A Rajasthan court on Wednesday (April 25, 2018) jailed self-styled ‘godman’ Asaram Bapu for life for raping a teenage girl at his Ashram at Jodhpur.
It’s a classic example of Indian heartland’s fascination with spiritual gurus, who wield immense influence for their ability to mobilise millions of adherents, amass untaxed funds and find favour with politicians.
The judge delivered the guilty verdict at a jail in the city in Rajasthan, where Asumal Sirumalani Harpalani, commonly known as Asaram Bapu, has been held since September 2013.
The 77-year-old, who has more than 400 ashrams across the world according to his website, had been denied bail a dozen times.
Defence lawyer Sushma Dhara said she would challenge the verdict. “The sentencing has come as a big relief,” said Kiran Jha Thakur, the founder of Kalpana, a non-government body that helped the victim’s family pursue the case. “It goes on to show that even if you are a ‘godman’, if you commit a crime, our judiciary will get you,” Thakur said.
The country’s Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act permits lifetime jail terms for sexual assault of children, and was recently amended to allow the death penalty for the rape of girls under 12.
Two of Asaram’s aides were also convicted and jailed for 20 years each, while two others were acquitted.
“This judgment is a lesson to people who think they can get away by committing sexual offences against children,” said Yashwant Jain, a member of National Commission For Protection of Child Rights.
The case dates from August 2013, when the 16-year-old girl accused Asaram of sexually assaulting her at his ashram in Jodhpur. The girl, who was a student of the ashram school in Chhindwara, Madhya Pradesh, reportedly sought to be rid of evil spirits, said in her complaint that she was asked to perform oral sex and was touched inappropriately, media said.
Last year, followers of another spiritual guru, Gurmeet Ram Rahim, ran amok after he was found guilty of rape, unleashing violence that killed more than 30 in Punjab.