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

India Today - - NATION - Uday Mahurkar and Gay­a­tri Jayaraman

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

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