Indian court gives life sentence to guru, 14 followers

FILE - In this Nov. 20, 2014 file photo, controversial religious leader Sant Rampal stands by the door of a police van as he is brought to a court, surrounded by police personnel in Chandigarh, India. A court in northern India on Tuesday, oct. 16, 2018, has sentenced the Hindu guru and 14 followers to life imprisonment in the deaths of four women and a child at his sprawling ashram. Rampal was arrested in 2014 following a days-long standoff between law enforcers and his supporters in which six people died and hundreds were injured. (AP Photo/Kapil Sethi, File)

HISAR, India — A court in northern India sentenced a Hindu guru and 14 followers to life imprisonment on Tuesday in the deaths of four women and a child at his sprawling ashram.

The court ordered the penalty for Sant Rampal in Hisar city in Haryana state, where authorities deployed hundreds of riot police in anticipation of violence by the guru's thousands of disciples in response to his sentencing.

Rampal, 67, was arrested in 2014 following a days-long standoff between law enforcers and his supporters in which six people died and hundreds were injured. At the time, Rampal was wanted for questioning in a 2006 murder case and had repeatedly ignored orders to appear in court.

Rampal and the 14 followers were accused by police of holding the four women and child captive inside the ashram, resulting in their deaths from a lack of food and medicine as the fierce standoff continued.

The court is expected to announce sentences in the death of a fifth woman on Wednesday.

Hindu gurus and 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 some has led to scandals in which they have been accused of exploiting devotees.

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