Asaram

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Asaram
Born Asumal Sirumalani
(1941-04-17) 17 April 1941 (age 74)
Berani, British India
Residence Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India
Nationality Indian
Religion Hinduism
Spouse(s) Lakshmi Devi
Children Narayan Prem Sai (Son)
Bharti Devi (Daughter)
Parent(s) Mehangiba (Mother)
Thaumal Sirumalani (Father)
Website www.ashram.org

Asaram (born 17 April 1941), also known as Asaram Bapu ("Father") by his followers, is a Hindu religious leader from India. He preaches the existence of One Supreme Conscious and claims Bhakti yoga, Gnana yoga and Karma yoga as influences.

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 inside his Jodhpur ashram. Subsequently, two more women from Surat also alleged that he and his son had sexually exploited them repeatedly. Their allegations were supported by some of Asaram's former aides. Asaram denied all the allegations, calling them a conspiracy against him. He is currently in jail.

Early life[edit]

Asaram was born on 17 April 1941,[1] in the Berani village of the Nawabshah District in British India (present-day Pakistan), to Menhgiba and Thaumal Sirumalani.[2] His birthname was Asumal Thaumal Harpalani[3][4] or Asumal Sirumalani.[5]

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.[6] 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.[7] At one time (1958–1959), he sold tea in front of the Magistrate's office.[5]

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.[8][9]

Asaram and Laxmi Devi have two children: Narayan Sai and Bharti Devi.

Ashrams[edit]

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.[8] 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.[10] 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.[8] Asaram had few followers in the beginning, but the numbers increased as local politicians became his devotees.[11]

By 2013, Asaram had 400 major and minor ashrams in India and abroad, with numerous followers.[11]

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.[12]

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.[8]

Outside Gujarat[edit]

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.[8]

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.[13] The land belongs to the now defunct Jayant Vitamins Limited.[13] Asaram denied any involvement, saying the reports were baseless and untenable.[14]

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.[10]

The Nashik Municipal Corporation destroyed a part of Bapu's ashram in Bhilwara for a 10-year encroaching on government-owned land.[15]

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.[8]

In May 2013, the Cuttack Municipal Corporation razed an illegally built Asaram ashram.[10]

Teachings[edit]

Spiritual discourses[edit]

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.[16][17] 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.[18][19]

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."[20] 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."[21][22] This alleged blamed was widely criticized, including by politicians belonging to the two major political parties - Bharatiya Janata Party and Indian National Congress.[23] Asaram later denied giving any statement blaming the victim, and stated that his statement had been distorted and misrepresented.[24] He announced a reward of 50,000 for anyone who could prove that he blamed the victim.[25]

Parents' Worship Day[edit]

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.[26]

In 2012, Asaram requested people all over India to celebrate "Parents' Worship Day", as an alternative to Valentine's Day.[27] His ashram published a booklet which described importance of worshipping one's own parents.[28] Asaram's proposal was supported by many prominent Indian politicians including President Pranab Mukherjee.[29] 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.[30]

Gurukul deaths case[edit]

By 2008, 40 of Asaram's ashrams had gurukuls (residential schools). The deaths of four boys at two of these Ashrams in 2008 led to allegations of black magic being practiced there.[8]

On 3 July 2008, two boys - Dipesh Vaghela (10) and his cousin Abhishek (11) - went missing from Asaram's residential school (gurukul) in Motera. The boys' parents had paid 15,000 to enroll their children at the ashram, and had been given handwritten receipts. Abhishek's father Shantibhai had met the children at the Ashram, on the afternoon of 3 July. At 9 pm on that day, the ashram administration called Dipesh's father Praful, and asked him if the children had come home. When Vaghelas reached the ashram, the gurukul's administrator Pankaj Saksena told them to go around a peepal tree 11 times, and pray for the children to come. The Vaghelas obliged, and decided to file a police complaint, after the children' didn't come. The Ashram administrator told them to wait before approaching the police. The next morning, the Vaghelas visited the Chandkeda police station. According to the parents, two of ashram's office bearers had already spoken to the police, and the police refused to file a complaint. Meanwhile, Asaram told the parents to pick up seven stones from a junction, put them in hot water along with the children's clothes, then take out the wet clothes inside out, and hang them to dry in the children's room. He stated that the children would return within four hours, if the parents performed this ritual. Again, the parents obliged, but the children did not return. The next day, the ashram administration told the parents that the thumb nail of children indicated that they were at Kallol.[11]

On the same day - 5 July 2013 - the boys' mutilated bodies were found on the banks of the Sabarmati river near the Ashram. Dipesh's arms were missing from the shoulder down. His ribcage was hollow, with all the internal organs were missing. His left leg had been cut off at the ankle, and his right leg was burnt. Abhishek's body was also half burnt. The parents alleged that the police harassed them and refused to register a complaint against Asaram or the ashram administration.[11] The incident led to public agitations, with allegations that the boys had been sacrificed by Asaram and his followers for black magic.[31] On 18 July, on the occasion of Guru Purnima, Asaram visited Dipesh's house, but had to flee within minutes when a mob of protestors surrounded his car. A group of protestors came to Asaram's ashram, and stopped his devotees from going inside the ashram. In response, the ashram members, armed with canes, attacked the protestors as well as journalists covering the protests.[32]

