Now, Rapists come in Robes

While there is legitimate national outrage against the gangrape of the photo journalist in Mumbai, what about the trauma of the little girl, and her quest for justice?

Amit Sengupta Delhi 

As we go to press, it’s been almost a week since a minor girl of 15, a child, accused Asaram Bapu of sexual assault in his (un)holy chambers in Jodhpur, one of the several swanky ashrams among the insatiably huge real estate he apparently controls in India and abroad. Her father, we are told, is a devout follower of Asaram. (So this is what he does with the little children of his followers, does he? And what do they do and teach the little children in his ashrams/schools?) 

She was studying in a Chhindwara school run by the self-styled ‘godman’ and she seemed to be in perfect health, until her parents were summoned and told that she was not well. In a dubious move, she was transported from Chhindwara and taken to the Jodhpur ashram of Asaram, ostensibly to be treated with some mumbo jumbo rituals by the ‘great helmsman’ himself. There, while the mother waited outside, the ‘sant’ reportedly assaulted her in his inner chambers and indulged in perverse actions with the hapless girl for almost 90 minutes. Certainly, his closest aides too must be fully in the know of this ritual of perversity. 

That the child was able to express herself after undergoing the trauma, and that her parents believed her, and that they were able to muster courage to lodge a police complaint, is itself a miracle, considering the powerful social and political networks controlled by this godman. That the little girl was the first to complain, is an uncanny conjecture, and perhaps points to darker, dirtier, untold narratives. 

Indeed, what happens in the secret sanctum sanctorum of these luxury cult fortresses of this mushrooming ‘baba industry’ remains a closeted mystery, and this is the case with most of these multi-millionaire businessman babas who have turned fraudulent spiritualism into a lucrative industry, operating from their diabolical dens. Cheating vulnerable and crisis-ridden people through dubious and hypnotic traps of religious consent and fake miracles has been turned into a dangerous art-form by these charlatans and fraudulent gurus. 

On August 27, the Jodhpur police apparently had to wait eight hours outside the Indore ashram of the accused, even while it was announced that Asaram was ‘meditating’. Even in this ashram, the police was reportedly ‘escorted’ by BJP leaders

The girl filed the case on August 22, 2013. An FIR was registered by the Delhi police which asked the Jodhpur police to follow up. The crime was committed in Jodhpur. The police substantiated the claims of the girl, both in Chhindwara and Jodhpur. Her version was found to be correct, including the location of the inner chambers where the crime was committed by Asaram, and the movement and location of the godman as well. Cases were registered against Asaram. 

The FIR, her categorical statement under Section 164 of the CrPC, and the ‘medical examination’ corroborate the allegations that some form of sexual assault had taken place. Asaram has reportedly been booked under Section 8 of POCSO (Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act), apart from Sections 376/506 of the IPC. Besides, it has been proved that he was present on the day of the assault in Jodhpur – August 15. 

Asaram and his followers have earlier been accused of organized land-grabbing, goondaism and public violence. His Motera ashram in Ahmedabad is steeped in controversy, including land-grabbing charges. In August 2008, the bodies of two children, students of Asaram’s gurukul, were found near the Sabarmati Ashram. It took almost 17 days for Modi’s government to order an inquiry. There were allegations that the children’s organs were missing and that they were victims of a ‘black magic’ ritual. 

Almost a week had gone by and the police of four states – Delhi, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat – simply refused to move against Asaram, who was hopping on his private/chartered aircraft from Jodhpur to Ahmedabad to Indore. His main ‘controversial’ ashram is in Ahmedabad, where he was based after the crime in Jodhpur, but, ironically, Modi maintained a deafening silence, not moving one inch against the godman who is openly patronized by top politicians of the BJP. The Jodhpur police took their own prolonged time to investigate, even while a hesitant Chief Minister of Rajasthan, Ashok Gehlot, kept on fudging. 

Earlier, summons were issued to the accused. This was a total departure from precedence. They issued no summons to the accused in the Mumbai rape case, or in the Delhi gangrape case in December last year. The accused were immediately arrested and then sent to police remand, while the law took its course. Surely, the law was being subverted and preferential treatment was given to the godman to protect him despite the crime and the evidence. If the police found the child’s version to be correct, then why were they protecting Asaram? 

On August 27, the Jodhpur police apparently had to wait eight hours outside the Indore ashram of the accused, even while it was announced that Asaram was ‘meditating’. Even in this ashram, the police was reportedly ‘escorted’ by BJP leaders. 

The BJP’s position seems even more brazenly shameful. BJP leader Uma Bharati and others came out openly in Asaram’s support, suggesting it was a “political plot”. A top BJP leader from Madhya Pradesh too put his foot in his mouth. Modi, whose PR machinery gets him to tweet or comment on everything with a high moral ground (including Sonia Gandhi’s illness during the Food Security Bill debate in Parliament), refused to utter a word. Sushma Swaraj and other BJP leaders who went to town after the Delhi gangrape protests chose to remain mum. 

The Congress regimes in Rajasthan, and at the Centre, too, chose to play their cards much too close to the chest. It reeked of opportunism and complicity. Asaram was yet again given time to report for interrogation. This is in brazen contrast to the manner in which the police and government treats, for instance, other rape accused or young men flaunted before the media as ‘terrorists’, often with no evidence to show, or individuals picked up and detained endlessly for being Maoist couriers, carrying ‘suspicious’ literature. Even those who are encounter specialists (real or fake) – do they really give their victims so much time to do ‘meditation’, and that too, in ‘ekaantvaas’? 

So, why this preferential treatment to Asaram Bapu, even after the massive national protests against rape, unprecedented outrage in civil society and in the media, agitations by united women’s groups, political consensus across the entire spectrum, and the JS Verma Committee’s path-breaking report with the stringest conditions against rapists in all forms of sexual assault and violence? 

The Congress regimes in Rajasthan, and at the Centre, too, chose to play their cards much too close to the chest. It reeked of opportunism and complicity. Asaram was yet again given time to report for interrogation

While there is legitimate national outrage against the gangrape of the photo journalist in Mumbai, what about the trauma of the little girl, and her quest for justice? Even as the family has been threatened by Asaram’s goons. 

Surely, when it comes to the rich, powerful and privileged, especially fake babas with a passive following which can turn into potential vote banks, there seems to be a tacit consensus to brazenly subvert the law and defuse the case. Similarly, this is a pattern when powerless or poor people are involved. Be it Dalit women, construction/migrant workers, little children/women in the invisible ghettos and suburbs of big cities, or marginalized sections in rural India, this is a dominant pattern in this organized system of injustice. Indeed, the rape case of a ‘meditating’ Asaram is another test for the system of justice in Indian democracy.

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: SEPTEMBER 2013