Inside a two-storey house in Shahjahanpur in Uttar Pradesh, a family has almost withdrawn from the world. Friends and relatives have stopped visiting, and they rarely ever leave home. The exception is the youngest member, a 14-year-old now in Class X, who has to attend school. However, he no longer cycles to school; he has been instructed to take the bus.
They have to take every precaution, says the 52-year-old father. Two years ago, his daughter, then 16, was the first to file a rape charge against ‘godman’ Asaram Basu. On July 10, a second witness in the cases against Asaram was shot, just 7 km from their home.
The alleged rape victim hardly lifts her head as she talks, seated in a corner of a sofa, staring at her fingernails. “After he (Asaram) was arrested, I thought we would be safe. I even started going for computer coaching classes. But then the threats started and I was asked to study at home,” she says.
She had lodged the complaint on August 20, 2013, in Delhi, accusing Asaram of raping her at his ashram in Jodhpur. A month later, Asaram was arrested.
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She was then in Class XII, in the commerce stream. After a gap of a year, she joined back as a private student, picking up computers and home science as subjects. She picked the “easier” topics, she says, as she had to appear regularly at hearings in Jodhpur. In the results of the Uttar Pradesh board declared recently, she got 70 per cent marks. She hopes to do B.Com through distant learning now before eventually doing chartered accountancy.
Her elder brother, a science graduate, who once hoped to get a government job, now looks after the family transport business, as the father pursues the rape case. The 23-year-old, who has no friends, fears no parent would agree to let their daughter marry him.
“We could not have imagined that a person whom we considered god could do this to my daughter. We are never going to have a normal life,” says the mother.
She and her two brothers had grown up seeing Asaram worshipped at home, adds the daughter. “His photographs were there on every wall of the house, even pasted on our notebooks, pencil boxes and in the puja ghar, ‘to give us blessings’.”
The girl did her early schooling from Saraswati Shishu Mandir in Shahjahanpur and was later sent to her aunt’s home in Haryana for two years to study. “When I entered Class VII, Asaram asked my parents to send me to his gurukul in Chhindwara in Madhya Pradesh to ensure that we lived a ‘disciplined spiritual life’.” Her younger brother, then in Class III, also went with her.
She was in Class XII when, one day, she fainted in her hostel, and was later told she was under the influence of “evil spirits”. She was made to recite “mantras” one whole night after which her parents were asked to take her for “treatment” to Asaram in Jodhpur.
Asked about August 15, 2013, the day of the alleged incident, she takes a long pause. Her eyes now fixed on the floor, she recalls, “My parents and I were offered some milk. They were then asked to go away, while I was taken to Asaram’s hut. He asked me about my studies, and then told me to go check on my parents. I came back and told him they were resting. I went to use the washroom, and when I returned, he was standing there without clothes. I got scared. That scene just does not leave my mind.”
She said she shouted, but the hut was secluded. “He told me he was god, I should offer myself to him and started touching me. I was told my parents and I would not live if I made a scene. He said I was on the path to success and would be made a sevika.”
Later, the ‘sevikas’ urged her parents to send her to Asaram’s ashram in Ahmedabad for further rituals. “Ahmedabad was the last place I wanted to go. I lied that my menstrual cycle had started, because rituals cannot be performed during that time, and begged my parents to take me home.”
The mother says she soon realised something was amiss. “She would not eat anything. I guessed there was something wrong since she came out of that hut. But I still could not believe my ears when she said what had happened.” The family rushed to Delhi to confront Asaram, and when they couldn’t, filed a complaint against him in Delhi on August 20, which was later transferred to Jodhpur for investigation.
The latest murder of a witness has again shaken the family. They no longer believe in god, they say. “I hate god,” says the girl. “I no longer believe in god… Since our childhood, we were made to offer prayers day and night, and ‘God’ turned out to be like this.”
The other victims
The two sisters who accused Asaram and son Narayan Sai of rape are originally from Visavadar taluka in Junagadh district of Saurashtra. The elder one, 35, lives in Surat with her husband, who works in a diamond firm, and a son. A housewife, she accused Asaram of rape in a case registered in Ahmedabad. The younger sister, allegedly raped by Narayan Sai, is 33 and works in Surat. Her husband works as a clerk at a hospital.
Reported by Maulshree Seth
The dead witnesses:
‘Our children can’t even go out to play’
Amrut Prajapati, killed on May 23, 2014
Saroj says she had lost count of the number of times her husband Amrut Prajapati had been attacked before he finally succumbed to his injuries after being shot on May 23, 2014.
