Asaram Bapu has been in the headlines for the wrong reasons for years
now, both before and after his arrest in September 2013. The latest
amongst these incidents connected to the godman is the death of a
third witness in criminal cases against him – Kripal Singh, who was
shot by two motorcycle-borne assailants in Puwayan in the Shajahanpur
district of Uttar Pradesh.
Even by the murky standards of India’s self-styled spiritual gurus,
the allegations whirling around the 74-year-old Asaram are
exceptional: suspected black magic and human sacrifice; the deaths of
four young male students of the residential schools in his ashrams, of
which the bodies of two were found severely burned and mutilated,
their limbs and internal organs missing; sexual assault of a minor
girl under the pretext of ‘exorcism’; allegations of repeated rape and
illegal confinement of two sisters, supposedly with the complicity of
the godman’s son, the latter also having been accused of raping the
victims; attacks in four states against nine witnesses in criminal
cases against the godman, leading to the death of three, of which one
was a former personal aide of the guru and another his former cook;
threats and intimidation of complainants, witnesses and their
families, apart from judges and investigating officers in multiple
These do not include other alleged crimes that seem to be associated
with Asaram – the suspicious deaths of at least two ashram employees,
rumours of widespread sexual exploitation of female devotees, nearly a
dozen cases of land encroachment across states, and pervasive
financial irregularity. All of it apparently carried out brazenly
thanks to the blessings of a higher power – the political elite in his
home state and elsewhere.
Who is Asaram Bapu?
Born Asumal Sirumalani in pre-Independence Sindh in 1941, Asaram moved
along with his family to Ahmedabad following Partition. The young man
who once drove a tanga in Ajmer carrying pilgrims to the Dargah, and
spent many years wandering pilgrimage spots, was eventually taken into
a religious order in 1964, thus acquiring the name he is now known by.
Starting out in a hut in Motera on the banks of the Sabarmati in the
early 1970s, Asaram’s religious empire grew to become one of the
largest in the country, today consisting of 400 minor and major
ashrams spread across multiple Indian states and abroad, and
attracting thousands of devoted followers.
Not surprisingly, political leaders across parties have at one point
or the other sought the guru’s blessings, if not been outright
followers; the list includes former Prime Minister Atal Bihari
Vajpayee, L.K. Advani, Nitin Gadkari, Chief Ministers Shivraj Singh
Chauhan, Raman Singh and Prem Kumar Dhumal, all from the BJP, as well
as Digvijaya Singh, Kamal Nath and Motilal Vora of the Congress.
Narendra Modi had appeared on stage with Asaram on several occasions
in his Gujarat days, although after the allegations surfaced, he
warned other BJP leaders against defending the godman.
There is no doubt that Asaram commanded great loyalty. One well-known
devotee, D.G. Vanzara, the jailed ‘encounter specialist’ of the
Gujarat police, is said to have insisted on drinking milk only if it
was brought from the godman’s Motera ashram. According to some
reports, Vanzara’s bitter missive from prison accusing the then
Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi of using and then abandoning him
was said to have been prompted by the news of his spiritual guru’s
arrest. “My god (Modi) could not save my guru (Asaram). How will he
save me?” Vanzara had written in his September 2013 letter.
The Jodhpur rape case
In August, 2013 the Delhi police filed a case against Asaram on a
complaint made by a 16-year-old girl, who alleged that the religious
godman sexually assaulted her in his Jodhpur ashram. In her complaint,
the girl, who hails from Shahjahanpur in Uttar Pradesh, said that she
was asked to perform oral sex and was also touched inappropriately
during what was supposed to be a ceremony to cure her from evil
spirits. The incident took place on 15th August, 2013.
On August 31, 2013 Asaram Bapu was arrested and flown to Jodhpur,
where he was imprisoned. Investigators also alleged that Asaram
video-recorded his sexual acts with several women so as to blackmail
them into granting him further sexual favours. He was booked under
Sections 342, 376, 506 and 509 of the IPC, as well as under Section 8
of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO) and
sections 23 and 26 of the Juvenile Justice Act.
Asaram has remained in jail since then, his bail pleas having been
rejected six times, despite having been represented by two of the most
prominent lawyer-politicians in the country, Subramanian Swamy and Ram
Jethmalani. One of the arguments made by Jethmalani in court stretched
to the absurd; for instance, that the victim had a “chronic disease
which draws a woman to a man”.
Meanwhile, the victim’s family says that they have been receiving
threats from Asaram’s followers to drop the charges against their
spiritual leader. In September 2013, it came to light that the
Sessions Judge Manoj Kumar Vyas, under whom this case was being heard,
had received threats warning of “consequences” if he did not grant
bail to Asaram. The Jodhpur police also booked three of Asaram’s
followers for issuing death threats to the SHO in charge of security
during the godman’s hearings.
