Indian ‘godman’ jailed for life for rape of teenage devotee
Millionaire Hindu guru Asaram Bapu, a sexual abstinence advocate, was today (Wednesday) jailed for life for raping a teenage female devotee at his ashram near Rajasthan city in 2013.
According to this report, the sentence was handed down by judge Madhusudan Sharma at a special court convened in Jodhpur Central Jail. Known throughout India and beyond simply as Asaram, the “godman” was told he would die in jail.
Asaram broke down after hearing the sentence. He has been held in the prison for 56 months since his arrest in 2013 for raping a 16-year-old girl from Uttar Pradesh’s Shahajahanpur.
Asaram has denied the rape and can appeal his conviction in a higher court.
Said the father of the rape survivor after the guilty verdict:
We had complete faith in the judiciary and are happy that we got justice.
The Uttar Pradesh administration deployed policemen for his family’s security ahead of the ruling.
Authorities placed heavy security in and around the Jodhpur jail and asked that three states — Rajasthan, Gujarat and Haryana —to be on put alert. These steps were taken to prevent a repeat of the large-scale violence that took place in Haryana and Punjab after the conviction of another self-styled “godman”, Gurmeet Ram Rahim, in a rape case last August.
Authorities also imposed prohibitory orders in sensitive areas in the city, anticipating trouble by legions of followers of the influential 79-year-old who runs about 400 ashrams across the country.
Said Ajay Pal Lamba, the IPS officer who supervised the investigation into the case:
This is a historic verdict for criminal jurisprudence. The truth has won. It shows that if the law works impartially, even persons from the weakest sections of the society can take on the most influential ones and get justice.
Asaram has a large support base in Rajasthan, Haryana and Gujarat, where he has faces a similar charges.
Two Surat-based sisters, who stayed at Asaram’s ashram in Gujarat between 1997 and 2006, lodged separate cases against Asaram and his son, Narayan Sai, accusing them of repeated rape and illegal confinement, among other charges.
As trials in these cases progressed, three key witnesses died and other witnesses and families of victims were attacked or received death threats.
According to this report, by 2008, Asaram had a multi-million pound empire, according to a charge sheet filed by police in a separate case against him in Gujarat. His Sant Shri Asaramji Ashram Trust ran 40 traditional schools called gurukuls, a printing press that publishes material on his interpretation of Hindu religious scriptures and an Ayurveda unit that produces medicines, soaps, and shampoos.
Asaram was well-known for advocating strict control of sexual urges. After his arrest, Indian blogger Rita Banerji wrote:
Both Gandhi and Asaram regarded sex as and sexual desire as ‘sins’, and any expression of sexuality as ‘dirty’ imports from the West that needed to be shunned because they ruin India’s youth and culture. Both preached abstinence to their followers and the control of sexual desire as a form of self-‘purification’.
And both Gandhi and Asaram in hypocritical violations of their own preaching, indulged in sexual gratification of one kind or another, even when it resulted in the sexual abuse of girls and women in their flock.
Hat tip: Gaurav Tyagi and BarrieJohn