation was still tense.
Deputy Commissioner R.S. Doon said Section 144 Cr PC had been imposed. He said police from the nearby districts had also been summoned here to ward off escalation of trouble. Paramilitary forces had also been alerted. He said if the mob did not leave, curfew would be imposed.
Mr Doon said the ashram property had been attached under Section 145 Cr PC, which meant that the government would take over the property and get it vacated because it threatened peace in the area.
The Rohtak and Jhajjar police have surrounded the ashram but the authorities were still trying to convince the ashram followers to vacate it and the mob outside to go back to their villages. Mediapersons were not allowed to go towards the ashram by the police.
The preacher has earned the wrath of the people of this area because of his controversial views on Arya Samaj. The entire belt is a stronghold of the Samaj and residents of nearby villages have been demanding the ashramís closure for several years.
Fresh trouble arose on July 8 when the preacherís followers blocked traffic on both sides of the ashram, demanding release of two persons detained by the Jhajjar police in connection with a criminal case registered against nine supporters of the preacher on June 7 last.
It is learnt that a disciple of the preacher had left his mentor about a year ago and founded his own ashram near Ambala. He originally came from the rival ashram in Chhudani village.
This disciple had written a book criticising the preacher. A group of supporters of the preacher led by a woman had gone to Chhudani looking for the former disciple who was not there at that time. A scuffle followed, following which the police registered a case.
The woman had also lodged a complaint which was allegedly not entertained by the police.
In retaliation to the blockade, residents of nearby villages blocked all approaches to the ashram on Sunday. The ashram men lifted their blockade yesterday but the villagers did not allow those stranded inside the ashram to go.
Power and water supply to the ashram had been cut off several days ago