In November 2014, when Rampal Dass locked inside his 12-acre ashram in Haryana and tens of thousands of his followers, which were armed with stones and clubs- fought off an army of police and paramilitary personnel from arresting him.
After a week-long stand-off and the deaths of six people women and children who made up his human shield — at the Satlok Ashram in Barwala, police nabbed Rampal on an arrest warrant issued for repeatedly ignoring the court summons.
The episode triggered new cases against the so-called godman, including for murder, attempted murder, sedition, rioting and illegal detention.
A court in Hisar is expected to deliver its verdict in two of the cases on Tuesday.
Before turning a spiritual guru, Rampal, now 66, was an engineer with Haryana’s irrigation department.
Rampal was born to a farmer at a village in Sonepat district of Haryana. Breaking from the traditional occupation, he did a diploma from the Industrial Training Institute (ITI) in Nilokheri, Karnal.
He grew popular after touring Haryana as a bhajan singer and then drew on his following within the Kabir sect to set up his Satlok Ashram (religious center) in 1999.
Rampal lived with his wife and two married sons — the couple had four children in total —in Shastri Nagar, Rohtak, at the time of his ‘renunciation’. Eventually, all of his children moved in with him at the ashram.
His website says that Rampal left his “job after having worked for 18 years so that the people could be shown the true path”.
A key aspect to his preaching is the criticism of beliefs held by other faiths. He would question the origin and ancestry of gods and the popular interpretations of Hindu scriptures and, according to his website jagatgururampalji.org, he believed “our race is a living being, mankind is our religion, Hindu, Muslim, Sikh Christian, there is no separate religion.” He glorifies Kabir as the Supreme God, though other Kabir Panthis describe Kabir more as a pragmatic social reformer.
A report quoted Rampal’s followers as saying that he regularly bathed in milk, which was then used to make ‘kheer’, a sweet rice pudding that they believed could cure illnesses.
Run-ins with law
Rampal first ran into trouble for derogatory remarks against Arya Samaj. In 2006, he and his followers had violent clashes with supporters of the Arya Samaj. The trigger was Rampal’s criticism of the Satyarth Prakash, written by Samaj’s founder Swami Dayanand Saraswati.
The clash claimed the life of a 20-year-old man and Rampal was arrested along with 38 of his followers on murder charges. Released on bail in 2008, he set up another dera in Barwala, Hisar.
Three years after the violence, Rampal’s supporters still put up a show of strength during court hearings by gathering in thousands, convening in tents and distributing sweets.