NEW DELHI – An Indian guru at the center of a deadly standoff with police was set to appear in court Friday after he was arrested at his sprawling ashram for refusing to answer murder charges.
Nearly 15,000 supporters of the 63-year-old Sant Rampal were evacuated from his compound in Haryana state before police took him away in an ambulance Wednesday. Previous attempts by riot police to enter the fortified estate, about 110 miles from New Delhi, had resulted in deaths and injuries as Rampal's followers, some of whom were armed, fought back.
The self-styled guru was taken to Chandigarh, the state capital, to appear before a court Friday.
He has repeatedly ignored orders to answer a 2006 murder charge against him. Police have filed additional charges against him and some of his supporters, including sedition, murder, criminal conspiracy and detaining people illegally in his fortress, said Jawahar Yadav, a Haryana state government spokesman.
More than 400 people have been arrested and about 200 others injured, including security forces, during the dayslong standoff.
The guru's followers on Wednesday handed over to police the bodies of four women who apparently died inside the 12-acre complex. Another woman and an 18-month-old child died in a hospital after leaving the ashram.
The circumstances of the deaths were not clear and autopsies were being conducted.
Gurus and Hindu holy men are immensely popular in India, with millions of followers. People often consult gurus before making important personal decisions. But the enormous power wielded by the self-styled holy men has led to scandals in which they have been accused of exploiting devotees.
Shriniwas Vashisht, director-general of police in Haryana, said many of the thousands of people holed up with Rampal were held against their will or were used as human shields to prevent police action.
Authorities had tried to flush out Rampal by cutting off electricity and water to the compound.
"They closed and locked the gates inside the compound and would not let us out," said Birender Satya, who had traveled from central India with his mother to listen to Rampal's preaching.
Rampal and 38 others have been charged with murder and other offenses after a clash between his supporters and another group killed one person in July 2006. He was freed on bail, which was canceled after his followers entered a courtroom and threatened lawyers in July.
Since 2010, Rampal, a former engineer, has ignored 43 court summonses, seeking exemptions each time. The court set a final deadline for him to appear in court on Monday, which he ignored.
His supporters said he was too ill to make the 155-mile journey from his ashram to the court in the state capital, Chandigarh.