With the conviction and life sentence of Asaram Bapu in a case involving the rape of a 16-year-old girl at his ashram in Ahmedabad nearly five years ago, another godman has been exposed for indulging in sexual activities taking advantage of the gullibility and blind faith of his large number of followers.
Asaram’s conviction comes a few months after another godman, Sacha Sauda sect chief in Haryana Ram Rahim Gurmeet Singh was arrested after he built an empire of gigantic proportions which was allegedly based on sex, crime, and criminal intimidation, all under a facade of religiosity.
After Ram Rahim’s arrest from Panchkula in Haryana, a surfeit of skeletons came tumbling out of his closets and the empire crumbled like a pack of cards.
Both these cases are sagas of huge empire-building and unmasking of all manner of men and women, a large section of them with depraved values.
The now-convicted Asaram had established over 400 ashrams in India and abroad, many of which are still being run by his followers. His forte was his powerful oratory and his magnetic appeal through his deep-set eyes with which he virtually mesmerised his legion of followers. The bulk of his followers refuse to believe that he could have been up to his sexcapades and other illegal activities. They feel he has fallen victim to conspirators.
Asaram’s reach was particularly strong in Rajasthan, Gujarat and Haryana but extended to many other states too. As the truth of his operations emerges, there are lessons to be learnt for people at large, not the least of which is to not get swayed by those who preach something and practice just the opposite.
The biggest protector against falsehoods is the right kind of education of which there is a dearth in the backward states of north India where blind faith thrives.
As the Sacha Sauda chief’s case showed, politicians and even some bureaucrats, including policemen fell prey to the fake godliness of Ram Rahim Gurmeet Singh. Some even got cuts from his ill-gotten wealth. But such is the protection of those in power in India that these bigwigs manage to get away from any punishment.
It is time that public pressure is built up against those who provide protection and patronage to such fake swamis who, besides hoodwinking gullible people also spoil the fair name of the religion they profess to be the high priests of.
By 2008, 40 of Asaram’s ashrams had gurukuls (residential schools). When two boys went missing that year from one such school in Ahmedabad and their mutilated bodies were found on the banks of the Sabarmati, there were allegations that black magic was practised there.
The parents alleged that the police harassed them and refused toregister a complaint against Asaram or the ashram administration.
The Narendra Modi-led Gujarat state government set up the Justice DK Trivedi Commission to probe the deaths in the ashram but nothing came of it. In 2009, Asaram’s followers organised a rally, protesting against their alleged harassment by the Gujarat police.
The protest turned violent, and over 200 supporters of the controversial baba were arrested after they attacked and injured 20 policemen.
Following the Asaram judgment in the lower court, his supporters will move the High Court. If Asaram is indeed guilty, he must be meted out strict punishment so that his followers and the legion of supporters of other babas across the country with dubious credentials learn some useful lessons.
One pernicious practice the country needs to focus on is the rampant trial by the media in this case as in so many others. While in this case the ends of justice have evidently been met, in principle this pre-judging of an accused’s guilt during trial is a dangerous practice that needs to be eschewed.