Asaram rape case verdict: the self-styled godman, if convicted, faces a minimum of 10 years in jail
Jodhpur: A court in Rajasthan will decide today if self-styled godman Asaram -- who runs 400 ashrams across India -- was guilty of raping a 16-year-old five years ago. Asaram has thousands of followers across India with extensive money and muscle power. The trial in the two cases against him has been marked by a string of attacks against witnesses who dared to testify against him. Even the police and media men said they have been targetted. Jodhpur, where Asaram has been jailed since 2013, has been converted to a fortress to prevent any reprisals from his followers. Similar precautions have been taken in Shahjahanpur of Uttar Pradesh, where the young woman and her family now stay. Besides Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, extensive security arrangements have been made in Delhi and Haryana too.
Here's your 10-point cheatsheet to the Asaram rape case:
Asaram has been accused of rape by a 16-year-old girl. The teen has alleged that her parents were tricked into taking her to his ashram near Jodhpur in 2013. The attendants at Asaram's ashram in Chhindwara, where she was studying, said she was possessed by evil spirits and needed to be exorcised. In Jodhpur, she was sexually assaulted by Asaram, the chargesheet said.
The chargesheet against Asaram accuses him of rape, trafficking, and under a stringent law on sexual crimes against children that could entail a life term if charges are proved. If convicted, he faces a minimum sentence of 10 years in jail.
The father of the girl has told NDTV that they are waiting for justice. "My daughter has done her duty. She stood by her testimony throughout the trial," he told NDTV. The family also said they were offered money to withdraw the case against Asaram. When they refused, they were threatened.
Over the last four years since the trial started against him, 9 witnesses in the two cases against Asaram have been attacked. Three of them have died.
Asaram's doctor Amrut Prajapat was shot in Gujarat's Rajkot in June 2014. His cook Akhil Gupta and another key witness, Kripal Singh, were shot dead in 2015 in Uttar Pradesh. Mahendra Chawala and Rahul Sachan, two other witnesses, were attacked on the premises of the Jodhpur court in 2015. They survived and went ahead to depose against Asaram.
Ajay Pal Lamba, the police officer who led the investigation against Asaram in Jodhpur in 2013, said he faced regular threats. "They tried to influence our team in every way. They would also threaten us," said the officer, who is now with the Anti-Corruption Bureau.
Heavy security has been put in place in Jodhpur, where the sentence will be pronounced inside the jail. The police have sealed the entry points to the city, and have evacuated Asaram's ashram. Rail and road traffic are under heavy scrutiny. The centre has also asked Rajasthan, Gujarat and Haryana governments to tighten security as the three states have a large number of Asaram followers.
The district magistrate of Shahjahanpur said they have also made adequate arrangements for security. "We are expecting some of his followers might try to come, so we have issued alerts. The adjacent district also on alert," Amrit Tripathi told NDTV.
Asaram faces another case in Surat, Gujarat, where two sisters have accused him and his son Narayan Sai of rape and illegal confinement.
Haryana and several other norther states witnessed massive violence last year, when thousands of followers of another self-styled godman, Gurmeet Ram Rahim, went on rampage after he was found guilty of rape. The flamboyant 50-year-old chief of Dera Sacha Sauda - who built an empire worth crores -- was convicted for raping two women 15 years ago. He has been sentenced to 20 years in jail.