Asaram

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Asaram
Image of Asaram
Born (1941-04-17) 17 April 1941 (age 77)[1]
NationalityIndian
CitizenshipIndian
OrganizationShree Yog Vedanta Sewa Samiti
Criminal statusIn Prison
ChildrenNarayan Prem Sai (Son)
Conviction(s)Rape, 2018
Criminal chargeRape, Murder
PenaltyLife imprisonment
Capture status
Arrested
Partner(s)Narayan Sai
Date apprehended
1 September 2013
Imprisoned atCentral jail, Jodhpur

Asumal Sirumalani Harpalani, known as Asaram Bapu by his followers, is a religious leader (Godman) in India.[2] Starting to come in the limelight in the early 1970s, he gradually established over 400 ashrams in India and abroad and was popular among politicians and common people for his religious discourses (pravachan).[1] In 2018, Asaram was found guilty of rape of a minor girl and is currently serving life imprisonment for the sexual assault in Jodhpur.[3][4][5]

He was mentioned in a list of fake sadhus released by Akhil Bharatiya Akhara Parishad, the apex organisation of Hindu Sants (saints) and Sadhus (ascetics) in India.[6]

Early life and family[edit]

Asaram was born on 17 April 1941, in the Berani village of the Nawabshah District in British India (Present-day Berani Town is located in Jam Nawaz Ali Tehsil of Sanghar district Sindh Pakistan), to Menhgiba and Thaumal Sirumalani.[7] His birthname was Asumal Thaumal Harpalani[8][9] or Asumal Sirumalani.[10][11]

Following the partition of India in 1947, he and his family moved to Ahmedabad, then part of the former Bombay State in India, now Gujarat, leaving behind their immovable assets in Sindh. The family moved to Ahmedabad, where Asaram's father founded a coal and wood selling business.[1] Asaram ran this business for a short time after his father's death.[12]

According to Sant Asaram Bapuji ki Jeevan Jhanki, an autobiography published by his ashram, Asaram received his formal education at Jai Hind High School, up-till class III, when his father died. He had a series of escapades to ashrams which started with running away to an ashram in Bharuch at the age of 15, eight days before his scheduled wedding to Laxmi Devi, which though finally happened.[11] The book also mentions Lilashah as the spiritual guru, who accepted him as her disciple and named him Asaram on 7 October 1964, in one of his escapades.[11]

Sources have described him to be involved in a variety of professions ranging from selling liquors[8] and tea[10] to repairing cycles[9], prior to his establishment as a religious leader.

Asaram and Laxmi Devi have two children, son Narayan Sai and daughter Bharti Devi. Their son Narayan Sai works with Asaram and is also mentioned in the Akhada's List of fake religious leaders.[13][2] Sai is also imprisoned in the same prison awaiting trial.[14]

Activities[edit]

Ashrams[edit]

According to Sant Asaram Bapuji ki Jeevan Jhanki, Asaram returned to Ahmedabad on 8 July 1971. On 29 January 1972, he built a hut at Motera, then a village on the banks of the Sabarmati.[11] Although his official biography doesn't mention it, Asaram also lived in Motera's Sadashiv Ashram for two years, before setting up his own hut adjacent to it.[15] He converted his hutment into an ashram in 1973, starting with 5–10 followers. In 1981 and 1992, the Indian National Congress-led state government allotted the ashram 14,515 m2 land. In 1997 and 1999, the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government allotted it 25,000 m2 for expansion.[11] Asaram had few followers in the beginning, but the numbers increased as local politicians became his devotees.[16] By 2013, Asaram had 400 major and minor ashrams in India and abroad, with numerous followers.[16]

Teachings[edit]

Asaram has organized spiritual discourses all over India, whence his disciples are accorded diksha (initiation by a guru) by him. Around 20,000 students visited his satsang in Ahmedabad in December 2001.[17][18][19]

Parents' Worship Day[edit]

Asaram's Yoga Vedanta Seva Samiti (YVSS), organizes a Matri Pitri Poojan Divas ("mother-father worship day") on 14 February, as a form of protest against Valentine's Day, which is supposedly symbolic of a Western cultural invasion.[20][21][22] Asaram's proposal was supported by many prominent Indian politicians including union ministers and President Pranab Mukherjee.[23]

In 2015, the Government of the Chhattisgarh state institutionalized the practice, and directed all schools to observe Matru-Pitru Diwas ("mother-father day") every year on 14 February.[24]

Controversies[edit]

Land Encroachment[edit]

A number of Asaram's ashrams have faced legal challenges, on grounds of illegal encroachment. Multiple state governments has razed ashrams to reclaim lands, that was illegally encroached upon including by forgery of documents.[11][25][15][11] There have been multiple pending cases and investigations into Asaram's Samitis for reasons of illegal encroachment.[26]

