Politicians and activists welcomed the Jodhpur court’s verdict today awarding self-styled godman Asaram life sentence for raping a teenage girl in his ashram five years ago and also hailed the resilience of the victim and her father for pursuing the case. The teenager from Shahjahanpur in Uttar Pradesh was studying at the godman’s ashram at Chhindwara in Madhya Pradesh. In her statement, the girl had alleged that Asaram called her to his ashram and raped her on the night of August 15, 2013.
“I welcome the judgement. In this case the witnesses were attacked, one was killed. The victim and her father were threatened, they were forced to leave their home. They were displaced. But today their fight for justice has been vindicated. What is worse is that this godman used the ‘bhakti’ of these followers to abuse their believes,” said CPI (M) Politburo member Brinda Karat. “The time has come when people should be able to differentiate between the actual saints and the frauds, as this creates a bad image of the country in the international arena,” Congress leader Ashok Gehlot said.
The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights said despite the child being a minor, the new ordinance that allows courts to invoke the death penalty in such cases will not be applicable in this case. “We welcome this judgement, more so because the perpetrator of this crime is a very powerful person who held a position of trust, the devotees go to these godmen when they are in trouble and the guru must protect them and not sexually assault them. The ordinance will have a prospective effet not a retrospective effect,” said NCPCR Chairperson Stuti Kacker.
Seventy-seven-year-old Asaram was booked under Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act and the police had filed an FIR under Sections 342, 376, 354 A, 506, 509/34 of the IPC, Sections 23, 26 of the Juvenile Justice Act and Section 8 of the POCSO Act. Asaram was charged for sexual assault, raping and illegally confining a minor, according to 1,300-page charge sheet filed by Rajasthan Police.
“This is a victory for all such victims and a clear message has been sent out to all the perpetrators of such crimes that you cannot escape the wrath of the law. The victim and her father have really been brave and kudos to them,” said Utsav Bains, the victims’ lawyer.