Horrors of busted cult in India: Torture jail, child soldiers

Indian police carry a colleague injured during clashes with members of a sect said to have been living illegally at the Jawahar Bagh park in Mathura on June 2, 2016. © AFP
Indian police say a semi-religious cult, which clashed with officers enforcing an eviction order resulting in almost 30 deaths, tortured prisoners and trained minors to use arms as part of their bid to become an independent nation.

"They set up a court which pronounced punishments and jail barracks where inmates were tortured,” Uttar Pradesh chief police inspector DC Mishra said in the aftermath of the raid, as cited by AFP. "Children as young as eight years old were being given training in arms."

The violence in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh came when some 300 police officers were deployed to a park in the city of Mathura on Thursday night. They were enforcing an eviction order issued by a court, which demanded that followers of the cult vacated a 109-hectare stretch of land, where they had been squatting since January 2015.

Some 3,000 cult members were living in the area and they refused to follow the order. Instead they took melee weapons, firearms and crude explosive devices made from LPG cylinders to resist the eviction. The police used tear gas and rubber bullets and later live ammo in a fierce battle that followed.

Twenty-four people were killed during the clashes while three others died from injuries later, reported the Calcutta-based newspaper The Telegraph. Two police officers were among the victims. One was shot twice in the head from a close range while another one beaten to death with clubs and stones.

A badly charred body of one of the cult members was identified as the leader Ram Briksh Yadav by two of his associates. The police said most of the deaths among the cultists were due to gas explosions.

Amid criticism of his government over the violence, Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav said he did not "anticipate they would be so well armed."

Some 400 people were arrested after the clashes. Others set their own tents on fire and dispersed, the police said.

Ram Briksh, a charismatic 60-year-old “godman,” or semi-religious leader, declared his followers a “free nation” of revolutionaries rejecting the government of India. The "Jawahar Bagh people", as they call themselves, formed their own government and justice system, used their own currency instead of the rupee, and engaged in rigorous martial training. Their political program involved cheap fuel for everyone, abolition of democratic elections and other radical moves.