Prabhat Ranjan Sarkar, leader of the controversial Ananda Marga Yoga Society which claims several million members worldwide, has been released on bail from an Indian jail after more than six years of imprisonment on charges connected with the slayings of several of his followers.
Sarkar, 58, was carried out of the jail in Patna, capital of the northeastern state of Bihar amid a crowd of his followers. The organization, a Hindu revivalist sect combining meditation with social reform, claims to be established in over 70 countries, including the United States where there are said to be 20,000 members.
Sarka's imprisonment has produced controversy in India and abroad. Sect members have protested his jailing, saying the evidence was unsubstantiated and claiming Sarkar's rights of due process were denied. Rumors have circulated about Sarkar's alleged mistreatment in the Patna jail.
The sect itself has also been the subject of controversy. Although Sarkar insists Ananda Marga is nonviolent, stabbings and other acts of violence against Indian officials in the Philippines, Australia and Thailand and Washington have been attributed to followers of Sarkar.
Ananda Marga has denied any involvement in the incidents.
Former members have also charged that Sarkar forced young men and boys into homosexual acts.
Sarkar has been imprisoned since December 1971 on conspiracy charges in the slayings of six of his former disciples. He was acquitted of two of the charges by the Patna high court last month and his week was granted bail pending judgment in the remaining cases.
Ananda Marga, which means "pam of bliss," was banned in India during former prime minister Indira Gandhi's 21-month "emergency" rule in 1975 and 1976 because the group was viewed as subversive. When Prime Minister Morarji Desai's took power, Anada Marga and other banned groups were allowed to resume functioning.
Although the sect is no longer outlawed, the Indian government continues to place some restrictions on it. According to a New Delhi newspaper report, the government issued a directive in June, stating that all foreign nationals who were identified as members of Ananada Marga were to be deported. The Indian Express reported Aug. 1 that all foreign members of the sect who had been identified had been sent out of the country. An Indian embassy spokeswoman denied any such directive had been issued.
Kay Nelson and Mary Toth, both of the Washington area, were deported from India last month and have charged the Indian government with physically mistreating them, depriving them of their rights to due process and refusing to let them contact the American embassy.
Nelson and Toth, both Ananda Marga members, had each been in India for about two months and visited Patna in an attempt to see Sarkar in prison. In Patna, they said, three plainclothesmen took them into custody. They were then taken to New Delhi under guard, and they claim they were held for nearly four days by authorities without ever being formally arrested.
They say they were "manhandled," deprived of food and water and not allowed to contact the American embassy for nearly 36 hours. They were eventually deported without any official deportation papers, they say.