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 - Ram Krishna Yadav - was found dead in the ashram's toilet.[33] The police initially suspected that he had slipped on the floor, and died from injuries. On 31 July, another student - 5-year old Vedant Manmodhe - was found dead in the toilet. Vedant's head was submerged in a bucket full of water.[34] Vedant had also been bitten on his neck. A forensic examination revealed that the bite mark matched the teeth of 14-year old Rituraj Dixit, 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.[35] The parents of the boys' gave a clean chit to Asaram.[36]

The Narendra Modi-led Gujarat state government set up the Justice D.K. Trivedi Commission to probe the deaths in the Motera ashram.[37] 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.[38] 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".[39]

Raju Chandak, a former aide of Asaram, told the DK Trivedi Commission that black magic and suspicious financial dools took place at the ashram.[40] 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.[41][42] Shekhar Kashmirilal Giridhar, another former follower of Asaram, claimed that he had never seen black magic being performed at the ashram.[43] 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.[31]

Arrest[edit]

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.[44][45] The girl's parents filed a complaint with the police in Delhi, and a medical examination confirmed that she had been assaulted.[46]

When Asaram did not appear for interrogation by 31 August,[47] 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.[48] Asaram remained inside his other ashram in Indore and avoided arrest while his devotees clashed with journalists and policemen outside.[47] Eventually, the Jodhpur police arrested him on 1 September 2013 from his ashram.[44][49]

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.[50][51] 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.[52] He has since been in jail and denied bail multiple times.[53]

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.[54] The elder sister accused Asaram of repeated sexual assaults during 1997-2006 at the Motera ashram. The younger sister accused Narayan Sai The younger sister had accused 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.[55]

Threats and attacks[edit]

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.[56] 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.[57] 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 releaesd within two weeks. He was arrested from Uttar Pradesh.[58][59]

Prosecution witnesses who have been attacked include:

# Date Place Victim Attack Source
1 6 December 2009 Ahmedabad Raju Chandak, a former aide of Asaram. He had alleged that black magic was performed at Asaram's ashram, and suspicious financial deals also happened there. Chandok was shot at by two motorcycle-borne men, but survived the attack. He alleged that the attack was ordered by Asaram. [40]
2 28 February 2015 Surat Name not revealed. The victim was the husband of woman who had accused Asaram's son Narayan Sai of repeated sexual assaults. The victim was attacked by unidentified men while returning home from office. The attackers stabbed him twice on his back, and then three times on his face. The victim was taken to a hospital, and survived. The attackers managed to flee. [60]
3 10 March 2014 Surat Rakesh Patel, a former follower of Asaram. He and his wife videographed the programmes held at Asaram's ashrams in Ahmedabad and in the Jehangirpura area of Surat. Later, Rakesh became a prosecution witness in the Surat rape case. 40-year old Patel's bike was intercepted by two motorcycle-born assailants. The pillion rider stabbed him in the back. The attackers fled, when he shoulted for help. Patel was taken to hospital, and survived. [61]
4 16 March 2014 Surat Dinesh Balchandani, a local textile trader, was a prosecution witness in case against Asaram Two motorcycle-borne men threw acid on Dinesh. He managed to catch one of the attackers - Kishor Balchandra Bodke (26) - and handed him over to the police. Based on leads from Bodke, the police arrested four more people: Chandrashekar alias Talloi (24) of Bijapur, Gopal Patidar (25) of Khandwa, Dineshchandar Purohit and his brother Laxmanchandra - both from Rajasthan. According to the police, all five were followers of Asaram and his son. [62]
5 23 May 2014 Rajkot Amrut Prajapati was a personal aide of Asaram. He met Asaram in 1988, after responding to an advertisement for the post of ayurvedic doctor at Asaram's Surat ashram. He accused Asaram of compromising on the quality of raw material used to prepare Ayurvedic medicines for the ashram's medicine business. In 1999, he reportedly came to know about Asaram's exploitation of young girls in the ashram. He alleged that Asaram's disciplies sent young girls to gyan ki kutiya ("hut of knowledge"), where he supposedly observed solitude but actually sexually exploited the girls. According to him, the some of the girls accepted their fate and became sadhvis in the ashram, while others left but did not register a police complaint because of shame or threats by Asaram's men. According to his wife, he was threatened when he told Asaram that he wanted to leave the Ashram and demanded his salary. Prajapati left Asaram's ashram on 20 August 2005, alleging that he was being threatened. Prajapati claimed to have been attacked at least 10 times between 2005 and 2009. In September 2005, a group of 10-15 people allegedly attacked him in Ghaziabad, threatening to kill him if he spoke against Asaram or the ashram. He also alleged that he was kidnapped and thrashed by "goons of Asaram" in Vadodara on 18 December 2005, but the police did not register a complaint because they had been threatened by Deputy Inspector General D. G. Vanzara. In 2008, Prajapati had testified against Asaram in the case involving the death of two boys at his Motera ashram. Later, he also became a prosecution witness in the Surat rape case. A year before his death, he had stated that Gujarat police was unable to protect him.

