Self-styled godman Asaram Bapu was on Wednesday convicted by a Jodhpur court for raping a minor girl at his ashram here in Rajasthan in 2013 and sentenced to a life term. Two other co-accused in the case, also convicted today, were given 20 years each in jail. The judgment was pronounced by Special Judge for Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe cases, Madhu Sudan Sharma, inside the Jodhpur Central Jail, where Asaram Bapu is lodged.
Earlier in the day, while pronouncing the verdict inside the Jodhpur central jail amid tight security, the court had held Asaram guilty of assaulting and outraging the modesty of a 16-year-old woman, who, at the time of the incident, was a student at one of Asaram's ashrams in Chhindwara, Madhya Pradesh. The incident allegedly took place on the night of August 15, 2013, at another Asaram ashram in Manai area near Jodhpur.
Special judge Madhusudan Sharma 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.
Accused Asaram is called a saint. He has lakhs of devotees not merely in India but abroad too. He has over 400 ashrams running after his name, said the judge adding that as per my modest opinion, the accused, by committing the despicable and heinous crime, has not merely shattered the faith of his devotees in him but has also harmed the reputation of saints among the common people.
Referring to the faith of the victim's father and her family in Asaram, Additional Sessions Judge Sharma noted that the father was a "disciple of Asaram and played a crucial role in building an ashram at his home town Shahjahanpur in Uttar Pradesh.
Here are the top 10 developments and things to know in the Asaram rape case verdict delivered in Jodhpur today:
1) Asaram spoiled saints' image, says court: Special judge Madhusudan Sharma 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. Accused Asaram is called a saint. He has lakhs of devotees not merely in India but abroad too. He has over 400 ashrams running after his name, said the judge adding that as per my modest opinion, the accused, by committing the despicable and heinous crime, has not merely shattered the faith of his devotees in him but has also harmed the reputation of saints among the common people.
2) Ashram quiet, followers indignant: One of Asaram's followers said, "Even if Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh came and told me that Bapu had done this, I would not believe them. I would say, 'no, no, no' an infinite number of times." Followers, trickling into Asaram Bapu's ashram on the Ridge, could not believe that their guru had been sentenced to a life in jail by a Jodhpur court for the rape of a minor teenager.
3) Cases against Seers don't interest Indians, Hindus: On a day a court in Rajasthan convicted Asaram for raping a teenager girl in his ashram in 2013, former Gujarat IPS officer D G Vanzara, who calls himself a disciple of the self-styled godman, said the victim was "never raped" and the entire case was of "inappropriate touching" at the most.
Vanzara also said that attempts are on to sully the image of "saints" like Asaram through such cases, which he said is "not in the interest of the country, Hindus or Sanatan religion".
"If you see the FIR as well as the chargesheet (of the case), you will not find any mention of rape. Even during the trial, the victim never alleged that she was raped by Asaram. As per the FIR, she was only touched inappropriately. Even medical tests of the victim confirmed that her virginity was intact," claimed Vanzara.
4) Congress video shows Modi with Asaram: The Congress party posted a video on Twitter, showing Asaram with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
"'A man is known by the company he keeps' - Aesop's fables #AsaramVerdict," tweeted the party attaching the video.
The video shows Modi saying that he had been getting Asaram's blessings from the time no one knew him. It also showed clippings of Asaram blessing Modi.
5) Asaram's journey from humble hut to Rs 100-bn empire: Asaram, having created an empire of Rs 100 billion (Rs 10,000 crore) within four decades, can give top businessmen a run for their money. He started from a humble hut on the banks of the Sabarmati river in the early 1970s and ended up building over 400 ashrams across the country and the world by the time of his downfall.
The scrutiny of documents seized by the police from Asaram's ashram in Ahmedabad's Motera area following his arrest in the rape case in 2013 had revealed that he had amassed a wealth of around Rs 100 billion (Rs 10,000 crore), excluding the market value of the vast tract of lands he holds.
According to a short documentary available on his official website, Asaram was born in 1941 as Asumal Sirumalani in Berani village of the Sind province, now in Pakistan. After the partition in 1947, Asumal came to Ahmedabad with his parents and studied only until the fourth standard at a school in the Maninagar area, as he was forced to leave his studies after the death of his father Thaumal.
After doing some odd jobs during his early youth, Asumal embarked on a "spiritual quest" towards the Himalayas, where he met his Guru, Lilashah Bapu, the documentary claimed. It was this spiritual teacher who gave him the name 'Asaram' in 1964 and "commanded him to carve his own path and guide people".
