An Indian court has found Asaram Bapu, a spiritual leader who has founded hundreds of ashrams in India, guilty of raping a teenage girl and sentenced him to life in prison. The much-watched case has prompted worries about possible reprisals from the guru’s followers.
Asaram has denied the charges and he plans to appeal, according to a special notice on his organization’s website.
The guru is in his late 70s. The case against him stems from 2013, when he was arrested on suspicion of sexually assaulting the girl, who was then 16. He has been jailed since then, with courts refusing multiple attempts at bail.
The teen’s parents had been followers of the guru; they brought her to one of his ashrams to receive spiritual instruction — but instead, he forced her into sex acts, a court in Jodhpur, in the western state of Rajasthan, said on Wednesday. After the girl told her parents what had happened, they contacted authorities.
“I am happy to get justice … We had complete faith in the judiciary and are happy that we got justice,” said the father of the rape survivor on Wednesday, according to the Hindustan Times — which added that police were deployed to ensure the family’s safety ahead of the ruling.
Asaram is the second high-profile guru who has recently been felled by rape charges. Last summer, spiritual leader Gurmeet Ram Rahim Sing — the “Guru of Bling” — was convicted of rape. That verdict brought violent protests from the guru’s followers in two states, Haryana and Punjab, resulting in a military curfew.
Born Asumal Harpalani, Asaram became a guru in the 1960s. His website claims that at the time of his arrest, he had at least 40 million followers. Asaram began opening ashrams in the early 1970s. In addition to hundreds of those facilities, he owns two magazines, according to the DNA India website.
Both Asaram and his son are also named in at least two other rape cases. Those separate accusations were lodged by two sisters who live in the state of Gujarat and say they were repeatedly sexually assaulted in incidents that date from a little more than 10 years ago.
Asaram’s followers have said that the charges against him are part of an attack on Hindu culture.