THE SWINGING SWAMI
The rape allegation against self- proclaimed godman Asaram Bapu is the latest in a long list of sexual impropriety charges levelled against him by former aides and devotees
Late in the night on August 31, a police team led by Assistant Commissioner of Police ( ACP) Chanchal Mishra of Rajasthan Police, and accompanied by Rakesh Gupta, Deputy Inspector General ( DIG) from the Indore police, marched in on self- proclaimed godman Asaram Bapu’s ashram in the outskirts of Indore in Rajasthan.
The police, expecting trouble from Asaram’s 4,000- odd devotees inside the ashram premises, had scoped out the area thoroughly through on- ground intelligence and Google maps. Asaram, who had been accused by the 16- year- old daughter of one of his disciples from Uttar Pradesh’s Shahjahanpur district of sexual assault at the Jodhpur ashram on August 19, had been avoiding arrest for almost two weeks.
The police had identified a road, used only by workers, as a way into his bastion. But just when they planned to move in, using policemen in civil clothes to gain an initial foothold, Asaram’s workers caught on to the ploy and began to lay mats on the road to create a human barrier. The police decided to charge in immediately. “We wanted to ensure that not a single lathi blow was rained on any devotee,” DIG Gupta told INDIA
TODAY. The 72- year- old Asaram’s own reactions were wide- ranging— he threatened suicide, locked himself in his room, and reportedly tried to reach out to his political disciples to “handle” the police who were barging in.
It was ACP Mishra’s single- handed determination that brought about Asaram’s arrest, police sources say. When Asaram locked himself in his room, the woman officer told him she would break the door down. When the police finally arrested Asaram, they found a defeated man who knew that no one— not even his most highly placed followers— had stepped in to his aid. The godman’s request to be allowed to move out in his Mercedes Benz was also rejected by the police.
Asaram, known as ‘ Bapuji’ by his legions of disciples, has since been denied bail by a Jodhpur District and Sessions Court, which means he will have to stay in custody at least for the 14- day judicial remand period, unless granted bail on appeal to a higher court. Sources in Jodhpur Central Jail told INDIA TODAY that news of the rejection of his bail on September 4 had pushed Asaram into a depression. “He has rarely talked to other inmates and has remained by himself since coming to the jail,” a senior officer said. He has been housed in the same cell in which actor Salman Khan had been kept in 1998 on charges of hunting a blackbuck. Prison sources say Asaram’s request to be allowed to drink ‘ Gangajal’ ( holy water from the Ganga) instead of regular water has been allowed. He has been eating porridge and khichdi, which are generally given to the older prisoners. He sleeps on floor like any inmate.
Asaram’s response to the rape charge is that he is innocent. His lawyers K. K. Menon and Jagmal Singh Chaudhary further say that he
has been wrongly booked because the complainant has alleged sexual assault but not rape. Since the complainant is a minor, Asaram also faces charges under the Prevention of Children from Sexual Offences ( POCSO) Act, 2012, which makes securing his release even more difficult. The defence lawyers claim the complainant, a Class XII student, is not a minor.
But while the police are trying to determine if Asaram committed the crime he has been charged with or not, the latest allegations are only one in a long line of charges that have been levelled against the godman for alleged sexual impropriety. According to depositions filed before the D. K. Trivedi inquiry commission, which had been set up by Gujarat government in 2008 after two students of the Asaram ashram had died allegedly due to ‘ black magic’ performed by Asaram and his son Narayan Sai, several former devotees had spoken of the perverse exploitation of women using the Lord Krishna and Radha relationship as a tool of seduction.
One such affidavit was filed by Raju Chandak, a long- time devotee who said he had donated property worth over Rs 20 lakh to Asaram during his 20- year- old association with the ashram. Chandak, who was the administrator of Asaram’s Ahmedabad ashram and in- charge of his cow farm near Jaipur, had taught Narayan Sai when he was a child.
In his affidavit and also while talking to INDIA TODAY, Chandak said that the first time he encountered Asaram’s dark side was in 2001 when a 17year- old girl of a business family— who had come from Bihar with her widowed mother— told him in confidence that Asaram’s “girl spotters” had lured her into having sex with Asaram, who sometimes calls himself a reincarnation of Krishna. Chandak said the girl had been told that sex with Asaram was like prasad or God’s gift. Chandak
said he was convinced soon after, when he stumbled upon Asaram and an NRI woman in a compromising position early one morning at Rajasthan’s Newai ashram. He said when Asaram knew of this, he charged Chandak with “spying” on him and threatened him with dire consequences. He even said he was beaten by Asaram’s followers as he was leaving the ashram. Asaram’s followers allege, however, that Chandak is a blackmailer who had a bone to pick with Asaram and that his deposition should not be taken seriously.
On September 4, Rajendra Gupta, an Indore- based activist, who is preparing a PIL, submitted a complaint at the Indore district collector’s office that the lease for the land on which the Indore ashram stands be repealed in wake of commercial use of land given for non- commercial purposes.
The latest allegations, coupled with comical newspaper reports of how Asaram’s virility test on September 2 had left the doctors surprised at his potency for someone so advanced in age, have put the godman in the dock again. Police say that Asaram has told them that he was alone with the complainant for almost an hour, but they were talking about spirituality. “I did touch her, but only the way one touches one’s granddaughter,” he reportedly told the police. “The girl is very spiritual,” he added.
ASARAM ATTHE JODHPUR AIRPORTAFTER HIS ARREST