Asaram came to Ahmedabad in the early 1970s and started doing penance on the banks of the Sabarmati, near the Motera area. His journey as a self-styled spiritual leader and godman started in 1972, when he set up the 'Moksha Kutir', a humble hut, on the banks of the river. Over the years, his popularity as 'Sant Asaramji Bapu' started gaining currency and that 'humble hut' was converted into a full-fledged Ashram.
Within a span of four decades, he added around 400 ashrams in India and abroad.
Even today, the Motera Ashram is flocked by followers, who are still in denial and maintain that their 'guru' has been jailed on false charges.6) Victim's father wants justice for murdered and kidnapped witnesses too: Speaking to news agencies after the verdict, the father of the rape survivor said, "Asaram is convicted, we have got justice. I want to thank everyone who supported us in this fight." Further, he said that witnesses in the case who were murdered or kidnapped should also get justice.
Asaram is convicted, we have got justice. I want to thank everyone who supported us in this fight. Now I hope he will get strict punishment. I also hope the witnesses who were murdered or kidnapped get justice: Father of Shahjahanpur victim #AsaramCaseVerdict pic.twitter.com/sUJ3atJJJY— ANI (@ANI) April 25, 2018
Asaram rape case victim provided security: Security was also stepped up around the victim's house in Shahajahanpur in Uttar Pradesh. "The security for the victim's family is continuously being monitored... Two more constables will stand guard outside her house in addition to the five policemen already deployed there, and a strict vigil is being maintained on all the visitors using CCTV cameras," Superintendent of Police K B Singh told news agencies.
7) Centre asks Rajasthan, Gujarat, Haryana to beef up security ahead of the Asaram verdict: The Centre on Tuesday asked the Rajasthan, Gujarat, and Haryana governments to tighten security and deploy additional forces ahead of the Asaram rape case verdict today. These three states have a large number of followers of the 77-year-old self-styled godman. In a communication, the Union Home Ministry told the three states to beef up security and ensure that no violence took place after the judgment. The three states were also told to deploy additional forces at sensitive places, a home ministry official said.
The ministry is in touch with the states concerned and Union Home Secretary Rajiv Gauba has spoken to top-level administrative and police officials over the issue.
Superintendent of Police K B Singh said a vigil was also being kept outside Asaram's ashram at Rudrapur in Uttarakhand.
8) Security was beefed up, Section 144 enforced in Jodhpur ahead of Asaram rape case verdict: Since Monday, security has been tightened in Jodhpur. Jodhpur Police Commissioner Ashok Rathore told news agencies that Section 144 had been enforced in the city. "We are glad the court accepted our request to deliver the judgment from inside the jail premises," he added.
"We have imposed section 144 of CrPC in the city from April 21 and it would remain effective till April 30. Besides this, we have been keeping a sharp eye on Asaram's ashrams and checking all hotels and guest houses, as well as the bus and railway stations," DCP (East) Aman Deep Singh said in Jodhpur.
9) Asaram also facing a rape case in Surat: Asaram is also facing a rape case in Gujarat, where two Surat-based sisters had lodged separate complaints against the self-styled godman and his son Narayan Sai, accusing them of rape.
Regarding the Gujarat case, the Supreme Court earlier this month gave five weeks' time to the prosecution to complete the trial.
10) Detailed timeline of the Asaram rape case:
a) Asaram was arrested on the complaint filed by a teenage girl from Shahajahanpur alleging the self-styled godman raped her at his ashram in Manai area near Jodhpur on the night of August 15, 2013.
b) Subsequently, Asaram was arrested from Indore and brought to Jodhpur on September 1, 2013. He has been under judicial custody since September 2, 2013.
c) A charge-sheet against Asaram and the four other co-accused had been filed by police on November 6, 2013.
d) The trial of the case had begun in the district and session court on March 19, 2017, which had been shifted to the special court for SC/ST cases on December 16, 2016.
e) The Jodhpur SC/ST Court on April 7 completed its hearing in the rape case against Asaram.
f) On April 17, the court had decided to pronounce the verdict against self-styled godman in the rape case in Jodhpur Central Jail to avoid any law and order situation in the state.
g) The Jodhpur SC/ST court on April 25 convicted Asaram and three of the co-accused in the case.
With agency inputs