Asaram Bapu, one of India’s most followed self-styled ‘godmen’, has always been controversy’s favourite child. Currently under trial for three rape cases – and in jail since 2013 – Asaram’s journey from a tea-seller as a kid to a baba with over 2 crore followers is nothing short of exceptional.
On Wednesday, 25 April, a Jodhpur court found him guilty of raping a 16-year-old girl at his ashram in the city, and sentenced him to life imprisonment.
Asaram and his son Narayan Sai are also accused in a double rape case of two sisters in Gujarat, involving repeated sexual assault and illegal confinement.
From allegedly threatening judges and victims’ families, to the murder of key witnesses, his followers have tried every trick in the book “without his knowledge” to save their Bapuji.
Here’s a look at Asaram’s life and the major developments in the cases in the last five years.
Asaram was born Asumal Sirumalani in Sindh, now in Pakistan, in 1941. According to his biography, ‘Sant Asaram Bapuji Ki Jeevan Jhanki’, he left home multiple times between 15 and 23 years of age to spend time at different ashrams in search of spirituality.
Guru Leelashahji Maharaj accepted him as his disciple in 1964 and named him Sant Shri Asaramji Maharaj. He was already married to Laxmi Devi by then, with whom he has a daughter, Bharati Devi, and a son, Narayan Sai.
In 1972, he built a hut at Gujarat’s Motera village, on the banks of the Sabarmati. A year later, he converted it into an ashram, starting with just five to 10 followers.
In many of these states, his trust has been accused of setting up the ashram on encroached land, according to The Indian Express.
His ashrams have over 40 gurukuls, or residential schools to teach children.
The trust runs a large printing press for 100-odd publications in a number of languages, and an Ayurveda unit.