A Jodhpur court on Wednesday held self-styled godman Asaram guilty of raping and illegally confining a minor in his ashram in Manai on the outskirts of Jodhpur in year 2013.
The court also held his associates – hostel warden Sharatchandra and Shilpi, who was the hostel warden in Chhindwara ashram where the victim was studying in a gurukul - as guilty.
Asaram’s cook Prakash and his helper Shiva have been let off.
Today’s verdict makes Asaram the second self-styled godman to follow the steps of Gurmeet Ram Rahim who was sent behind bars for 20 years last year for raping a ‘sadhvi’.
The verdict was pronounced by judge Madhusudan Sharma from the courtroom in Jodhpur Central jail where Asaram is lodged rather than in his courtroom due to security reasons and in light of massive violence that ensued the conviction of godman Gurmeet Ram Rahim late last year.
In Ram Rahim’s case also, following the violence by his followers after conviction, the sentence was pronounced in the jail itself.
Asaram now faces jail term of 10 years to life.
Ahead of today’s verdict, the Union Home Ministry had in an advisory asked Rajasthan, Gujarat and Haryana to ensure against disturbance of peace and law and order situation.
The verdict comes almost five years after Asaram, more famously known among his followers as Asaram Bapu, was arrested on September 1, 2013 for raping the 16-year-old native of Sharanpur, Uttar Pradesh in August, 2013.
The teenaged rape survivor, who was studying at one of Asaram’s ashram in Chhindwara, had said in her statement recorded over a span of 27 days that her parents were tricked into taking her to his ashram near Jodhpur in 2013 for treatment of convulsions. The attendants at the ashram in Chhindwara, where she was studying, said she was possessed by evil spirits and needed to be exorcised.
In Jodhpur, she was sexually assaulted by Asaram who threatened her that her parents waiting for her outside the room would be killed if she does not give in. She was then sexually assaulted.
In November, 2013, a 1,200-page chargesheet filed against Asaram and his associates spoke of blackmail in exchange of sexual favours, after which they were booked under Sections 342, 376, 506 and 509 of the Indian Penal Code, and Section 8 of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO).
Over the last four years, since the trial began, as many as nine witnesses in the two cases, including Asaram’s personal aide and another associate, have been attacked. Three of them died.
The girl and her family also received numerous threats to go back on her complaint but she persisted and stood firm on her statement running into almost 100 pages.
The 77-year-old Asaram faces another rape case in Surat, Gujarat, where two sisters have accused him and his son Narayan Sai of rape and illegal confinement.
He had been in judicial custody since his arrest and had unsuccessfully moved 12 bail applications.