A trial court in Jodhpur sentenced self-styled godman Asaram Bapu guilty to life for raping a 16-year-old girl at one of his ashrams. The victim, who was studying at Asaram’s ashram in Chhindwara, had alleged that the godman summoned her to his ashram in Manai near Jodhpur and raped her on the night of August 15, 2013. Judge Madhusudhan Sharma of the court of SC/ST cases went for the maximum punishment under a stringent law on sexual crimes against children. He has been reportedly found guilty of all the four charges — sexual assault, criminal conspiracy, criminal intimidation and illegal confinement of a minor.
The 77-year-old godman and four of his aides — Sanchita alias Shilpi, Sharad Chandra alias Sharat Chandra, Prakash and Shiva alias Sava Ram Hethvadiya — were booked under relevant sections of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act and the Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. However, only two of his four aides have reportedly been convicted in the case. Prakash and Shiva alias Sava Ram Hethvadiya have been acquitted of all charges while Sanchita alias Shilpi and Sharad Chandra alias Sharat Chandra have been sentenced to 20 years in prison. Asaram is likely to appeal against the trial court verdict in the Rajasthan High Court.
Not the only case against Asaram Bapu
The verdict and sentencing were pronounced at a makeshift court in the Jodhpur Central Jail where Asaram has been lodged in since 2013. Asaram is also facing another rape charge against him. A Surat-based woman had accused the preacher of raping her when she was living in his ashram between 1997 and 2006. The case is being heard by the Gujarat High Court, which had earlier denied his bail application. Asaram then moved the Supreme Court against the high court decision to deny him bail. He cited poor health as the reason for requesting his release from jail. The apex court, however, rejected his plea and questioned the Gujarat government over the delay in examining the victim. They asked the state to expedite the trial process.
Asaram’s son Narayan Sai was also arrested in connection with the rape case. He is also accused by the Surat-based victim’s younger sister of rape and illegal confinement. Sai is currently lodged in a jail in Surat. He contested the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections in 2017 from Lucknow Cantonment and Shivpuri constituency in Varanasi as a candidate of Ojaswi Party, a party established by him. Three witnesses were killed allegedly by Asaram followers for deposing against the godman in the two rape cases. Asaram’s personal aide Amrut Prajapati was shot dead in Rajkot in 2014, while his cook Akhil Gupta and another key witness Kripal Singh were killed in similar fashion in 2015.
Meanwhile, security has been tightened in three states — Gujarat, Rajasthan and Haryana — to avoid any untoward incident. Section 144 has been imposed in Jodhpur and police has set up check posts at various strategic points in the city.