Controversial Indian guru convicted of rape

BY: Isaac Yeboah
Asaram denies all allegations against him
Asaram denies all allegations against him

An Indian spiritual guru who claims to have millions of followers worldwide has been found guilty of rape.

A court in the northern city of Jodhpur ruled that Asaram Bapu,77, raped a 16-year-old girl in 2013 at his ashram there. He is likely to appeal the verdict in a higher court.

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The guru, 77, has 400 ashrams around the world where he teaches meditation and yoga.

He is also standing trial in another rape case in Gujarat state.

The court is expected to announce his sentence later in the day.

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Utsav Bains, the victim's lawyer, told NDTV that he was expecting the court to give Asaram a life sentence.

"But nothing can compensate for the trauma that the victim and the family have gone through," he said.

Jodhpur city is on high alert because of anticipated violence from the guru's followers.

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The security measures come after followers of another guru, Gurmeet Ram Rahim, ran amok after he was found guilty of rape last year. The resulting violence killed 23 people.

What is the case against him?
Asaram was arrested in 2013 after a case of sexual assault was filed against him by two of his followers who alleged that he had assaulted their daughter.

Police say that the couple, who had sent their daughter to one of his Ashrams for spiritual lessons, were summoned to see her as she was "under the influence of some supernatural ghostly powers".

They were then told to take their daughter to Jodhpur to meet the guru.

The family reached Jodhpur ashram on 14 August. The following night, Asaram called the victim to his room on the pretext of "curing" her. He then raped the victim while her parents waited outside chanting his prayers, police say.

Police say the guru forced the victim to perform sexual acts on him and threatened to murder her family if she spoke about the incident.

The victim told her parents what had happened the following day. They tried to confront Asaram, but were refused entry to his ashrams.

Who is Asaram Bapu?
Asumal Harpalani was born in April 1941 in a village called Bernai in the Sindh region in present day Pakistan.

His family migrated to Ahmadabad city in Gujarat after the partition of India.

In the 60s, he started practising spiritualism with different gurus - one of whom gave him the name Asaram.

In 1972, he formed his first ashram on the banks of Sabarmati river in Motera town of Gujarat.

His influence spread to different parts of India and around the world in the following decades.

According to his website, he has 40 million followers around the world.

Important Indian politicians, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, have attended his sermons in the past.

He also has properties worth millions of dollars across India. The police are also investigating him for corruption and forgery.

Controversies around his trial
Asaram is also accused of raping another woman in Surat city of Gujarat between 2002 and 2004. The trial in this case is underway.

At least nine witnesses in both cases have been attacked over the past five years - three of them have since died.

Police are investigating these attacks.

The victims' families insist that the guru and his followers are behind these attacks - an allegation he denies.

The Jodhpur rape case, for which he has been convicted, has also seen the victim's family threatened by his followers.

Credit: The BBC