Asaram Bapu & His ‘Unholy’ Crimes: Why’s the ‘Godman’ Behind Bars?

On 25 April, a Jodhpur court found him guilty of raping a teenager, and sentenced him to life imprisonment.

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Explainers
6 min read
Asaram Bapu’s journey from a tea seller as a kid to a ‘godman’ with over 2 crore followers is nothing but exceptional.
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Snapshot

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 Bapu & His ‘Unholy’ Crimes: Why’s the ‘Godman’ Behind Bars?

  1. 1. Asaram's Stint With 'Holiness'

    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.

    And today, the Sant Asaram Bapu Trust runs close to 400 ashrams, a few of these abroad, and at least one in each Indian state, barring Kerala, Tamil Nadu and the Northeast.

    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.

    Expand
  2. 2. Political Clout and Fall Out

    Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, LK Advani, Nitin Gadkari, Uma Bharti, BJP Chief Ministers Shivraj Singh Chauhan, Raman Singh and Prem Kumar Dhumal, as well as Congress leaders Digvijaya Singh, Kamal Nath and Motilal Vora have all sought Asaram’s blessings at some point.

    Little wonder then that the Congress governments in Gujarat in 1981 and 1992, and the BJP governments in 1997 and 1999 allotted lands to his trust for expansion.

    However, Asaram’s equation with the BJP in Gujarat started deteriorating over alleged land encroachment by his trust. For instance, in 2010, the government reportedly took back 67,059 square metres of land from the ashram in Ahmedabad.

    In 2006, the Bihar State Religious Trust alleged that Asaram had usurped land in Patna for a temple. It moved the court and got the land vacated following a 2009 order. Similar land encroachment allegations also surfaced in Madhya Pradesh.

    The Income Tax department in January 2016 recommended cancelling tax breaks given to charitable trusts controlled by the jailed Asaram, for holding undisclosed income of nearly Rs 2,300 crore since 2008-09, official sources told The Indian Express.

    Expand
  3. 3. The Rape Cases

    Asaram is accused of allegedly assaulting at least two women.

    The impending Rajasthan High Court verdict in the alleged rape case of the 16-year-old girl dates back to 15 August 2013. Asaram allegedly molested her while performing a ritual in his Jodhpur ashram that was supposed to "cure her of evil".

    The girl, a student at the ashram from Shahjahanpur, Uttar Pradesh, accused Bapu of asking her to perform oral sex and touching her inappropriately.

    The parents of the girl, both disciples of Asaram, filed a complaint, following which the ‘godman’ was arrested and flown to Jodhpur.

    Asaram was sentenced to life imprisonment by a Jodhpur court after he was found guilty.

    Gujarat Double Rape Case

    In October 2013, less than two months after Asaram was arrested in the Jodhpur case, two sisters from Surat accused him and his son Narayan Sai of rape.

    The elder sister, in her complaint, accused Asaram of repeated sexual assaults between 2001 and 2006 when she was staying at his ashram near Ahmedabad. The younger sister alleged that she was raped by Narayan Sai at his Surat ashram.

    Narayan Sai, too, was arrested by the police in December 2013.

    Expand
  4. 4. Witnesses: Threatened, Attacked, Killed

    In September 2013, Sessions Judge Manoj Kumar Vyas, who was hearing the case, was allegedly warned of ‘consequences’ if he didn’t grant bail to Asaram. The SHO in charge of security during the hearings also reportedly received death threats.

    Bu that’s not all. Soon after the father-son duo was arrested, a spate of threats, attacks and killings of witnesses willing to testify against Asaram began. The use of muscle-power wasn’t new to his followers, and there were several cases of witness tampering between 2014 and 2015.

    February 2014 | Husband of Gujarat Victim

    The husband of the younger sister who had accused Narayan Sai was severely injured after he was attacked by unidentified persons in Surat. The attackers stabbed him in his back and then in his face multiple times, reported Times of India.

    March 2014 | Dinesh Bhavchandani, Gujarat Case Witness

    Two unidentified men on a motorbike threw acid at Dinesh Bhavchandani for testifying against Asaram in the court.

    May 2014 | Amrut Prajapati, Gujarat Case Witness

    Asaram’s personal Ayurveda doctor for almost 12 years till the late 90s, Amrut Prajapati, was shot at by close range by two unidentified men in Rajkot. He succumbed to his injuries a month later.

    January 2015 | Akhil Gupta, Gujarat Case Witness

    Akhil Gupta, Asaram’s cook and personal aide, was shot dead by two unidentified men. He had testified that he had spotted the two rape victims entering Asaram’s room.

    February 2015 | Rahul K Sachan, Jodhpur Case Witness

    Asaram’s personal physician, Rahul Sachan, was stabbed by one of Asaram’s followers in the Jodhpur court when he was about to testify. Following the incident, Sachan was provided with a police guard. Sachan, however, went missing on 25 November 2015.

