Self-styled godman Asumal Sirumalani, also known as Asaram Bapu by his followers, has been convicted by a Jodhpur court in a 2013 rape case of a minor girl. Once a well-known spiritual guru, his image of a saint was tarnished when the a 16-year-old from Shahjahanpur in Uttar Pradesh accused him of sexually assaulting her at a ashram near Jodhpur. The girl’s family filed a complaint with the Delhi Police on August 20, 2013. Withing 10 ten days, he was arrested by the Jodpur Police and since then he is behind the bars for his role in the crime.
Asaram Bapu was born on April 17, 1941, in Sindh, now in Pakistan. During the partition in 1947, he and his family moved to India and started living in Ahmedabad. After his father Thaumal Sirumalani passed away, the responsibility to feed the family fell on his shoulders. The family shifted to Vijapur in Gujarat’s Mehsana district. Very few know that during 1958-59, Asaram used to be a tea-seller and worked at a tea stall that his relative Sevak Ram operated in front of the Mehasana Magistrate’s office to earn a livelihood for his family.
The rape case isn’t Asaram’s first brush with the law. In 1959, his name was mired in a murder case. If reports are to be believed, he committed the crime under the influence of alcohol but was granted bail due to lack of evidence.
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After this, he left Vijapur and took refuge in Sardarnagar area of Ahmedabad. During 60s, Asaram began a liquor business with four partners and made huge profits. Later, he also worked in a milk dairy. At that time, he used to get Rs 300 monthly stipend, but soon left the job.
An autobiography published by his ashram — ‘Sant Asaram Bapuji ki Jeevan Jhanki’ — states that he received formal education until his father’s death and studied only till class 3. His father passed away when he was 10. At the age of 15, he ran away from his home to an ashram in Bharuch. He lived at various ashrams before he was persuaded by his family to marry Lakshmi Devi. Asaram and Lakshmi have two children — Narayan Sai, who is also behind the bars, and daughter Bharti Devi. It said that Lilashah, a spiritual guru, accepted him as her disciple. It was she who named him Asaram Bapu.
After a long time, in the early 70s, Asaram was reported to have converted into a spiritual preacher. Clad in a white dhoti-kurta and white-long beard, he soon gained fame and went on to establish ashrams in India and abroad. In 1972, he built a hut at Motera village on the banks of Sabarmati in Gujarat. In the subsequent year, he converted the hut into a spiritual hermitage with just five to ten followers. He then started visiting Surat to preach his followers and it was here that he found a large number of followers.
According to news agency PTI, Asaram created an empire of Rs 10,000 crore within four decades. It said that the scrutiny of the documents seized by police from his ashram in Motera after his arrest in 2013 revealed that he has amassed wealth around Rs 10,000 crore. This however, excludes the market vale of land that he holds.
His trouble began in 2008 when the mutilated bodies of two kids were found from near his ashram in Motera on the bank of Sabarmati river. According to reports, some vital organs were missing from the deceased boys’ bodies. His name was later mired into a land-grabbing case in Surat. The matter is still pending in the court.
In August 2013, Asaram was arrested by Jodhpur Police on the basis of a complaint filed by a 16-year-old girl from Uttar Pradesh. She accused him sexually assaulting her. Months later, two sisters from Surat register similar cases against Asaram and his son Narayan Sai. This case is also sub-judice. They alleged that Asaram and his son repeatedly raped them and illegally confined them. The girls had lived at Asaram’s ashram in Gujarat between 1997 and 2006.
Today, despite serious charges filed against him, Asaram Bapu has over 2 crore followers. He is owner of properties worth millions of rupees. He has around 400 ashrams across 12 countries and more than 50 gurukuls in India. The Sant Asaram Bapu Trust also runs more than 40 residential schools, a large printing press and an Ayurveda unit.