17 April 1941
Berani, British India
|Residence||Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India|
|Children||Narayan Prem Sai (Son)
Bharti Devi (Daughter)
Thaumal Sirumalani (Father)
Asaram (born 17 April 1941), also known as Asaram Bapu ("Father") by his followers, is a Hindu religious leader from India. In early 1970s, Asaram built his first ashram on 4 ha (10 acres) of land in Gujarat. By 2013, he had 400 major and minor ashrams in India and abroad, with numerous followers. In 2000s, several cases of land encroachment were lodged against his ashrams in multiple states. In 2008, the death of two boys at his Motera ashram led to public protests, amid allegations that black magic was being practiced at the ashram. In 2013, Asaram was arrested when a 16-year-old girl accused him of sexually assaulting her in Jodhpur. He is currently in jail.
Asaram was born on 17 April 1941, in the Berani village of the Nawabshah District in British India (present-day Pakistan), to Menhgiba and Thaumal Sirumalani. His birthname was Asumal Thaumal Harpalani or Asumal Sirumalani.
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. Asaram's father worked in different cities of Gujarat, before movign to Ajmer in 1963. In Ajmer, Asaram drove a tanga (carriage), carrying pilgrims from the railway station to Dargah Sharif. Subsequently, the family moved to Ahmedabad, where Asaram's father founded a coal and wood business. Asaram ran this business for a short time after his father's death. At one time (1958–1959), he sold tea in front of the Magistrate's office.
After his father's death, Asaram dropped out of Jai Hind High School, where he had studied till class III. According to Sant Asaramji ki Jeevan Jhanki, a biography published by his ashram, he ran away to an ashram in Bharuch at the of 15, eight days before his scheduled wedding. His family persuaded him to return, and he married Laxmi Devi. At the age of 23, he again left home and wandered in pilgrimage places in Uttarakhand and Uttar pradesh. He met the spiritual guru Lilashah in Nainital, wanting to be his disciple; but the guru sent him back home. Thirteen days later after the return, he left home for another Ashram, but was sent back again. He then visited Lilashah once again, who accepted him as a disciple in Vrindavan. Lilashah named him Asaram on 7 October 1964.
According to Sant Asaramji 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. 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. 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. Asaram had few followers in the beginning, but the numbers increased as local politicians became his devotees.
By 2013, Asaram had 400 major and minor ashrams in India and abroad, with numerous followers.
In 2000, Asaram's ashram was allocated about 10 acres (4 ha) of land in Bhairavi village of Navsari district by the Gujarat government. The ashram encroached on an additional 6 acres (6 ha), leading to protests in the local villages. On a complaint filed by locals, and after repeated notices were ignored, the district authorities with police assistance bulldozed the encroachments and took possession of the land.
On 8 January 2010, the Gujarat government took over 67,059 m2 of land from Asaram's Ahmedabad ashram, stating that the ashram had encroached on it. The government also took over 70 acres of agricultural land bought by Asaram's family in Sabarkantha, arguging that the family had forged papers to show themselves as farmers.
In 2009, the Bihar State Religious Trust forced Asaram's ashram to vacate a piece of land in Patna, following a court case. According to the trust, Asaram and his followers had usurped the land for a temple.
In 2001, the Yog Vedanta Samiti of Asaram was reportedly given permission to use the premises of the Mangalya temple in Ratlam in Madhya Pradesh for 11 days for a satsang. The samiti failed to vacate the premises after the satsang, and continue to occupy a total of 40 ha (100 acres) of land, valued at over R7 billion. The land belongs to the now defunct Jayant Vitamins Limited. Asaram denied any involvement, saying the reports were baseless and untenable.
In 2002, Asaram's followers convinced a Rajokri-based devotee Bhagwani Devi to donate some of her property to Asaram's trust. She agreed, but Asaram's men forged the power of attorney and transferred all her land the trust.
In Rajasthan, Asaram's disciples Bhanwar Lal Soni and Satya Narayan Dhoot who helped set up Asaram's Jodhpur ashram, alleged that their lands had been encroached by the ashram, and filed court cases.
Asaram has organized spiritual discourses all over India, including in cities like Ahmedabad and Patna. His devotees are shown taking diksha (initiation by a guru) from him in these satsang programs. Around 20,000 students visited his satsang in Ahmedabad in December 2001. He preaches the existence of One Supreme Conscious and citing Bhakti yoga, Gnana yoga and Karma yoga as influences. In August 2012, when he was reportedly to deliver a lecture in a local college, his helicopter crashed while landing at Godhra. Asaram, the pilot, and the other passengers survived.
