The Jodhpur Schedule Caste and Schedule Tribe court has awarded life sentence to controversial godman Asaram Bapu under Section 376 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act and Juvenile Justice (JJ) Act. Other two co-accused have been sentenced to 20 years of imprisonment each. Charges levelled against Asaram include criminal intimidation, wrongful confinement, criminal conspiracy and sexual harassment. Asaram’s conviction comes at a time when India has been witnessing several rape incidents and there has been a demand to tighten existing anti-rape laws.
CMD and Editor-in-Chief of Sudarshan News TV Suresh Chavhanke said that Asaram Bapu was aware that court might award him punishment. “However there are some points that have not been properly presented before the court. The age of the victim is more than 18 years. Some vested interests are also working against the interest of the country. Defaming Hindu godmen will also have an impact on Hindutva,” he said.
By awarding life sentence to Asaram Bapu, is the Modi government sending a message that it will take stern action against child molesters? After a spate of rape incidents, the government had received flak for its failure to act against the accused. By convicting Asaram, is the government trying to regain the confidence of people? Should this verdict serve as a wake-up call for the politicians who use godmen for garnering votes?
State BJP Vice President Neeta Kelkar said, “This decision will go a long way to provide justice to victims. Asaram Bapu’s conviction shows that people have faith in the judicial system which is a positive sign.”
Even though godmen like Asaram commit heinous crimes, but people have a tendency to blindly follow them. Most of them turn out to be fake and cheat people. In the name of spirituality, many of them have amassed abundant wealth and live a luxurious lifestyle. Their preaching too is aired on television channels and is immensely popular among the masses. Since many people are illiterate and superstitious in the country, they blindly follow these godmen for finding solutions to the problems faced by them in day to day lives. Even rich, celebrities and politicians too seek blessings from them.
Criminal Lawyer Abbas Kazmi said that Asaram’s conviction will surely send a positive message to people and ensure that justice is delivered to every rape victim. “Court can also deliver a verdict against any powerful entity. This verdict shows that judiciary is following transparency.”
“Asaram and his followers have a right to appeal against this verdict in the High Court. It is a good sign to see that justice is being delivered to the victim,” he added.
Asaram Bapu is not the lone godman who has been convicted of rape and molestation incidents as the action has been taken against many others in the past. In August 2017, self-styled godman Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh was sentenced by the CBI to 20 years imprisonment and penalty of Rs 30 lakh was imposed on him for raping two disciples. Asaram Bapu’s son Narayan Sai was also arrested for allegedly raping a Surat-based woman disciple of his father between 2002 and 2005. The woman had accused Sai of repeated sexual assault when she was living at Asaram’s ashram in Surat. On April 21, 2010 self -styled godman Swami Nityananda was arrested after his sleazy video footage with a Tamil actress was aired on television channels.
Sanatan Sanstha spokesperson Chetan Rajhans said, “If Asaram Bapu is not satisfied with the Jodhpur Court verdict then he can file an appeal in the High Court. There are several instances where High Court has overturned the decisions of the lower court.”
“Special Investigation teams are not following transparency while probing a case. Many times innocent people are being framed and culprits roam scot-free after committing the crime,” he added.
Two Surat-based sisters had filed separate complaints against Asaram and his son Narayan Sai, accusing them of rape and illegal confinement, among other charges. The elder sister, in her complaint against Asaram, had accused him of repeated sexual assaults between 2001 and 2006 when she was staying at his ashram near Ahmedabad. Three witnesses have been killed and several others were attacked and threatened for speaking against the godman.
The teenager’s father welcomed the Jodhpur court’s verdict awarding life sentence to Asaram Bapu. He said, “We had complete faith in the judiciary and are happy that we got justice. For the past four months, our family members have not been stepping out of our house. It is satisfying that the verdict has gone against him.”
Senior Advocate Abha Singh said, “It is indeed a strong message to all those who feel that money and power can save them if they violate the law and commit heinous crimes. Asaram, who committed rape on a minor, will die in Jail and this conviction will instill the fear of Law in the criminals who are raping minors. With almost 85 per cent increase in rape against minors, harsh and speedy punishment is the need of the hour.”
“All these Babas who are indulging in crime and getting political patronage must know that they cannot be saved,” she added.