The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Cane desserts for cash-denied priests

Bhopal, Jan. 23: It was a bad day for those wearing yellow dhoti in Bhopal. By late evening, police had rounded up more than 100 priests and were looking for more suspects, particularly those sporting yellow dhoti, for going on a rampage in the city.

Trouble began during the valedictory session of the Mahachandi Yagna at Panchsheel Nagar. The 49-day apolitical yagna for the “betterment of human kind” was earlier graced by three Sankaracharyas, chief minister Digvijay Singh and his political rival Uma Bharti.

By this afternoon, over 2 lakh people in and around Bhopal had made generous offerings at the yagna, seeking eternal peace and salvation.

However, the 600-odd priests from all over the country who had supervised the mammoth yagna lost patience when they saw that collection boxes had suddenly vanished. There was no sign of the organisers who had reportedly promised them honorarium of Rs 100 a day for the yagna that began on December 5.

The result was instant but ugly. The enraged priests tried to set afire a tent and a fire tender. Instead of receiving Rs 4,900 each, the priests ended up getting beaten by the police and some civilians.

“The policemen were simply lethal. They had no fear of god. They did not spare even those who were not involved in arson,” said a profusely bleeding Gauri Shankar, a graduate in religious affairs from Varanasi.

Dileep Bora from Assam had another tale to tell. “We were promised a lavish treat. But what we got as food was perhaps worse than prison food. We were expected to sleep under the sky as the thatched mud roofs compounded the cold.”

The organisers, Vishu Ragoria and Raju Khatik, surfaced late in the evening. They claimed that they had gone “to fetch the money”. The two said they had been organising such yagnas for many months and expressed surprise at the lack of “patience” among the priests.

Chief minister Digvijay Singh was away in Sagar and his close associates heaved a sigh of relief, stressing that the incident had no political colour. With the Assembly election inching closer, the assault on religious persons could have taken a political colour, they said.

A deputy superintendent of police said his force had to resort to a cane-charge after repeated appeals for patience ran out. “They were bent on burning a fire brigade tender when it was pressed into action to control fire in a tent. They tried to snatch our rifles,” said Ram Gopal, a constable.

However, the priests denied the charge. Hari Om Sharma of Indore said that if the police had shown such alacrity in Kashmir and elsewhere, common citizens would not have suffered.

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