    May 2015 | Mahendra Chawla, Gujarat Case Witness

    A former aide of Asaram, Mahendra Chawla was shot at by two men in Panipat. According to The Wire, he had provided detailed testimony against both Asaram and Sai, including allegations of financial irregularity, intimidation and sexual exploitation of devotees.

    July 2015 | Sudha Pathak, Jodhpur Case Witness

    Sudha Pathak, an ex-attendant of Asaram, turned hostile in a hearing in July 2015. According to News18, Pathak had earlier told the court that there was threat to her life.

    July 2015 | Kripal Singh, Jodhpur Case Witness

    Kripal Singh was shot dead by unidentified assailants in UP’s Shahjahanpur. After shooting him, the assailants warned him against testifying against Asaram. According to The Wire, in his dying declaration, Singh identified the attackers as Asaram’s followers. Singh had also said that the three had approached him in the Jodhpur court and offered him a hefty sum in exchange for withdrawing from the case.

    Expand
  5. 5. Slow-Paced Trials and Bail Denials

    In March 2016, Karthik Haldar alias Raju Dulalchand was arrested for killing three of the key witnesses against Asaram, reported Scroll.

    Reports of the victim’s father in the Jodhpur case receiving threats to withdraw emerged within a week of Haldar’s arrest.

    Asaram sought bail multiple times, both in the Rajasthan High Court and the Supreme Court citing health issues, but he was denied bail each time despite his case being taken up by prominent lawyers like Subramanian Swamy and Ram Jethmalani. In August 2016, however, the SC asked AIIMS to evaluate his medical condition.

    The SC in January 2017 dismissed the bail application filed by Asaram and ordered a fresh FIR against him for attaching a false medical document along with his plea. He was also slapped with a Rs 1 lakh fine for filing a “frivolous petition”, reported The Indian Express.

    The SC in August 2017 pulled up the Gujarat government over the slow pace of the trial and questioned why the victims in the Surat case weren’t examined despite the apex court asking them to do so in April 2017.

    In January 2018, advocates Siddharth Luthra and Saurabh Ajay Gupta, appearing for Asaram, told the SC that out of 92 witnesses in the case in Gujarat, 22 had been examined,14 dropped, and the rest were yet to be questioned. The court had then adjourned the matter till 22 January, reported The Indian Express.

    The Rajasthan High Court on 17 April 2018 allowed a plea by the state police for the pronouncement of the trial court verdict in the Jodhpur rape case on the premises of Jodhpur central jail where he is lodged, and directed the authorities to deploy adequate security personnel to ensure that his followers do not create a law and order problem.

    (The Quint is available on Telegram. For handpicked stories every day, subscribe to us on Telegram)

    Expand

Asaram's Stint With 'Holiness'

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.

And today, the Sant Asaram Bapu Trust runs close to 400 ashrams, a few of these abroad, and at least one in each Indian state, barring Kerala, Tamil Nadu and the Northeast.

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.

Political Clout and Fall Out

Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, LK Advani, Nitin Gadkari, Uma Bharti, BJP Chief Ministers Shivraj Singh Chauhan, Raman Singh and Prem Kumar Dhumal, as well as Congress leaders Digvijaya Singh, Kamal Nath and Motilal Vora have all sought Asaram’s blessings at some point.

Little wonder then that the Congress governments in Gujarat in 1981 and 1992, and the BJP governments in 1997 and 1999 allotted lands to his trust for expansion.

However, Asaram’s equation with the BJP in Gujarat started deteriorating over alleged land encroachment by his trust. For instance, in 2010, the government reportedly took back 67,059 square metres of land from the ashram in Ahmedabad.

In 2006, the Bihar State Religious Trust alleged that Asaram had usurped land in Patna for a temple. It moved the court and got the land vacated following a 2009 order. Similar land encroachment allegations also surfaced in Madhya Pradesh.

The Income Tax department in January 2016 recommended cancelling tax breaks given to charitable trusts controlled by the jailed Asaram, for holding undisclosed income of nearly Rs 2,300 crore since 2008-09, official sources told The Indian Express.

The Rape Cases

Asaram is accused of allegedly assaulting at least two women.

The impending Rajasthan High Court verdict in the alleged rape case of the 16-year-old girl dates back to 15 August 2013. Asaram allegedly molested her while performing a ritual in his Jodhpur ashram that was supposed to "cure her of evil".

The girl, a student at the ashram from Shahjahanpur, Uttar Pradesh, accused Bapu of asking her to perform oral sex and touching her inappropriately.

The parents of the girl, both disciples of Asaram, filed a complaint, following which the ‘godman’ was arrested and flown to Jodhpur.

Asaram was sentenced to life imprisonment by a Jodhpur court after he was found guilty.