On 23 May 2014, two motorcycle-borne men came to Prajapati's clinic. One of them, who had earlier sought an appointment as "Raju Patel" from Rajkot, shot him. The shooter then fled on the motorbike with the other man. After being treated in two different hospitals, he was discharged on 9 June. However, on 11 June, he succumbed to the injuries.

[8][11][63][64][65]
6 13 February 2015 Jodhpur Rahul Rajkumar Sachan, alias "Laptop Baba" or Rahul Sharma, was a sewadar (volunteer and follower) of Asaram at his Motera ashram. In 2011, he was arrested for sending harassing e-mails to a girl whom he had met at the ashram in 2003. During the interrogation, he claimed that the girl was his wife and they had married at an Arya Samaj temple long back. He later became a prosecution witness in the case against Asaram, and described Asaram's modus operandi to the court. He alleged that Asaram used to organize a tug of war competition between two groups of girls. According to him, the winners were called upon to meet Asaram, brainwashed by other female worshippers and then sexually exploited by Asaram. Sachan was stabbed at the Jodhpur court premises, after having given a statement. The attacker Satya Narayan, who claimed to be a devotee of Asaram, was arrested. [66][67][68]
7 11 January 2015 Jansath Road in Muzaffarnagar Akhil Gupta, a former cook and personal aide of Asaram. His Muzaffarnagar-based family attended one of Asaram's camps in 1996, and then became his devotees. The same year, he left for Asaram's ashram in Ahmedabad, where he spent the next 8 years. Gupta's parents became in-charge of the ashram's monthly publication Rishi Prasad, and he became an in-charge of the kitchen. At the ashram, he fell in love with another devotee Varsha The two decided to marry, but Asaram opposed their marriage. In 2008, the couple suddenly left the ashram and returned to Muzaffarnagar with their families. When his relatives questioned him about the sudden return, Gupta only told them that he was fed up of the "bad things" happening at the ashram. Later, Gupta became a prosecution witness in the Surat rape case. He testified that he had seen the two alleged rape victims going into Asaram's room. 35-year-old Gupta was shot dead by two motorcycle-borne men while returning home. He was returning home from his dairy on his schooter, when the motorcyclists approached him from behind. Ever since he became a witness, he had been taking a different route everyday from his dairy to home. [69][70]
8 13 May 2015 Sanauli, Panipat district, Haryana Mahender Chawla, a follower of Asaram during 1997-2005, and personal secretary of his son Narayan Sai during 2001-2005. He alleged that Sai had forged his signatures in 2005, to register the Bal Yogi Narayan Sai Sansthan trust. When he confronted Sai, he was beaten up and made to sign five blank papers. He then left the ashram, but continued to be threatened. He had accused Asaram of working as a financer and his son of exploiting female followers. He also alleged that Asaram's caretaker Monica supplied girls to him. Chawla was attacked by two unidentified motorcycle-borne gunmen at his residence. The attack happened at 8:50 am, when a personal security guard assigned to Chawla went home, leaving him unguarded. He received two bullets shot in his shoulder, and survived the attack. He blamed Asaram and Narayan Sai for organizing the attack. [10][71][72]
9 10 July 2015 Puwayan, Shahjahanpur Kripal Singh, a key witness against Asaram in the Jodhpur rape case. He was an employee of the alleged rape victim's father. The police had recorded his statement three months before his death. 35-year old Singh was attacked around 8 pm, by two motorcycle-borne men. He was going home on a motorcycle, when another motorcycle approached from behind and the pillion rider shot him. Before they escaped, the attackers warned him not to depose against Asaram. Singh was taken to a hospital in Bareilly, where he died on 11 July. Before his death, Kripal gave a statement to the Additional City Magistrate: he stated that three associates of Asaram — Sanjay, Arjun and Raghav — had been threatening him for the past few days. [73][74][75]

Responding to the allegations that he was behind these attacks, Asaram sarcastically remarked "I am responsible for all the attacks in this world."[76]

In July 2014, Patiram, a sevadar working at Asaram's Chhindwara ashram, was found dead. Based on a post-mortem, the police concluded that he died of a snakebite. However, his family claimed that he died under suspicious circumstances as bloodstains were found on his clothes and in his room. The family also claimed that he had not been allowed to visit his home in last 13 years, and they had not been allowed to meet him either.[77] Sandhya, a teacher at Asaram's Chhindwara gurukul, was also found dead in suspicious circumstances.[10]

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