Influential Guru Asaram Bapu Given Life Sentence For Raping Teenage Girl

Influential Guru Asaram Bapu Given Life Sentence For Raping Teenage Girl

Self-styled godman Asaram Bapu, who once presided over a Rs 10,000 crore empire and controlled the lives of millions of his followers, was on Wednesday sentenced to life imprisonment by a Jodhpur court for raping a teenage girl in his ashram five years ago.

Asaram, who urges followers to live a pious life free of sexual desires, has always denied raping the then 16-year-old in 2013 at an ashram in the city.

Two of the four other co-accused, including a woman, were also found guilty and sentenced to 20 years.

The 77-year-old, known to his followers as Asaram Bapu or simply Bapuji (Bapu means father in Hindi), has 230 ashrams across India, the United Kingdom, the US, Kenya, Uganda, and Canada.

Numerous followers, she said, had gathered at the ashram after they heard about the verdict this morning. "He has over 400 ashrams running after his name", said the judge adding that "as per my modest opinion, the accused, by committing the despicable and heinous crime, has not merely shattered the faith of his devotees in him but has also harmed the reputation of saints among the common people".

Police placed the Rajasthan, Gujarat and Haryana states - all centers of large numbers of Asaram supporters - on high alert Wednesday before the verdict was read.

Asaram told the girl's parents to go away in the intervening night of August 15 and 16, 2013, when he was alone in his hut with the victim. "She could've held the hand of one of the men and said, I consider you my brother".

In 2013, he told journalists that if Nirbhaya had chanted the Saraswati Mantra, she would not have boarded the bus where she was raped and assaulted. Two others accused in the case were acquitted. He said, "Asaram is convicted, we have got justice".

His arrest in September 2013 triggered a spate of violence by his followers who stopped trains and blocked highways - attacking policemen and reporters who were covering the case.

In small groups, Asaram's followers had arrived early in the morning for their daily routine of holding prayers and chanting shlokas behind the tall, grilled gates of the sprawling ashram on the banks of the Sabarmati river. Asaram is married to Laxmi Devi and they have two children - son Narayan Sai, who is also behind bars, and daughter Bharti Devi. In August, Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh - a guru known for his sparkling outfits and his appearances in low-budget self-produced movies - was convicted of sexually assaulting two female followers.

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