Ahmedabad: From the pedestal of a religious preacher having legions of followers, many among them politicians and businessmen, 'godman' Asaram's fall from grace continued as he was sentenced to life imprisonment on Tuesday in a rape case filed by his former disciple, the second such conviction after the 2013 Rajasthan minor girl rape case.
A court in Gandhinagar also imposed a fine of Rs 50,000 on Asaram which will be paid as compensation to the victim who had filed a case against the 'godman' for raping her from 2001 to 2006 when she stayed at his ashram in Motera area near Ahmedabad.
The disgrace is compounded by the fact that the 81-year-old self-styled godman is already serving a life sentence in a Jodhpur jail for raping a minor girl at his ashram in Rajasthan in 2013.
Asaram is believed to have created an empire of Rs 10,000 crore within four decades, starting from a humble hut on the banks of the Sabarmati river in the early 1970s to having over 400 ashrams across the country and the world till 2018.
Asaram was born in 1941 as as Asumal Sirumalani in Berani village of Sindh province in Pakistan. After the Partition in 1947, he came to Ahmedabad with his parents, but studied only till Class IV, and was forced to drop out of school following the death of his father.
After doing odd jobs during his early youth, Asumal embarked on a "spiritual quest" towards the Himalayas, where he met his Guru, Lilashah Bapu, a documentary on his Website claimed.
It was this guru who christened him 'Asaram' in 1964 and "commanded him to carve his path and guide people", the documentary said.
In the 70s, Asaram came to Ahmedabad and started doing penance on the banks of the Sabarmati river near Motera.
Subsequently, he set up a 'Moksha Kutir' on the banks of the river. Over the years, his popularity as 'Sant Asaramji Bapu' started going up, and the 'Moksha Kutir' became a full-fledged ashram. Within four decades, he added around 400 ashrams in India and abroad.
His fall from grace began when he was arrested in September 2013 for raping a teenage girl at his ashram near Jodhpur, leaving his disciples shocked.
"The victim in the case in Gandhinagar came from a humble background and could not muster the courage to come out against Asaram till 2013. It was after Asaram was arrested in a similar case in Jodhpur that the victim decided to approach the police against him," special public prosecutor RC Kodekar has said.
The prosecution had sought life imprisonment for Asaram on the ground that he was a "habitual offender," and cited the Rajasthan rape case.
Even today, the Motera ashram is flocked by Asaram's followers, who are still in denial mode and maintain that their 'guru' has been jailed on false charges.
Asaram is married to Laxmi Devi and they have two children - son Narayan Sai, who is also behind bars in a rape case, and daughter Bharti Devi.
Laxmi Devi and Bharti Devi were among the six accused acquitted by the Gandhinagar court on January 30, 2023, in the 2013 Ahmedabad rape case against Asaram.
Asaram ran into rough weather for the first time in 2008 when two cousin brothers who used to stay at the Gurukul of the ashram in Motera, were found dead under mysterious circumstances on the riverbed near the facility.
The Gujarat CID in 2009 booked seven followers of Asaram in the death case of the cousins.
The parents of the deceased duo had alleged their children were killed in Asaram's ashram in a black magic ritual.
After Asaram was arrested in the 2013 rape case, two Surat-based sisters, including the one who had stayed in the Motera ashram, came forward to speak about their alleged sexual exploitation at the hands of Asaram and his son Narayan Sai.
Surat Police on October 6, 2013, registered complaints filed by the two sisters - one against Asaram and another against his son Narayan Sai - of rape, sexual assault, illegal confinement and other charges. Sai is also lodged in Surat jail after his conviction in the rape case.