Gurukul Deaths[edit]

By 2008, 40 of Asaram's ashrams had gurukuls (residential schools) attached to them. The death of four boys at two of these Ashrams in 2008 led to allegations of black magic being practiced there.[11]

On 3 July 2008, two boys went missing from Asaram's residential school (gurukul) in Motera (Gujarat).[16] On 5 July 2013, the boys' mutilated bodies were found on the banks of the Sabarmati river near the Ashram. The parents alleged that the police harassed them and refused to register a complaint against Asaram or the ashram administration.[16] The incident led to public agitations, with allegations that the boys had been sacrificed by Asaram and his followers for black magic.[27]

A CID probe, ordered on the behest of the High Court of Gujarat rejected the claims of practice of black magic.[28]

The Narendra Modi-led Gujarat state government set up the Justice D.K. Trivedi Commission to probe the deaths in the Motera ashram.[29] In 2009, Asaram's followers organized a rally, protesting against their alleged harassment by the Gujarat police. The protest turned violent, and over 200 supporters of Asaram were arrested after they attacked and injured 20 policemen.[30]

According to the CID report, no evidence of black magic practice was found in Asaram's Ashram.[31]

Delhi gang rape comments[edit]

In January 2013, while addressing a gathering of his followers, Asaram reportedly said that the victim of the 2012 Delhi gang rape was as guilty as her rapists: "The victim is as guilty as her rapists… She should have called the culprits brothers and begged before them to stop… This could have saved her dignity and life. Can one hand clap? I don't think so."[32] He also reportedly opinionated against harsher punishments for the accused in the Delhi rape victim case, as he felt that the law had the potential to be misused.[33][34]

The comments were widely criticized.[35]

Asaram denied the accusations and stated that his statement had been distorted and misrepresented.[36]

Jodhpur rape conviction and imprisonment[edit]

In August 2013, a 16-year-old girl accused Asaram of sexually assaulting her on the night of 15 August at his Manai ashram in Jodhpur on the pretext of exorcising her from evil spirits, though ashram inmates called such molestations "samarpan".[37][38] The girl's parents, who were disciples of Asaram, filed a complaint with the police in Delhi, and a case was registered after the medical examination of the girl confirmed sexual assault.[39] The issue was discussed in Indian Parliament and a strict action was demanded.[38]

When Asaram did not appear for interrogation by 31 August, Delhi Police booked him under multiple non-bailable sections of IPC.[40] Asaram remained inside one of his ashram(s) in Indore and avoided arrest while clashes broke out between his disciples and the journalists and policemen.[41] Eventually, the Jodhpur police arrested him on 1 September 2013 from his ashram,[37][42] and flew him to Jodhpur, where he is imprisoned.[43]

Asaram has dismissed the girl's allegations[44][45]and went on to claim impotency as an alibi, which was subsequently rejected after he passed the Potency test.[46][47] He has since been in jail and has been denied bail 12 times.[48][49][50][51] He was charged under Sections 342, 376, 506 and 509 of the IPC, as well as under Section 8 of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO) and sections 23 and 26 of the Juvenile Justice Act.[43] The family of the victim alleged of receiveing threats from Asaram’s followers to drop the charges against him.[43]

On 25 April 2018, Asaram was pronounced guilty of the rape charges and imprisoned for life with a fine of ₹5 Lakh to be paid to the victim.[51] Two of his associates were awarded 20 years imprisonment.[52][53][54] Asaram and other co-accused have appealed in the High Court against conviction[55]. On 29th September 2018, Rajasthan High Court suspended the sentence of one of the co-accused Shilpi.[56] On 30 October 2018, Rajasthan High Court admitted the appeal against the conviction of Asaram.[57]

Surat rape case[edit]

In December 2013, Asaram's son Narayan Sai was also arrested on charges of rape, after two sisters from Surat alleged that he and his father had raped them in Asaram's ashram during the mid-2000s.[58] The elder sister accused Asaram of repeated sexual assaults during 1997–2006 at the Motera ashram. The younger sister accused Narayan Sai of sexually assaulting her during 2002–2005 at the Surat ashram. One of the sisters also alleged that Asaram's wife and daughter helped the two men exploit the girls.[59]. The trial in this case is currently in progress.[60]

Attacks against witnesses[edit]

From 2014–15, there have been numerous attacks against various witnesses in the Asaram case.[15][61][62][63][64][65] Amrut Prajapati, a former aide of Asaram, who had turned against him, was shot and killed on 23 May 2014, after multiple prior attempts.[11][16][66][67][68] Another former associate Akhil Gupta who was the prime witness in the Surat rape case, was shot and killed on 11 January 2015.[69][70][71] Mahindra Chawla, hix ex-follower and prime witness in Surat rape case narrowly missed an attempted murder.[60]

References[edit]

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