2 dead, 120 hurt as villagers clash with police in Rohtak

FPPolicemen tackle a protester on the outskirts of Karonkha village on NH-71.

Two persons, including a woman, were feared dead and more than 120 persons injured in a clash between the followers of Arya Samaj and the police in Haryana's Rohtak district on Sunday.

Violence erupted twice in the day with at least three Haryana Roadways buses, one ambulance, a liquor vend and several vehicles torched in the arson in the morning. In the evening, a hotel was set afire. The police have arrested more than 10 persons, including Arya Samaj leader Acharya Baldev.

Satlok Ashram, located on the outskirts of Karontha village on National Highway 71 (Rohtak-Jhajjar highway), was at the centre of a commotion on Sunday morning.

The ashram is headed by controversial dera head Rampal. The ashram's chief and his followers have been criticising the Arya Samaj and its ideologies through their various publications. Arya Samaj followers and villagers, in turn, have sharply reacted to this criticism. In 2006, a similar clash between the ashram and Arya Samaj followers led to the death of a youth. Rampal was then arrested on murder charges. He was released on bail in 2008.

Citing religious intolerance, the followers of Arya Samaj petitioned against the dera chief. The matter reached the Supreme Court about two months ago. The SC ruled in favour of Rampal and ordered maintaining status quo regarding the ashram.

In the wake of the SC's order, followers of Arya Samaj on Sunday organised a mahapanchayat in Karontha. With the alleged motive of forcibly getting the premises vacated, a large number of villagers and Arya Samaj followers marched towards it. They were stopped by Haryana Police personnel, who repeatedly warned protesters not to cross the barricades. According to the police, the mob went on a rampage and torched buses and damaged private vehicles. When the police fired teargas shells and resorted to cane charge, the mob threw petrol-bombs at them. Police officials alleged that the mob then opened fire, forcing the police force to retaliate.

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