When it comes to religious beliefs, Indians are remarkably credulous. Many smart people have understood this well and have transformed themselves into Godmen. They often gain a huge following which seems inexplicable to persons who are agnostic by nature.
However, the long arm of the law has eventually called out many of these Godmen and exposed the reality behind their flowing robes. There is a running thread of irony in the lives of many Godmen – they lived a life of opulence while their followers poured money into their coffers and lived simply.
The first blog in this series was about Osho. In this, the second in the series, we look at some charges raised, and the current status of the legal proceedings against another prominent Godman, Asaram Bapu.
In India, Godmen often turn out to be unbelievably ungodly. In India, the wheels of justice often grind agonizingly slowly but eventually, the long arm of the law does catch up with their misdeeds. This is the brief story of Asaram Bapu who set up over 400 ashrams in India and abroad, but his appetite for forbidden pleasures brought about his downfall.
Asumal Sirumalani Harpalani aka Asaram Bapu
Asaram Bapu is a hugely controversial Indian spiritual leader who eventually became a rape convict in the 2013 Jodhpur Rape Case. At the age of 15, he fled to an ashram and eight days later, married a girl, from whom he had two children. He was devoted to spiritualism but was never celibate (indeed, as we will presently see, he was far from celibate). In 1964 he was ordained as Asaram by the leader of the ashram where he stayed since the age of 15. In the 1970s, he started amassing a following. By 2013, he claimed to have established over 400 ashrams in India and abroad.
Asaram was regarded as a Hindutva-centered Godman. He was vocally against celebration of Valentine’s Day. He is reputed to have demanded absolute obedience, on threat of physical violence for dissidence.
His adult life had been all about controversies and crime allegations. From land encroachments to witness-tampering, document forgery and rape, he was alleged to be involved in several serious crimes. He was heavily criticised for his comment on the 2012 Delhi Gang Rape case during one of his satsangs where he commented that the girl was equally responsible for rape. She should have addressed the rapists as “bhaiya” and pleaded with them not to rape her. In 2008, he and his activities came under a cloud after 2 children from a gurukul that he ran went missing and were found dead, and a few days later, a similar thing happened at a sister-gurukul nearby. However, the Justice D K Trivedi Commission, set up by the then CM to investigate these charges was lenient towards Asaram exonerated Asaram of all culpability but held that his ashrams were guilty of negligence in 2013. Inexplicably, the report was not made public until 2019.
In February 2013, the Serious Fraud Investigation Office recommended his prosecution on land-encroachment charges in Ahmedabad city worth Rs.700 crores. This case had its origins in 2009.
Today, he is remembered for a crime that came to be known as the 2013 Jodhpur Rape Case in which a 16-year old minor girl accused Asaram Bapu of raping her on 15th August under the pretext of exorcising evil spirits. He was arrested on 1st September, 2013 from his Ashram.
Three months later, Asaram’s son was arrested on charges of rape, after two sisters from Surat alleged that he and his father Asaram had raped them in one of their ashrams during the mid-2000s. One of the sisters alleged that Asaram's wife and daughter helped the two men exploit the girls.
Asaram was charged under Sections 342, 376, 506 and 509 of the IPC, Section 8 of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act and sections 23 and 26 of the Juvenile Justice Act. One of his defences was his impotency, which was proven to be false. The VHP and the ABVP tried to paint a political colour and opposed Asaram’s arrest. Asaram was denied bail 12 times. The victim’s family reported several threats of violence if charges against Asaram were not dropped. In April 2018, the Jodhpur SC/ST Court found him guilty of rape and convicted him of imprisonment for life, a term he is currently serving in Jodhpur Jail.
In April 2019, Asaram’s son Narayan Sai was also convicted under sections 376 (rape), 377 (unnatural offences), 323 (assault), 506-2 (criminal intimidation) and 120-B (conspiracy) of the IPC by Surat Court and sentenced to life imprisonment. Truly Like Father, Like Son!
Since 2014, there have been reports of several attacks on the victims’ family members, and others. Asaram’s videographer who became a witness was shot at, but he survived the attack. A former cook at the ashram, who was a key witness, was killed. Asaram’s ex-PA who turned witness was stabbed. He asked for protection but before he got it, he went missing, never to be found. Another ex-PA narrowly missed being murdered, and now lives under state protection.
The sad irony is that till this date, despite all that is recounted above and more, there are several persons who genuinely believe that Asaram is innocent and was the victim of a conspiracy.
Rajesh is a qualified CA & CWA. He has served as a Director of PricewaterhouseCoopers, a Director of a large urban co-operative bank and Dean of a B-School over the years. He has taught Finance for over 20 years & trained participants from several Companies and B-Schools. He is an educator and a learner (he believes both are inextricably intertwined), and a knowledge product developer. Law Gyani, which he has founded to help Law Students with their exam preparations, and to understand nuances of the law.
Law Gyani’s mission is to make available better, easier-to-use and richer content to the legal community. Our first offering is a Q&A product, aimed at helping LL.B. students to appear for their examinations. While we have begun with answering questions from the last 10 years’ question papers of the Mumbai University’s 3-Year LL.B. course, Law Gyani is committed to expanding the content to cover Q&A on all law papers of most Universities in India.