The 56-year-old ayurveda doctor became the first witness in cases against Asaram Bapu to be killed.
Saroj says she now sees themselves as fools to have followed Asaram, and to have testified against him. Prajapati, who worked at Asaram’s Motera ashram for 15 years, left in 2005. The attacks and threats reportedly never ceased after that. Prajapati had been one of the prime witnesses in the rape case against Asaram. Before that, he had testified in the 2008 mysterious deaths of two boys studying at the ashram gurukul in Ahmedabad.
He was once kidnapped in 2005 from Vadodara and severely thrashed. The men from Asaram’s ashram would later disguise themselves as patients and go to the Odhav clinic in Ahmedabad, where Prajapati worked, to threaten him. In May 2014, he was shot dead by a man who also disguised himself as a patient, at Rajkot’s Oum Shanti Arogyadham clinic. He succumbed to his injuries a month later.
In his statements to the Ahmedabad SIT, Prajapati had said there was a special chamber at the Motera ashram where Asaram met only women bhakts. He said he had only come to know what happened there in 2005, when he had peeped into the chamber from the back, and seen the “godman” with two women. Later, Prajapati had also accompanied the SIT during raids on the ashram.
After Prajapati’s death, Saroj says she continued to feel unsafe. Though she says she has no security, police claim she has been provided four guards. Finally, Saroj decided to leave Ahmedabad and now lives in north Gujarat, where she treats patients through ayurveda. She believes Asaram’s men are still trying to get her whereabouts.
She visited Ahmedabad once last year, to see their apartment in Odhav. “No matter how discreet a life I lead, I feel I am still under watch,” Saroj says.
Reported by Ujjwala Nayudu from Ahmedabad
Akhil Gupta, killed on January 11, 2015
Six-year-old Gavishth Gupta stares indignantly at constable Akhil Kumar. “But mumma said I can play outside. I listen to mumma,” he says. An INSAS rife slung across his shoulder, Kumar repeats what he has been saying every day for the past three days, ever since security was beefed up around the Gupta house. “You listen to us now, and not your mother. Otherwise bad people will pick you up. Go inside the house, you can come out and play at 5,” the constable says sternly.
On January 11 this year, Gavishth’s father, 38-year-old Akhil Gupta, was shot dead as he was returning home to his Geeta Enclave residence in Muzaffarnagar. Gupta, who used to be a confidant of Asaram Bapu, was the prime witness in a rape case against him.
Gupta’s wife Varsha is also a witness in the case. After the July 10 murder of witness Kripal Singh at Shahjahanpur, three security guards posted here have grown to six.
At 3.30 pm, a black Maruti Swift approaches the house, and Gavisth, who has again come out, screams in delight, “Mumma!”. Varsha emerges from the car, along with her father-in-law Naresh Chand Gupta and four policemen. At the sight of her son hanging around outside, she panics.
Naresh Gupta speaks of living as if in a cage. “We used to have a printing press, but in the ’90s, we packed it up and all of us left to join Bapu’s ashram in Gujarat. Akhil became his right-hand man, doing the accounts as well as overseeing the cooking. But then we found out about the misdeeds of the old man and his son. So we left in 2008. But helping the government has led us to this! A life where my grandchildren can’t go out to play.”
After returning from the ashram in Gujarat, Akhil had started a dairy business. Naresh and Varsha run it now.
Varsha herself keeps away from the media, wary even of being photographed. Naresh’s wife wishes everyone would just leave them alone. She hustles him away, but Naresh returns after a short while, smiling apologetically. “Please keep this case alive,” he pleads. “My son needs justice.”
Reported by Dipankar Ghose from Muzaffarnagar
Kripal Singh, killed on July 10, 2015
When she heard the news, the first thing Moni Singh felt was bewilderment. Her husband Kripal Singh, she says, had never told her he was a witness in the Jodhpur rape case against Asaram Bapu.
On July 10, Kripal, an LIC agent, became the third witness in the cases against Asaram to be shot. A follower of Asaram since before marriage, the 35-year-old Kripal knew one of Asaram’s alleged rape victims, who lived nearby. His testimony in the case amounted to only that much.
The mother of a six-year-old and five months pregnant, Moni, 35, shifts uncomfortably on the floor of her newly built two-room house in Shahjahanpur. She has sent her son, Ansh, away to her parents’ home. “I don’t know how to tell him about his father’s death. The two were very close,” Moni says.
