Scribes stopped from entering Asaram Bapu’s ashram

July 19th, 2008 - 4:15 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Narendra Modi

Ahmedabad, July 19 (IANS) About 22 journalists were detained Saturday by the police when they took out a rally from Sabarmati police station to spiritual guru Asaram Bapu’s ashram at Motera here to protest against Friday’s incident in which scribes were assaulted while covering clashes following the mysterious deaths of two boys. Over 500 scribes carrying placards like “The freedom of press is immortal”, “Journalists condemn the attack on fourth estate”, and “Stop gagging the press” proceeded from Sabarmati police station at 11 a.m. to hand over a memorandum to Asaram Bapu ashram authorities over the “goondaism” let loose Friday by his followers.

However a strong police cordon near the ashram stopped the scribes from entering it. There was a scuffle and angry verbal altercation with the policemen, who then took 22 journalists to Sabarmati police station. They were later let off.

On Friday, a protest over the mysterious deaths of two boys studying in a school run by the Asaram Bapu ashram had turned violent with angry people attacking media persons and setting fire to vehicles and even homes.

The journalists are accusing the police of negligence as they stood mutely by when scribes were beaten up by the guru’s followers Friday. Scribes are also unhappy for the failure of the police to arrest those who had let loose a reign of terror which resulted in nearly 100 scribes being injured. Gopi Maniyal of the news channel Aaj Tak was seriously hurt.

The camera and video cameras of many photographers and TV journalists were broken and a few were lost.

In another violent incident, a youth was attacked Saturday afternoon near the ashram by some persons said to be from the ashram. He has been taken to a hospital nearby.

The police Saturday filed cases against a group of 600 people who had come from Chandkheda area near Sabarmati for Friday’s incident.

The residents of Nirnaynagar neighbourhood took out a rally calling for the resignation of Chief Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah. The family of one of the ashram students who died, Dipesh, lives there.

Jayantibhai, a resident of Nirnaynagar, said: “It is regrettable that there is no reaction from the BJP government over Friday’s attack by the ashramites. Two boys - Monu and Ranjit - were injured in Friday’s violence and one boy Vijay is still missing.”

“Praful Vaghela (Dipesh’s father) is fasting and his health is deteriorating. Justice will certainly be done and it will be done through the efforts of ‘janata’ (people),” he said.

The two boys were studying in Asaram Bapu’s school and went missing on July 4. Their bodies were recovered from the Sabarmati river bed on July 5 morning.

Praful Vaghela has alleged that the two boys were killed and thrown into the river after a ritual at the ashram. The police have not searched a cellar in the ashram which is studiously guarded by white-robed men, he alleged, adding that the police were trying to hush up the case with its shoddy investigation.

The situation turned out of control Friday when members of the ashram came in busloads challenging the protesters. Then the ashram supporters attacked media persons.

Nirnaynagar, where Dipesh’s home is located, was the epicentre of the violence. Police had to use canes on protesters to disperse them, leaving many injured, some seriously.

On Friday morning, Asaram Bapu faced one of the most embarrassing moments of his life when he went to the house of Dipesh’s father Praful Vaghela. He had to flee within a few minutes after protesters booed him away and a menacing mob began surrounding his car, threatening his safety.

Vaghela, who has been observing a ‘maun vrat’, or vow of silence, for the last four days ordered everything that Asaram Bapu had touched in the house to be burnt. Even the wooden mat on which the godman sat was set ablaze.

The other dead boy is the son of his brother Shantilal Vaghela.

Asaram Bapu has denied the accusations against his ashram and said he would cooperate with the police.

The Asaram Bapu ashram located near the banks of river Sabarmati is visited by his devotees for prayers, yoga and meditation. The Bapu, fondly called by his devotees as Sant Sri Asaramji, had set up the first of his many ashrams, numbering more than 200 worldwide, here in 1971. There is a special centre for women too at the place.

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