Going "garhibandh" (closing the gates of your fort to resist siege by invaders) is a universal strategy. Except that it’s a medieval course of action and against the law of a modern state. Only militants and terrorists are known to do that in a modern country and ultimately the state prevails because it has to in the larger interest of its people, in national interest. And how will the Haryana state government be able to convey that except through force to the followers of Baba Rampal, the controversial sect-leader whose Satlok Ashram in Barwala, Haryana, is presently "garhibandh" against its own state police? Women and children are being forcibly used as a human shield, according to the few women who managed to escape the lathi-wielding male followers detaining them inside. Water and electricity have reportedly been cut off but the mood within is defiant thanks to a generator and a few gallons of stored water. The cult leader himself is reportedly “indisposed” and has been secreted away to an undisclosed hospital in the area.
The crux of the matter, however, is far from "religious". "Baba" Rampal, 63, former junior engineer with the Haryana state government who set up as a religious sect leader in 1994, is wanted urgently by the state for contempt of court, for failing not once but forty times to appear before the Haryana High Court in the last four years in a criminal case. His followers are alleged to have fired upon some villagers in 2006, killing one person, in a fracas involving the sect’s purchase of land. The sect leader has reportedly been out on bail since 2008 but has avoided and evaded appearing in court when required, relying on his followers to keep the forces of law and order at bay. With the police at the gates today actually exchanging fire with Rampal’s followers, some interested parties, possibly web partisans of the cult leader, are trying to project it as a caste battle between the "upper caste" BJP government presently in power and the "Kabirpanthi" preachings of the sect leader, although the case against Rampal has been going on since the days of the previous Congress government led by Bhupinder Singh Hooda.
Such arguments are wholly specious and bizarre, given Rampal’s personal toss of the myth salad. He says on video that the medieval saint-composer Kabir (a real person) claimed to be eons older than the ancient Hindu trinity of Brahma-Vishnu-Mahesh and even scored off other saints who lived centuries before him with a magic trick. Kabir, he says, produced a reel of thread and made it stand a 150 feet up in the air like in a rope-trick - and flew up to sit atop, urging the others to join him up there, which of course they could not.
Rampal is said to have attracted followers from across Haryana, Punjab, UP and Rajasthan and his website goes into elaborate explanations of his innocence in the alleged land deal. Whatever be the rights of the case, it is intolerable in a modern state that any self-styled cult leader can set up his will against the forces of law and order and actually fire at them. Far too much leeway is given to these babas by the authorities – I refuse to use blanket terms like "godmen" or "saints" because that unfairly lumps the charlatans and rogues with the genuinely saintly.
Not more malls, but a tough new approach to legislation is clearly called for in our turbulent, endlessly-morphing society which has sections, particularly the "religious", still stuck in medieval times. It is a failure of the state, a failure of its good intentions towards its people, a failure of its investment in education and implementation of law and order, if citizens feel they can get away for years in the name of a "religious" cult, defying the courts and actually going into war mode with the police even when due process is followed by the state. In medieval if not outright ancient terms, this baba, like other of his ilk, has "cut off the nose" of the court, the police and every law-abiding citizen.