She also worries about her unborn child, adding she would have killed herself but for the baby and Ansh. The woman doctor at a private clinic she visited has told her the child is not in the right position in the womb and there could be complications. She doubts if she can even afford that doctor now.
“There is only a two-bigha plot in the village, the produce of which is shared between us and the families of Kripal’s two brothers,” Moni says.
Moni, who says she is a graduate in science and a diploma holder in computer applications, used to teach at a local school before marriage.
Moni recently wrote to Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav seeking help. She also sought an arms licence along with a pistol for her security, but wonders if that means anything. Looking at her police escorts, she says, “Why are they standing here? We are not a threat to anyone.” Then, she adds: “I wish they would kill us. I do not wish to live.”
Moni also wonders why this fate befell Kripal. “While we had stopped going for satsangs after the (rape) incident, we chanted the Shiv Mantra for four hours every day. You cannot imagine how much we prayed.”
It was raining heavily on July 10 when, on his way home, Kripal was shot around 7.30 pm. From him were recovered several electricity bills, all paid. Locals say he used to help out neighbours voluntarily and had taken along the bills of at least a dozen people in the area for payment.
Reported by Maulshree Seth from Shahjahanpur (UP)
The cases against father and son
Between them, Asaram Bapu and son Narayan Sai have three cases of rape against them — in Jodhpur, Ahmedabad and Surat. In August 2013, the parents of a minor girl filed a zero FIR against Asaram in Delhi, accusing him of raping her at his Jodhpur ashram. Months later, on October 6, 2013, two Surat-based sisters lodged complaints of rape against Asaram and Narayan at the Jehangirpura police station in the city. The elder sister lodged a complaint against Asaram while the younger one lodged a complaint against Narayan. The rape complaint against Asaram was transferred to Ahmedabad as the alleged rape had taken place at the Motera ashram in the city while the complaint against Narayan was registered and investigated by the Surat city police.
ASARAM RAPE CASE
The elder sister alleged that between 2002 and 2005, Asaram raped her several times at the Motera ashram. A Special Investigation Team (SIT) of the Ahmedabad Police based its investigation on 101 witnesses and booked Asaram, his wife, daughter and four sevikas at the ashram under different sections for rape, illegal confinement, criminal conspiracy and unnatural sex.
* On May 23, 2014, Amrut Prajapati, one of the prime witnesses in the rape case against Asaram, was shot at in Rajkot. He died on June 18, 2014.
* Akhil Gupta, Asaram’s personal cook at the Motera ashram and a witness in the Ahmedabad rape case, was shot dead in January this year.
NARAYAN SAI RAPE CASE
After evading arrest for 58 days, on December 4, 2013, Narayan was arrested with two of his aides, Kaushalkumar Thakur alias Hanuman and Ramesh Malhotra, from Kurukshetra in Haryana. On March 1, 2014, the Surat police submitted a 1,100-page chargesheet — citing 150 witnesses — against 38 people, including Narayan, at the Surat district court. Nine people have been arrested so far. Except for Narayan, all the accused in the case are out on bail and the trial is on.
* On February 28, 2014, the husband of the younger of the sisters who alleged rape was attacked while on his way to work in Surat.
* Rakesh Patel, who once worked as Asaram’s personal photographer, was attacked on March 10, 2014. He escaped with minor injuries.
* On March 16, 2014, Dinesh Balchandani, one of the witnesses, faced an acid attack.
In August 2013, the parents of a 16-year-old girl had filed the zero FIR against Asaram in Delhi, accusing him of raping her at his Jodhpur ashram. On September 1, 2013, Asaram was flown in from his Indore ashram to Jodhpur and taken into police custody for a day. He was then sent to the Central Jail in Jodhpur and made to undergo a potency test, which he cleared. While in jail, he sought special facilities such as Gangajal for his bath, special herbs and medicines, a bed and fruits and sweets, but the court rejected his plea. On November 6, 2013, the Jodhpur police filed a chargesheet against Asaram and four others. The Jodhpur court rejected Asaram’s bail plea thrice. The trial is on and the last of the 42 witnesses is being cross-examined.
* July 10, 2015: Kripal Singh, key witness, shot at and succumbed to injuries in Bareilly
* February 13, 2015: Rahul Sachan, a key witness in Surat rape case, attacked with a knife outside Jodhpur court.
* May 14, 2015: Mahendra Chawla, another witness in the Jodhpur case, attacked in Panipat, Haryana
Reported by ENS Surat, Ahmedabad & Jaipur