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Asaram found guilty: Who is the controversial ‘godman’ and what is the case about?

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Self-styled ‘godman’ Asaram has been found guilty of raping a teenager in 2013 in his ashram. ThePrint looks at the case and Asaram’s controversial past. 

New Delhi: Asaram Bapu was held guilty by the court Wednesday of raping minor girl. A 16-year-old girl had accused the self-styled ‘godman’ of sexual assault in 2013, the final hearings for which were completed last month.

Special Judge Madhusudhan Sharma delivered the verdict in the Jodhpur Central jail premises.

Security had been beefed up in Jodhpur ahead of the verdict, with Section 144 being imposed in the city till 30 April. His Jodhpur ashram has been evacuated ahead of the verdict.

In the last five years since Asaram has been in jail, nine witnesses have been attacked, of which three have died.

The case

In August 2013, a 16-year-old girl accused Asaram of sexually assaulting her in his Jodhpur ashram under the pretext of curing her of ‘evil spirits’. The girl’s parents were Asaram’s disciples.

A complaint was filed in Delhi and a medical examination of the girl proved the assault. Asaram was then booked under IPC sections 342 (wrongful confinement), 376 (rape), 506 (criminal intimidation), besides sections of the Juvenile Justice Act and the POCSO Act.

The case was transferred to Jodhpur and the police sealed off his ashram to prevent tampering of evidence.

The girl, who hailed from Uttar Pradesh, had been studying at one of the ashram’s gurukuls in Madhya Pradesh when her warden told her that she had ‘bad spirits’ and should be taken to Asaram for cure.

The FIR filed revealed horrific details of the event. Asaram allegedly locked the girl in a room and assaulted her for more than an hour, even asking for oral sex. “He locked the room from inside and started molesting me. When I started shouting, he threatened to kill my parents and closed my mouth,” the girl said in her complaint.

Asaram did not turn up for interrogation and was arrested in September 2013. He has been in jail since. He denied the allegations, stating he was impotent, but a medical test concluded that this was not the case. Multiple bail pleas have been rejected over the years.

A series of unfortunate events

A spokesperson for Asaram’s ashram called the case an attempt to tarnish his image. However, his image was far from pristine.

In 2013 itself, Asaram had faced wide criticism for his comments on the Delhi gang rape, commonly known as the ‘Nirbhaya’ case. He had said the brutal rape could have been prevented if the girl had done more to save herself. “She should have taken god’s name and held the hand of one of the men and declared him her brother,” Asaram had said.

There have been other cases against Asaram as well. In December 2013, two sisters filed two separate complaints of repeated sexual assault over many years in the Surat ashram allegedly by Asaram and his son Narayan Sai, who was also arrested.

In 2008, four boys had died in Asaram’s ashrams, with many believing that the mysterious deaths had something to do with the ‘godman’ practising black magic. Two of the bodies were found severely mutilated next to the Sabarmati river. The Gujarat government, then led by chief minister Narendra Modi, had ordered probes into the incidents.

Other, more benign complaints against Asaram and his ashram ranged from land grabbing in Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh to abusing a devotee.

The other ‘Bapu’ of Sabarmati

Born in Sindh in undivided India, Asaram and his parents migrated to India after Partition, settling in Ahmedabad. It was in Motera, a small town on the Sabarmati river just north of Ahmedabad, where Asaram started his ashram in 1973.

Reinventing himself as a ‘godman’, Asaram and his ashram enjoyed political patronage across party lines. Much of the early growth of his enterprise can be sourced to generous land donations from both the Congress and the BJP.

Asaram has also issued diktats such as rebranding Valentine’s Day as a day to worship parents (Matri-Pitri Poojan Divas), which the political class — right from Pranab Mukherjee to Rajnath Singh to Nitin Gadkari — endorsed.

Owing to his large following and influence, the 77-year-old godman asked his followers Tuesday to maintain peace and harmony when the verdict comes out, and not throng the jail.

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