Self-styled godman Asaram Bapu was found guilty of raping a minor girl in Manai village near Jodhpur in August 2013. He was sentenced to life imprisonment in April 2018 by the Jodhpur Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe Court and found guilty of various charges, including sections related to trafficking, wrongful confinement, outraging modesty, rape, criminal intimidation and criminal conspiracy, and some sections of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act. Since then, he has been lodged in the Jodhpur Central Jail.
In September 2019, the Jodhpur High Court also rejected a plea submitted by Asaram's counsel against his life imprisonment claiming that the survivor was not a minor and their client should not have been convicted under provisions of the POCSO Act.
Asaram's public image — fanned by his millions of followers in India and abroad — was marred completely. The courage of the women who spoke up, exposed the godman and fought for justice came to light.
Journalist and writer Ushinor Majumdar's book God of Sin: The Cult, Clout and Downfall of Asaram Bapu details the rise of Asaram and his scandalous empire. Majumdar has been an investigative journalist (Assistant Editor) with Outlook since 2015. Speaking with Firstpost in January 2020, Majumdar said: "The ashram at Motera became his lab for almost all kinds of projects. That’s also where he began his parallel world of offences as well. Of course, when you are a god, illegal actions are not considered crimes by your followers but seen as the mysterious ways in which you work."
The following excerpt from Majumdar's book God of Sin has been reproduced with permission from the publisher, Penguin Random House.
‘Mota Bhagwan’: The Son of God
Asaram’s arrest was a turning point for him and his followers. It was also a turning point for his son, Narayan Sai. Till that point, Narayan Sai was the ‘son of god’, by all counts not an easy job. He had to work on appearances befitting his job description, which meant growing into the role of a successor, for this god is mortal and must take what is known as ‘samadhi’ or a state of eternal meditation, what ordinary human beings call death. The son of god also has to work against the myth of his father being supreme and immortal in order to ensure a space for himself. In the exercise, he has to diffuse the propaganda around his father but not disturb it too much, lest his own position as heir-apparent is toppled in the ripple effect of fiddling with the narrative of being godmen or messengers of god, as the case may be.
As in the case of political dynasties, setting up a quasireligious dynasty is not easy. The guru must formally introduce his son as his heir and successor. It is not easy to establish the son as the boss in a business, for though the son may command the money, he may not command the respect of his father’s loyal retainers. Narayan Sai’s case was not very different.
As he told police officers to whom it was also becoming evident, Narayan Sai did not have access to the empire of hidden wealth his father had created. While the lakhs of followers saw the bald old man with a flowing white beard peeking through garlands, dancing and singing to bhajans on stage, Narayan Sai saw a control freak who treated him like a child. The father’s ascent from alleged bootlegger to godman, on the banks of the Sabarmati, was aided by research into the Vedas and spending time in at least two ashrams. He not only used complex words and phrases but quoted from the scriptures and explained them skilfully to his followers during his sermons.
Narayan Sai did not have the same talent. Sureshanand, a follower, would start the sermons in Asaram’s absence, and even conduct full sessions at the Motera ashram. Kaushik Popatlal Vani, an ashramite, controlled the financial empire. There was a clique of businessmen who handled the godman’s money ventures. Narayan Sai lived as if he were on an allowance. It is a matter of coincidence perhaps that neither of these two men are publicly available any more. The police were unable to trace Vani since the time he became crucial to their investigation in multiple cases. At the Motera ashram, I was told, ‘Many have parted ways since the cases and he is no longer here,’ which was hurriedly changed to, ‘Sureshanandji has gone into ekantwas (isolation).’
While in his thirties, Narayan Sai had started to work on emerging from his father’s shadow. He bought land in his own name, though it is not yet known how it was financed. Authorities have found that land for an ashram in Madhya Pradesh (among others) was in his own name. He culled a group of followers from among his father’s, especially family members of Asaram’s followers. His father could hardly grudge Narayan Sai the people he recruited for his own following. The man formed an entourage. He put the women to work building ashrams, maintaining them and allegedly sexually exploiting some of them.
‘He comes across as the spoilt son of a powerful politician — the kind you see in films driving around in an open jeep — keeping up a display of money and muscle power. He’s spoilt but not sharp in the head,’ a government officer told me in Ahmedabad. This government officer had earlier been posted in a remote district in Gujarat where he had observed the ‘son of god’ at close quarters.