Gujarat Double Rape Case

In October 2013, less than two months after Asaram was arrested in the Jodhpur case, two sisters from Surat accused him and his son Narayan Sai of rape.

The elder sister, in her complaint, accused Asaram of repeated sexual assaults between 2001 and 2006 when she was staying at his ashram near Ahmedabad. The younger sister alleged that she was raped by Narayan Sai at his Surat ashram.

Narayan Sai, too, was arrested by the police in December 2013.

Witnesses: Threatened, Attacked, Killed

In September 2013, Sessions Judge Manoj Kumar Vyas, who was hearing the case, was allegedly warned of ‘consequences’ if he didn’t grant bail to Asaram. The SHO in charge of security during the hearings also reportedly received death threats.

Bu that’s not all. Soon after the father-son duo was arrested, a spate of threats, attacks and killings of witnesses willing to testify against Asaram began. The use of muscle-power wasn’t new to his followers, and there were several cases of witness tampering between 2014 and 2015.

February 2014 | Husband of Gujarat Victim

The husband of the younger sister who had accused Narayan Sai was severely injured after he was attacked by unidentified persons in Surat. The attackers stabbed him in his back and then in his face multiple times, reported Times of India.

March 2014 | Dinesh Bhavchandani, Gujarat Case Witness

Two unidentified men on a motorbike threw acid at Dinesh Bhavchandani for testifying against Asaram in the court.

May 2014 | Amrut Prajapati, Gujarat Case Witness

Asaram’s personal Ayurveda doctor for almost 12 years till the late 90s, Amrut Prajapati, was shot at by close range by two unidentified men in Rajkot. He succumbed to his injuries a month later.

January 2015 | Akhil Gupta, Gujarat Case Witness

Akhil Gupta, Asaram’s cook and personal aide, was shot dead by two unidentified men. He had testified that he had spotted the two rape victims entering Asaram’s room.

February 2015 | Rahul K Sachan, Jodhpur Case Witness

Asaram’s personal physician, Rahul Sachan, was stabbed by one of Asaram’s followers in the Jodhpur court when he was about to testify. Following the incident, Sachan was provided with a police guard. Sachan, however, went missing on 25 November 2015.

May 2015 | Mahendra Chawla, Gujarat Case Witness

A former aide of Asaram, Mahendra Chawla was shot at by two men in Panipat. According to The Wire, he had provided detailed testimony against both Asaram and Sai, including allegations of financial irregularity, intimidation and sexual exploitation of devotees.

July 2015 | Sudha Pathak, Jodhpur Case Witness

Sudha Pathak, an ex-attendant of Asaram, turned hostile in a hearing in July 2015. According to News18, Pathak had earlier told the court that there was threat to her life.

July 2015 | Kripal Singh, Jodhpur Case Witness

Kripal Singh was shot dead by unidentified assailants in UP’s Shahjahanpur. After shooting him, the assailants warned him against testifying against Asaram. According to The Wire, in his dying declaration, Singh identified the attackers as Asaram’s followers. Singh had also said that the three had approached him in the Jodhpur court and offered him a hefty sum in exchange for withdrawing from the case.

Slow-Paced Trials and Bail Denials

In March 2016, Karthik Haldar alias Raju Dulalchand was arrested for killing three of the key witnesses against Asaram, reported Scroll.

Reports of the victim’s father in the Jodhpur case receiving threats to withdraw emerged within a week of Haldar’s arrest.

Asaram sought bail multiple times, both in the Rajasthan High Court and the Supreme Court citing health issues, but he was denied bail each time despite his case being taken up by prominent lawyers like Subramanian Swamy and Ram Jethmalani. In August 2016, however, the SC asked AIIMS to evaluate his medical condition.

The SC in January 2017 dismissed the bail application filed by Asaram and ordered a fresh FIR against him for attaching a false medical document along with his plea. He was also slapped with a Rs 1 lakh fine for filing a “frivolous petition”, reported The Indian Express.

The SC in August 2017 pulled up the Gujarat government over the slow pace of the trial and questioned why the victims in the Surat case weren’t examined despite the apex court asking them to do so in April 2017.

In January 2018, advocates Siddharth Luthra and Saurabh Ajay Gupta, appearing for Asaram, told the SC that out of 92 witnesses in the case in Gujarat, 22 had been examined,14 dropped, and the rest were yet to be questioned. The court had then adjourned the matter till 22 January, reported The Indian Express.

The Rajasthan High Court on 17 April 2018 allowed a plea by the state police for the pronouncement of the trial court verdict in the Jodhpur rape case on the premises of Jodhpur central jail where he is lodged, and directed the authorities to deploy adequate security personnel to ensure that his followers do not create a law and order problem.

(The Quint is available on Telegram. For handpicked stories every day, subscribe to us on Telegram)

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