Hundreds of armed supporters of a controversial guru clashed Tuesday with baton-wielding riot police who tried to storm his fortified ashram and arrest him in northern India, officers said. Police fired tear gas and water cannon at devotees of the self-styled “godman” who have spent days guarding the sprawling compound outside Hisar city, 175 kilometres (108 miles) north of New Delhi.
More than 100 officers have suffered bullet and other injuries at the compound in Haryana state where supporters of 63-year-old Rampal Maharaj are accused of using women and children as human shields. “We had prior information that they had stones, petrol bombs, weapons, batons and sticks and acid pouches,” director-general of police SN Vashisht told reporters in the nearby city of Chandigarh.
“The police tried to break down the wall of the ashram today because we believe that the people who are inside are not really supporters but are being used as human shields. “We will not stop until we catch this criminal,” he added. Maharaj has repeatedly defied court orders to appear to answer charges including conspiracy to murder, inciting mobs and contempt of court, according to local media reports. Television footage showed chaotic scenes, with police armed with sticks dragging away supporters, including women, and bulldozers driving towards the ashram’s high outer walls.