Asaram Ashram deaths: Autopsy indicates foul play

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Chhindwara, MP, Aug 1 (UNI) A doctors' team that conducted autopsy today on a five-year-old boy, found dead at the Sant Asaram Gurukul Ashram here, came upon indications of drowning but did not rule out the apprehension of asphyxiation.

''Vedant Manmode's death was not natural,'' Bhopal's Dr S P Jain, who came for the post mortem, told the press tonight. The child's viscera and tissue were sent for analysis and the related report is likely in a couple of days. Dr Jain was accompanied by Jabalpur Medical College Forensics expert D K Shakalle and local physicians.

The cremation took place here in the presence of people associated with the Ashram.

Several questions remain unanswered over the mysterious deaths of two boys in just 36 hours at the Ashram and the children's guardians describing the incidents as the ''will of God''.

Vedant was found in a bathroom at about 1800 hrs yesterday and pronounced dead at the District Hospital. The boy's mother Pooja Manmode, a resident of Pune and a disciple of Asaram, told ediapersons here today, ''My son must have been destined to live only this long. God summoned him. We have no complaint against the Ashram management.'' A similar statement was made to the press on July 30 by the Mumbai-resident guardians of Ramkrishan Yadav (4) who was found dead in another bathroom on July 29.

A case was registered today, in Ramkrishan's context, against Ashram Warden Manoharlal Jayaswal, Director Omprakash Prajapati and others under Section 304-A (causing death by a rash or negligence act) of the Indian Penal Code.

The doctors, who conducted Ramkrishan's autopsy, ''could not come up with'' the cause of death. Viscera were sent to the Sagar-based Forensic Science Laboratory.

However, Ms Manmode also told mediapersons that a probe must take place into these deaths which could be part of a conspiracy to sully the Ashram's image. Ms Manmode was being accompanied by her husband Krishna.

The district administration, which ordered a magisterial probe into the deaths, suspected whether the statements were made under pressure. Locals took to the streets and burnt posters of Asaram.

Police used mild force and lobbed tear gas canisters to bring the situation under control.

Police requisitioned physicians from Bhopal and Jabalpur for conducting Vedant's post mortem.

Asaram set up the Ashram in 2000. The co-educational residential facility has classes from kindergarten to higher secondary. Girls are taught in the morning and boys in the afternoon. As many as 317 boys and 200 girls are on the rolls.

The 27 acres, on which the Ashram is located, are also disputed.

It is said that the land belonged to late Rani Gyandadevi -- of the erstwhile Sakti state in neighbouring Chhattisgarh's Bilaspur district -- who donated it to Asaram for welfare work. Later, the Rani wanted the land back, but it was not returned. Her descendants are appealing to the administration and judiciary.

The matter assumed political hues as the district unit of the Gondwana Ganatantra Party, which commands influence over Adivasis in this tribal-dominated district, today submitted a memorandum to the administration demanding a Central Bureau of Investigation inquiry.

The memo alleged that the 27 acres were encroached on for setting up the Ashram.

Two inmates of Asaram's Ahmedabad Ashram also died recently.

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