• A Welcome Verdict: Asaram Sentenced to Life Term in Jodhpur Rape Case

    The 77-year-old godman was convicted under Section 376 of the IPC, the POCSO Act and the Juvenile Justice (JJ) Act

    Vivan Eyben

    April 25, 2018

    Image Courtesy: The Hindu

    Five years since the offence, a trial court in Jodhpur held 'godman' Asaram and two others guilty of raping a 16-year-old girl in 2013 and have sentenced them to a life term. The court acquitted two of the five accused. The verdict was delivered by Special Judge for Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe cases, Madhu Sudan Sharma in the jail premises where Asaram has been since his arrest on September 2, 2013. The 'godman', as well as his son, have been accused of rape in another instance in Surat as well.

    The present case arose when the parents of the victim – both followers of Asaram – had brought her to him since she was said to be possessed by evil spirits. It was through Asaram's 'unique' method of exorcism that the rape occurred. He was charged under Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 (POCSO) as well as IPC provisions regarding rape and witness intimidation.

    His origins are not clear, however, he was born in Sindh in 1941 and his family came to Gujarat when he was seven years old. One report states that he worked as a tongawala in Ajmer. Another report mentions that he worked as a mechanic in Ahmedabad. His own autobiography states that he went from ashram to ashram in search of spirituality. Another contested point in his story is that he was a disciple of Leela Shah. One of Leela Shah's disciples contended that the 'guru' had never accepted Asaram. From 1972 onwards his tryst with mumbo-jumbo began in earnest. In 1973, he established an Ashram on the banks of the Sabarmati.

    His little ashram on the banks of the Sabarmati swelled over the years under political patronage by successive governments in Gujarat. The Congress governments, since 1981, allocated land to him for expanding his ashram. The BJP governments also followed suit. Due to a falling out with the then Chief Minister, Narendra Modi, the land soon became the subject of reclamation by the government. Land held by his ashram in several parts of Gujarat has also been subject to litigation. Allegations also poured in from other states where his ashram had acquired lands, such as Bihar and Rajasthan. His holdings (through trusts) have been further challenged by the Income Tax Department. A probe stated that his undisclosed income was Rs. 2,300 crore since 2008-09. The IT department in 2016 recommended suspending the tax breaks his trusts enjoyed.

    Allegations of criminality did not just restrict themselves to relatively 'harmless' crimes such as non-disclosure of income, or fraudulent land acquisition. In 2008, two boys from his ashram in Ahmedabad were found dead and their corpses mutilated. It appeared that some organs were missing. In the same month, two more boys were found dead in his Chhindwara gurukul. This time there were no signs of injury. A 14-year-old confessed to killing the boys in the Gurukul, however, not many were ready to believe him. At the time, the Modi government was still close to Asaram. They managed to convince the parents of the dead children to withdraw their complaints and agitation. With the political class unequivocally on his side, Asaram and his disciples displayed their utter disregard for law and decent human behaviour. They beat up journalists with impunity.

    Another aspect of Asaram's 'holy' practices concerns sexually exploiting young girls. An ayurvedic doctor who worked with him until parting ways due to a disagreement in 2005 stated that he would go on spiritual retreats where girls would be sent to him. The girls either stayed on as sadhvis in his ashrams or returned home never saying a word. In 2002, a girl was accused of theft and thrown out of the ashram at night, she had complained of harassment. The current case in which he has been convicted arose in August 2013, in October the same year Asaram and his son were accused of rape by two sisters in Surat. They alleged that they were repeatedly assaulted between 2001 and 2006. His son Narayan Sai has been arrested on account of this complaint.

    As mentioned, his followers have a penchant for violence. The Judge who was hearing the current case at the time in 2013 was allegedly warned of consequences if he didn't grant bail to Asaram. In February 2014, the husband of one of the Surat victims was stabbed in his back and face by 'unknown' attackers. The next month a witness in the Gujarat case had acid thrown in his face. In May the same year, the Ayurveda practitioner who was to testify against him was shot at close range by two men. He died a month later. In January 2015, Asaram's personal physician, a witness in the Jodhpur rape case was stabbed by one of Asaram's followers. The physician was provided police protection, however, he has been missing since November 2015. In May a witness in the Surat case was shot at by two men in Panipat. In July, a witness in the Surat case turned hostile, she had previously alleged that there was a threat to her life. The same month a witness in the Jodhpur case was shot dead in Shajahanpur and in his dying declaration, he had identified his attackers as Asaram's followers. Thus, when Sadhvi Pragya states that Asaram is not guilty , one would be compelled to take the statement with a generous helping of salt.


     

    First published in Newsclick.

    Donate to the Indian Writers' Forum, a public trust that belongs to all of us.