In February, 2014 the judge framed the charges in the case, retaining
all except Section 26 of the Juvenile Justice Act, which pertains to
exploitation of juveniles/child labour. Taken together, the various
charges could attract a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
In December, 2014 the brother of the victim was threatened by Asaram’s
followers that if he did not settle the on-going case, then the lives
of the family would be placed at risk. An FIR was lodged against the
two men who made the threats i.e. Narayan Pandey (29) and Pradeep
In February 2015, Rahul K. Sachan, a witness in the case was stabbed
outside the Jodhpur court moments after giving his statement. The
attacker, Satyanarain, was later identified as an aide of Asaram.
In April this year, senior BJP leader Subramanian Swamy met Asaram in
jail and afterwards announced that he would argue on the guru’s behalf
as denial of bail to him was a “violation of his fundamental rights”.
On June 20, 2015 Swamy argued in court that the entire case was
fabricated and, therefore, that Asaram deserved bail, but the bail
application was rejected by Judge Vyas.
On July 8 2015, Sudha Pathak, a witness, turned hostile. Four days
later, Kripal Singh, a key witness in the case, was shot at and
eventually died. In his dying declaration, he gave the police the
names of three persons who were later identified as followers of
Asaram. Kripal had also said that the three had approached him in the
Jodhpur court and offered him a hefty sum if he were to withdraw from
The Surat double rape cases
In October 2013, two sisters from Surat came forward to say that they
were raped by Asaram and his son Narayan Sai. The elder of the two
sisters alleged that she was raped by Asaram at an Ahmedabad ashram
and the younger one alleged the same against his son in Surat. Narayan
Sai was arrested In December 2013 and the police chargesheet against
him was filed on March 1, 2014.
As in the earlier sexual assault case, the Surat cases have also seen
a spate of attacks on witnesses.
Soon after the March 2014 chargesheet, the husband of the younger
sister was stabbed by an unknown attacker within the confines of a
On March 17, 2014 a witness by the name of Dinesh Bhavchandani, aged
39, was attacked with acid by two men on a motorbike. He had made a
statement against Asaram in the case. On May 24, 2014 Amrut
Prajapati, a former aide of Asaram and key witness in this case, was
shot at and later succumbed to his injuries. He had been Asaram’s
personal physician for over ten years but left the Ashram after
receiving threats from members of the ashram. He also testified that
videos were used as blackmail to sexually coerce women members of the
On January 11, 2015 Asaram’s former cook and a key witness in this
case, Akhil Gupta (35) was shot dead by two unknown people. He had
testified that he had spotted the two rape victims entering Asaram’s
In May 2015 Mahendra Chawla, the former personal secretary of Narayan
Sai, was shot and injured by two unknown attackers. He had provided
detailed testimony against both Asaram and Sai, including allegations
of financial irregularity, intimidation and sexual exploitation of
devotees. Chawla is one of three former Asaram associates who were key
prosecution witnesses in the case; the others being Akhilesh Gupta and
Amrut Prajapati, both of whom were killed.
Modus operandi similar
Although Asaram has consistently denied the allegations against him as
well as any connection to the attacks on witnesses, the pattern that
emerges from the multiple suggests these are far from random acts
perpetrated by emotionally disturbed followers.
First, the pattern is almost always the same – it starts with death
threats (usually also involving family members of the witness),
followed by bribe offers, and if that too fails, violent assault or an
attempt on the witness’s life.
Secondly, the modus operandi of the attacks on witnesses also reveals
a pattern. The attacks on Akhil Gupta and Kripal Singh were carried
out by motorcycle-borne assailants, firing .12 bore country-made
pistols aimed at the spinal cord from a close range. In fact, the
police in Muzaffarnagar and Shajahanpur have started a joint
investigation to ascertain whether the same hit team was behind both
Meanwhile, other witnesses in the cases continue to be threatened.
Recently, police protection for Arvind Bajpai, a crucial witness in
the Jodhpur case, was escalated following the killing of Kripal Singh.
The Principal of Saraswati Shishu Inter College in Shahjahanpur had
testified in court that the victim was a minor, and had earlier
received death threats over the phone.
A few days after Kripal Singh’s death, two woman police officers of
the Ahmedabad police investigating the Surat rapes received a threat
in the form of a letter, supposedly sent by Asaram’s followers.
It was reported on July 24 2015 that the UP Police had ordered a CBI
probe into the death of Kripal Singh due to the peculiarities of the
Asaram and his son might still be behind bars, but the inability of
the authorities to stop the killings of witnesses and the threats and
attacks on their family members raises serious questions about how the
cases will eventually end up.