Narayan Sai’s entourage grew by recruiting others, through enticing words placed in their ears about his own divinity. Such propaganda got him the younger generation of Asaram’s followers. He moulded himself in the image of his father — clad in white kurta-pyjama and a beanie hat, like that of his father, covering his head. The kind of beanie hat that Osho appeared wearing in photographs from his later life. Narayan Sai started to create his own image too, in the likeness of Krishna. He played the flute on stage adorned in a crown and wearing the kind of clothes Krishna is depicted with in popular renditions of the Hindu god.
When Asaram was arrested, Narayan Sai burst into the limelight with vigour. He was forty-one at the time, born in January 1972. Asaram’s closest aides handled all the work that needed to be done managing the godman’s empire, while Narayan Sai started to appear in the media. It was Narayan Sai’s photos that were published, interviews of him that were broadcast. He gave several television interviews in the wake of his father’s arrest, including a detailed one to Sudarshan TV, a Hindi news channel that has broadcast many reports, interviews and features that have stressed the story put out by Asaram’s people. Some may discount it, but Sudarshan TV’s coverage provided both a sense of journalistic objectivism and a look into the various elements of Asaram’s sect.
Narayan Sai appeared on other news channels as well and questioned the role of the media and the accusations made by it, many of which were wild and replete with hyperbole. Needless to say, he responded to them with his own set of half-truths and hyperbole.
When the story about the Jodhpur POCSO case broke, the media also dug up details that led to the Justice D.K. Trivedi commission and played them on an endless loop. In an interview, Narayan Sai claimed that the DK Trivedi commission had given his father a clean chit. The anchor corrected him that the report was yet to be published (as it is, even at the time of writing this book). The commission’s inquiry had concluded earlier in 2013.
‘But the Supreme Court has given a judgment that there is no black magic at the ashram,’ insisted Sai, changing track. Narayan Sai went so far as to say that the lawyer for the parents of the two children had accepted that there was no black magic at the ashram. When I met Subramaniam Iyer, the lawyer for the Vaghelas, he told me in detail about the commission’s proceedings. Black magic or not, the children were in the care of Asaram who had no response as to how the children went missing from the gurukul in Motera and turned up dead, metres away from it on
a dry riverbed.
The son of god did not seem to have any of the charm or persona, nor the talent for oration or the skill of taking over the situation as his father. At best, he was on the defensive, whereas the father was a front-foot player, one who led the charge.
As early as September 2013, Asaram’s aides had begun to spin the theory of how Mita was older than she claimed to be. She had provided her school certificates from none other than Asaram’s gurukul, where she was studying. Narayan Sai did not have answers for this and said the journalists should direct this question to the legal counsel for the ashram.
While concluding the interviews, he made a common refrain about peace and harmony and following the ‘maryada (customs)’ of ‘our great samaj (society)’. But, before that, he always asked that the media channels broadcast ‘the good things we are doing for the sake of balance’.
The editor-in-chief of India News, Deepak Chaurasia, conducted an interview of Baba Ramdev shortly after the Jodhpur rape allegations were made. Chaurasia asked Ramdev why he had been silent on the charges against Asaram, and how the former had played ‘disco dandia’ between ashrams when the Jodhpur police had sent him summons to join the investigation.
Ramdev said he knew Asaram and doubted if the allegations were part of a conspiracy, but said things would be clear once the investigation was complete.
Chaurasia pointed out that previously charges had been made against Asaram. Nevertheless, said Ramdev, Asaram should have faced the media.
‘Media kya, main toh saanp se bhi pyaar karta hoon (Why will I be angry with the media? I love snakes too),’ Asaram had said while giving a bite to several TV news crews outside an event, while boarding his car. This was shortly after the December 2012 gang rape in Delhi, when he had made uncharitable comments about the victim, which had led to a huge controversy.
‘I have never said the media barks like a dog,’ Asaram continued. ‘And I have always said nice things about the victim. If you listen to my satsang for fifteen minutes, you will have a different idea of me. I have merely said that if she had chanted god’s name, god would have blessed her and saved her.’
When pressed that he had mocked the media by comparing it with dogs, he responded, ‘Naw naw no. I never said that the media barks like a dog. Listen to my satsang cassette for half an hour. If your problems are not solved, then meet with me. Hari Om.’
The tide had turned since the death of the Vaghela cousins in 2008 and Asaram found it difficult to manage the press. The entertainment media had been kinder with live and recorded television broadcasts of his satsangs and other events. But, he still managed to hold his own during a press conference, whereas Narayan Sai seemed to be at a loss when seated in front of a camera.
(With inputs from Asian News International)
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Updated Date: Feb 15, 2020 14:41:23 IST