More than a year after two sisters had accused Asaram Bapu and son Narayan Sai of rape, the police had filed a chargesheet in the case. A year later, charges are yet to be framed against the accused.
In the chargesheet filed on January 9, 2014, before Chief Judicial Magistrate, Gandhinagar, the Gujarat Police had named Asaram, his wife Lakshmi, daughter Bharti and four of his followers, Dhruvben, Nirmala, Jassi and Meera, for “hatching a conspiracy”, “illegal confinement” and “rape”.
The Ahmedabad police listed 101 witnesses, of whom two, Akhil Gupta and Amrut Prajapati, are now dead. Three others related to the case have survived attacks. SIT officials claim that since the murders took place after the chargesheet was filed, these would not affect the case.
Said a senior SIT official, “Gupta and Prajapati were key witnesses and made shocking revelations that led to strong evidence against Asaram. Our case stands at the same point: that Asaram raped the sisters and that several women were sexually abused at his ashram. The evidence submitted in court of abortions, medical check-ups and witness statements are all there.”
However, the SIT acknowledges that the murders of Gupta and Prajapati have left the other witnesses scared. Officials are now taking a relook at their security and may increase it. The alleged rape victims are also under police protection.
The first person to be assaulted was the husband of the younger sister who alleged rape. He was stabbed by an unknown person on February 28, 2014. Less than a fortnight later, on March 10, Rakesh Patel, a videographer, one-time close aide of Asaram and a witness in the Narayan Sai rape case, was attacked by an unknown youth with a knife in Surat.
The third incident took place six days later. Dinesh Balchandani, a resident of Surat, had acid thrown on him by an unknown person.
B M Gupta, the defence lawyer for Asaram, points out that barring the “godman” and Narayan Sai, all the accused have been granted anticipatory bail. Asaram’s wife Lakshmi has filed a discharge application claiming innocence, and the court is likely to decide on the matter on February 19.
Public prosecutor R C Kodekar said the framing of charges is pending since Asaram is being tried in a Jodhpur court in a separate rape case. “If he is brought here, the case in Jodhpur will be delayed. Therefore, the court is of the opinion that his examination in Jodhpur should be finished first,” Kodekar said.
The sisters, who belong to Surat and are now married and settled there, had been followers of Asaram for 15 years. The younger of the two filed a complaint against Narayan Sai while the elder one accused Asaram of raping her. As per the younger sister, Narayan Sai raped her from 2002 to 2005 at Surat, Bihar and other places.
While the case against Sai is being tried in Surat, Asaram’s case was transferred to Ahmedabad since the incidents allegedly happened there.
Incidentally, on December 14, 2014, the elder of the two sisters went “missing” while on a visit to Amroli in Surat for a “social function”. She reportedly asked her police escort to stay back. The “disappearance” coincided with her application before the Gandhinagar district court that she wanted to record a fresh statement in the rape case. The plea was dismissed by the court.