Asaram Bapu awarded life sentence for raping minor devotee in 2013; Two aides get 20 years jail term
A Jodhpur court sentenced self-styled 'godman' Asaram to life in prison. Two of four aides, Shilpi and Sharad, were convicted by the special court for SC/ST cases. Two other aides, walk free.
JODHPUR: A Jodhpur court on Wednesday sentenced self-styled godman Asaram to life in prison after finding him guilty of raping a teenage girl in his ashram five years ago, the second case of a powerful spiritual leader being convicted of a sexual offence in less than a year.
Special judge Madhusudan Sharma's verdict, which comes as the debate over sexual violence, particularly the rape of minors, intensifies across the country, was read out in the Jodhpur Central Jail where 77-year-old Asaram has been kept for over four years.
Asaram will be in prison till his natural death, the court pronounced, convicting him under the provisions of the Indian Penal Code and the Juvenile Justice Act.
It also imposed of fine of Rs 1 lakh on him.
The godman's lawyers, who pleaded that he was not guilty, said they would appeal against the verdict.
Police had stepped up security around Asaram's ashrams to prevent the kind of violence that was unleashed by followers when another so-called godman, Dera Sacha Sauda head Gurmeet Ram Rahim, was convicted of rape last August.
Apart from Asaram, two other accused, Sharad and Shilpi -- both employees at Asaram's ashrams -- were handed down 20-year jail terms by the special court hearing cases of crime against children.
It acquitted two others.
The judge lamented in his 453-page judgement that by his heinous act the godman has not merely shattered the faith of his devotees in him but has also harmed the reputation of saints among common people.
Arguments for the quantum of sentencing were held inside the heavily fortified jail premises, where the trial court delivered its verdict in accordance with the directions of the Rajasthan High Court.
In Shahjahanpur in Uttar Pradesh, the victim's father expressed relief.
"Even if I die now, I will have no regret as we have got justice for our daughter," he told reporters.
My daughter is very courageous and it is because of her courage that we have managed to ensure that the 'dhongi baba' (fake godman) got punishment for his wrongdoings," he said.
Born in Sindh province, now in Pakistan, Asaram's family migrated to Ahmedabad after Partition.
Starting from a hut on the banks of the Sabarmati, Asaram created a Rs 10,000-crore empire with 400 ashrams in India and other parts of the world in four decades.
During these years, he made friends with the powerful and has been seen with politicians from Bharatiya Janata Party as well as Congress, including Narendra Modi, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Digvijay Singh.
Bhopal has two places named after Asaram a road crossing and a bus stand both located near the godman's ashram near the Raja Bhoj Airport on the city outskirts.
The board carrying his name was removed from the bus station soon after the verdict.
Asaram has also courted controversy in recent years with his views on issues such as Valentine's Day and the rape and murder of Nirbhaya in Delhi.
In 2013, he had told a gathering in Rajasthan that Nirbhaya could have avoided being assaulted by the men in the bus she boarded with a friend.
"She should have taken God's name and could have held the hand of one of the men and said, I consider you my brother and should have said to the other two, brother, I am helpless, you are my brother, my religious brother," the media had quoted him as saying.
Apprehending a threat to law and order, the Centre had asked Rajasthan, Gujarat and Haryana governments to tighten security ahead of the verdict as the three states have a large number of Asaram followers.
The charge sheet against Asaram and the four other co-accused was filed by the police on November 6, 2013.
The teenager had said in her complaint that Asaram had called her to his ashram in Manai area near Jodhpur and raped her on the night of August 15, 2013.
He was arrested in Indore and brought to Jodhpur on September 1, 2013.
He was under judicial custody since September 2, 2013.
The 16-year-old girl from Shahjahanpur was studying at Asaram's ashram in Chhindwara in Madhya Pradesh.
Final arguments in the Asaram case were completed on April 7 and the court had kept the order reserved for today.
Asaram is also facing a rape case in Surat in Gujarat.
He unsuccessfully moved 12 bail applications, of which six were rejected by the trial court, three by the Rajasthan High Court and three by the Supreme Court.