Now in police custody for the alleged sexual assault of a minor girl, self-styled godman Asaram Bapu is said to control an empire worth Rs 5,000 crore with a fan following of 2 crore people across the world.
Here is everything you didn't know about Asaram Harpalani, better known as Asaram Bapu.
Previous cases against him range from land-grab to assault.
In this report on his empire, The Indian Express details complaints against the godman ranging from encroaching upon land, compromising on quality in his Ayurveda products to the quiet dispatching of girls into the ‘Gyan Ki Kutiya” in his ashrams.
According to the report, Asaram faces land grab charges in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and elsewhere. There are also a series of land grab allegations against the godman, mostly regarding land occupied by his ashrams. In fact, in 2009, the Gujarat state government told the state legislative assembly that one of his ashrams had encroached upon 67,099 square metres of land in Ahmedabad.
“Until his arrest, Asaram enjoyed VVIP status at airports; he would not be frisked and would drive straight to the aircraft. After the allegation of sexual assault, he reportedly moved around with muscle men. His disciples and Asaram himself have been known to assault people,” the report says.
Before the current scandal broke, Asaram Bapu was already in the news in connection with rape and sexual assault. It was in the aftermath of the Delhi gangrape that Asaram said the crime could not have been committed “ek taraf se”. She should have begged for mercy addressing her assailants as brothers, he reportedly added. He also invited the ire of the Maharashtra state government this summer when he insisted on spraying thousands of gallons of water on his followers at a series of Holi gatherings in drought-hit Maharashtra.
The four dead boys and whispers of tantric rituals
Four boys were found dead under mysterious circumstances in two of his ashrams, one in Gujarat and the other in Chhindwara, Madhya Pradesh, in the middle of 2012.
In a detailed report on the disappearance of two boys from the Asaram Ashram in Motera, Gujarat, Open Magazine says the father of one of the boys who went missing says he paid Rs 15,000 as fees but did not get a printed receipt.
Bizarrely, when the boys went missing and could not be found, the administrator of the gurukul “told them to go around a peepal tree 11 times and ask for the children”. Later, Asaram apparently suggested that the parents should find a cross-road, “pick up seven stones, put the stones in hot water along with the children’s clothes and then take out the wet clothes inside out and hang them to dry in the children’s room”. The children were supposed to then return within four hours, according to the report. “Their bodies were finally recovered from a dried-up riverbed close to the ashram,” says the report.
Asaram’s devout followers have attacked the media before
Saturday’s attack on the media by ashram inmates was not a first either. In Gujarat, when the parents of the boys who were found dead insisted on a police complaint, they were reportedly confronted by a tempo full of ashram inmates armed with weapons and sticks.
Then, as the media began to cover the story aggressively, according to the Open Magazine report, “…the media, including several women reporters, were targeted and mercilessly beaten up. Kuldeep Singh Kalair, a reporter with Divya Bhaskar, was locked up in a room in the ashram and beaten by sadhaks. He had to be rescued by the police.”
According to The Indian Express, Asaram was born Asumal on April 17, 1941, in Sindh province, now in Pakistan, migrating to Ahmedabad after Partition. The godman is reportedly studied till Class III, not entering the spiritual life until the age of 15 when he first ran away to an ashram, apparently eight days before his scheduled wedding. He assumed the name Sant Shri Asaramji Maharaj in 1964.
Asaram’s political connections
Among his loyal followers are counted former MP chief minister Uma Bharti and Raman Singh in Chhattisgarh. While Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot is also counted as a follower, Asaram was interestingly in the good books of Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi until the last few years. Modi even visited Asaram’s Ahmedabad ashram.