BARWALA, India (AFP) – Police discovered five bodies on Wednesday after storming the ashram of a wanted guru in northern India and another of the man’s followers died in hospital, an officer said.
Director general of police SN Vashisht said the bodies of four women were found at the sprawling compound but it was unclear how they died, while an 18-month-old child appeared to have died of natural causes.
Another woman apparently suffering from a heart condition also died after being taken to hospital, Vashisht told reporters.
“All dead bodies have been sent to the hospital where they will undergo a postmortem to ascertain the exact cause of their deaths,” he said.
Police stepped up their search Wednesday for the 63-year-old guru, Rampal Maharaj, whom they believe is still holed up inside the compound spread over 4.8 hectares (12 acres).
Police on Tuesday stormed the ashram, which has been guarded by hundreds of followers for days after a court ordered their leader arrested on murder and other charges.
Police fired water canon and tear gas and baton-charged the supporters who were armed with stones, petrol bombs and other weapons, television footage showed.
Overnight Tuesday, followers poured out of the ashram with some of them saying they had been held inside against their will.
“What started as a trickle hasn’t yet stopped and we have dropped off around 10,000 people at nearby bus and train stations,” assistant police superintendent Jashandeep Singh said of the followers.
Police said they were checking those leaving the ashram in case Rampal, who considers himself an incarnation of the 15th-Century mystic poet Kabir, was hiding in the crowd. “The people who left the ashram mostly said that they were being held against their will, as a shield for the guru against any police action,” Singh told AFP from outside the ashram in Barwala town.
Police are seeking Rampal’s arrest after he repeatedly refused court orders to appear to answer charges including conspiracy to murder, inciting mobs and contempt of court.
India has been rocked by several scandals involving immensely popular “godmen”, mostly Hindu ascetics who claim to possess mystical powers. Last year one was charged with sexually assaulting a schoolgirl.
For many Indians, gurus play an integral role in daily life. They say they offer a pathway to enlightenment in return for spiritual devotion and often give donations to ashrams, temples and charity projects.