JODHPUR: A Jodhpur court on Wednesday convicted self-styled godman Asaram in the rape case of a 16-year-old girl at his ashram in Rajasthan five years ago in 2013.
The verdict was announced by special judge Madhusudan Sharma inside the Jodhpur Central Jail amidst high security. The jail has been shut even to the media as part of the elaborate security arrangements.
Four states - Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Gujarat -- have been put on alert as precautionary measures.
The influential self-styled spiritual guru runs 400 ashrams in the country and has millions of followers worldwide.
Nine witnesses who dared to testify against Asaram were attacked, three of them died. Besides Asaram, there were four other accused in the case.
Two of the co-accused Shilpi and Shiva have been convicted in the 2013 rape case while two other co-accused, Sharad and Prakash have been acquitted by the court.
Asaram was being tried under sections 342 (Wrongful confinement), 376(2)(F) (Rape of a minor girl), 376 D, IPC 354 A (Outraging the modesty of a woman), 506 (Criminal intimidation) and 109 (Abetment to an offence) of Indian Penal Code (IPC).
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Asaram may be sentenced to 10 years in jail or life imprisonment. The court is hearing arguments on quantum of punishment for Asaram. While the prosecution is seeking maximum punishment for the self-styled guru, Asaram is pleading leniency on ground of his old age and health issues, sources said.
The quantum of punishment is likely to be pronounced later in the day. Asaram has been under judicial custody since September 2, 2013. The rape survivor's family welcomed the verdict. "We have got justice. We want to thank everyone who supported us in this fight for justice," the minor's father said.
The chargesheet against Asaram and four other co-accused was filed on November 6, 2013 under various sections of the POSCO Act, Juvenile Justice Act and IPC.
Asaram is also facing a rape case in Surat in Gujarat in which the Supreme Court earlier this month gave five weeks time to the prosecution to complete the trial.
Asaram 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.
(With PTI inputs)