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. He is reported to have said: "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." He is also reported to have said that he was against harsher punishments for the accused in the Delhi rape victim case, as the law could be misused. To support his point, he is said to have stated that, "Dowry law in India is the biggest example of law being misused." This alleged blamed was widely criticized, including by politicians belonging to the two major political parties - Bharatiya Janata Party and Indian National Congress. Asaram later denied giving any statement blaming the victim, and stated that his statement had been distorted and misrepresented. He announced a reward of ₹ 50,000 for anyone who could prove that he blamed the victim.
Parents' Worship Day
In 2011, Asaram's Yoga Vedanta Seva Samiti (YVSS), organized a Matri Pitri Poojan Divas ("mother-father worship day") on 14 February, declaring Valentine's Day as a Western cultural invasion. Over 700 parents and children participated in the programme at Rourkela, Orissa.
In 2012, Asaram requested people all over India to celebrate "Parents' Worship Day", as an alternative to Valentine's Day. His ashram published a booklet which described importance of worshipping one's own parents. Asaram's proposal was supported by many prominent Indian politicians including President Pranab Mukherjee. In 2015, the Government of the Chhatisgarh state institutionalized the practice, and directed all schools to observe Matru-Pitru Diwas ("mother-father day") every year on 14 February.
Gurukul deaths case
On 3 July 2008, two boys went missing from Asaram's residential school (gurukul) in Motera. 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. The incident led to public agitations, with allegations that the boys had been sacrificed by Asaram and his followers for black magic.
Two dead bodies were also found in Asaram's Chhindwara ashram, leading to protests by the local residents. On 29 July 2008, a nursery student was found dead in the ashram's toilet. The police initially suspected that he had slipped on the floor, and died from injuries. On 31 July, another student 5-year old was found dead in the toilet. A forensic examination revealed that the bite mark matched the teeth of a senior student. On 4 August, the senior student was arrested for the murders. According to the police, he lured the victims to the toilet with the chocolates and killed them. The parents of the boys' gave a clean chit to Asaram.
The Narendra Modi-led Gujarat state government set up the Justice D.K. Trivedi Commission to probe the deaths in the Motera ashram. 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. In 2012, when Asaram was summoned by the Trivedi Commission, he issued a threat to the Narendra Modi government, saying that any further "suppression" of him and his followers would result in Modi being "thrown out".
Raju Chandak, a former aide of Asaram, told the DK Trivedi Commission that black magic and suspicious financial dools took place at the ashram. Mahender Chawla, secretary of Narayan Sai during 2001-2005, told the Commmission that he had seen Sai performed black magic in presence of dead bodies. As an example, he stated that Sai had recited mantras over the body of child covered with black cloth at Kalyan Ashram in Jhabua district. Shekhar Kashmirilal Giridhar, another former follower of Asaram, claimed that he had never seen black magic being performed at the ashram. In 2013, the lawyer of the deceased boys' parents admitted that there was no evidence of black magic having been practised on the two boys, but did not rule out the possibility.
In August 2013, a 16-year-old girl accused Asaram of sexually assaulting her at his ashram in Jodhpur on the pretext of exorcising her from evil spirits. The girl's parents filed a complaint with the police in Delhi, and a medical examination confirmed that she had been assaulted.
When Asaram did not appear for interrogation by 31 August, Delhi police booked him under Indian Penal Code sections 342 (wrongful confinement), 376 (rape), 506 (criminal intimidation), and sections of the Juvenile Justice Act, and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act. Asaram remained inside his other ashram in Indore and avoided arrest while his devotees clashed with journalists and policemen outside. Eventually, the Jodhpur police arrested him on 1 September 2013 from his ashram.
Asaram dismissed the girl's allegations, and claimed that the accusations were a conspiracy orchestrated by Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul Gandhi of the then-ruling Congress Party. He had also claimed that he was impotent and not capable of sexual assault, however this was proven to be a lie as tests showed him to be capable of the act. He has since been in jail and denied bail multiple times.
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. 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.
Threats and attacks
Asaram's followers have been accused of threatening and attacking those involved in the probe against him. In September 2013, the father of the 16-year-old girl who accused Asaram of sexually assaulting her alleged that he had received death threats from Asaram's followers. He submitted audio clippings of these threats to the court. In October 2013, Surat Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) Shobha Bhutada also alleged that Asaram's supporters had threatened her, and asked her to stopped the probe against Asaram. On 14 September 2014, Rambabu Kori, a follower of Asaram made an anonymous call to ATC Udaipur, and the threatened to disrupt flight operations if Asaram was not released within two weeks. He was arrested from Uttar Pradesh.
On 6 December 2009, a former aide of Asaram who alleged that black magic was performed at Asaram's ashram, and suspicious financial deals also happened there was attacked. From 2014–15, there have been numerous attacks against various witnesses in the Asaram case. Amrut Prajapati, a personal aide of Asaram, who claimed to have been attacked multiple times before, was attacked and killed on 23 May 2014. Another associate Akhil Gupta was shot and killed on 11 January 2015.
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