On 25 April, a Jodhpur court will reportedly deliver its judgment in the trial against the self-proclaimed godman Asumal Harpalani, better known as Asaram, who allegedly raped a 16-year-old girl at his ashram in 2013. Asaram is also accused of sexual harassment, wrongful confinement and criminal intimidation, and faces additional charges under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act. In addition, he stands accused of rape in another case, filed in Ahmedabad.
In the cover story of The Caravan‘s April 2017 issue, Priyanka Dubey reported on the nightmarish struggle to bring Asaram to justice. On piecing together the details that became public after the Jodhpur case was filed, what emerges, Dubey writes, “is a story of a man who, by accumulating vast wealth and a mix of religious and political influence, acquired untrammelled power.” In the following extract from the story, Dubey reports on the details of the Jodhpur case and recounts her conversation with the father of the 16-year-old girl who filed the complaint. He told Dubey, Asaram “cheated us in the name of god while he was actually a monster in the garb of a saint.”
On a grey and drizzly afternoon in August 2013, I reached the town of Shahjahanpur, in central Uttar Pradesh. I was there to meet the father of the 16-year-old girl who had filed the case that is now being tried in the Jodhpur court. It had only been a week since the complaint was filed, and there had been an explosion of media attention on the family. The anxious father had stopped meeting journalists. After reaching the family’s house, I managed to persuade him to speak to me by sending in a handwritten request through a neighbour and friend of theirs.
I was led into the house through a rear entrance and introduced to a tall, well-built man wearing a cream-coloured kurta-pyjama. He was still visibly in shock over what had happened to his daughter, and, in the conversation that followed, he recounted his family’s ordeal, crying throughout into a crumpled handkerchief.
The family’s members had been committed Asaram devotees, and had donated money to help him set up an ashram in Shahjahanpur. “We worshipped him like our own god,” the father told me. Since Asaram often preached that children educated in his ashrams would grow up with desirable values, he and his wife sent two of their three children to an ashram school in the district of Chhindwara, Madhya Pradesh.