Godman falls, justice wins
The law has finally caught up with godman Asaram Bapu. A special court has found the self-styled godman guilty of sexual assault, committed on a 16-year-old girl in 2013 at his Ashram in Manai village, near Jodhpur. He has been sentenced to life imprisonment until death. Each of the two other accused in the case have been awarded 20 years in jail, while two others who had been named as accused have been let off. The victim was a student at a school run by Asaram Bapu's ashram in Madhya Pradesh and originally hailed from Uttar Pradesh's Shahjahanpur district. Asaram Bapu was charged under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act and the SC&ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. Asaram has been under imprisonment since August 31, 2013. During the trial, Asaram moved 12 bail applications, of which six were rejected by the trial court. His bail applications were rejected thrice each by the Rajasthan High Court and the Supreme Court. Amid fears that his followers might indulge in extreme violence in the case of an unfavourable verdict, the court pronounced its judgment from the Jodhpur Central Jail. For this purpose, a special court was set up inside the premises of the Jodhpur Central Jail. The law enforcement agencies apprehended a repeat of the violence that followed the verdict of Gurmeet Ram Rahim's conviction last August. "Asaram is convicted, we have got justice. I want to thank everyone who supported us in this fight. Now, I hope he will get strict punishment," said the father of the rape survivor. Fearing turmoil, Jodhpur Police had imposed Section 144 in the city. Asaram has been accused in a rape case in Gujarat as well. Two Surat-based sisters had filed separate complaints against Asaram and his son Narayan Sai. They accused the father-son duo of repeated rape and illegal confinement between 1997 and 2006.
Asaram has a huge number of followers and there were fears that they may pose a threat to the prevailing law and order situations if they were unhappy with the court verdict. Due to security reasons, a special courtroom was set-up inside the Jodhpur Central Jail for the pronouncement of his verdict. The Jodhpur Police had requested the Rajasthan High Court to direct the trial court to pronounce its judgment from inside the jail. After getting the High Court nod, the police undertook strict security measures around the city. The police also issued a prohibitory order for 10 days from April 21-30. The police checked his ashrams and kept a strict vigil on bus stands, railway stations and the airport. The hotels and guest houses were directed against providing accommodation to Asaram's followers. The Union Ministry of Home Affairs had directed the Rajasthan, Gujarat and Haryana governments to tighten the security and use additional forces wherever required. The Shahjahanpur district administration in UP, where the victim lives with her family, has stepped up security around the rape survivor's house. Apart from 10 armed guards, women constables and several intelligence officers have been deployed around the house of the victim. The victim and her family members decided not to visit Jodhpur due to security concerns. The police are taking no chances. Nobody is allowed to meet the family without a thorough verification. Local intelligence teams, Cheetah teams and police teams are keeping an eye on them.
After hearing the sentence, Asaram broke down. He had denied the rape and can still appeal against his conviction to a higher court. The 79-year-old godman has about 400 ashrams across the country. The special court on April 7 had reserved its judgment for April 25. The final arguments stretched for over five months. During the trial, three key witnesses died and several other witnesses were attacked and given death threats. The police officer who probed the Asaram rape case received 2,000 threat letters and phone calls. The victim said that Asaram had called her to his ashram in the Manai area near Jodhpur and raped her on the night of August 15, 2013. She was 16-years-old at that time and was studying at Asaram's ashram at Chhindwara in Madhya Pradesh. Asaram was arrested in Indore and brought to Jodhpur on September 1, 2013. He has been under judicial custody since September 2, 2013.