Asaram verdict shows why the criminal justice system must not be sullied by malcontents
After Gurmeet Ram Rahim, who was convicted of rape and sentenced to 20 years of jail last year, Asaram Bapu is the second self-styled ‘guru’ of a cult to be held guilty of rape, in this case of a minor, in recent times. Asaram was on Wednesday convicted by a Jodhpur court for sexual assault (rape) of a 16-year-old girl, a child of one of his devotees, in 2013 at his ashram on the outskirts of Jodhpur, Rajasthan. He was rightly awarded the life sentence for this heinous crime which was made all the worse for the betrayal of trust given he was considered by the parents of the child to be in the nature of a guardian and spiritual guide for the child; and old enough to be her grandfather. The convict’s lawyers have said they will appeal the verdict, which is their right under the law, but for now, justice is done. Ever since the Asaram was put behind bars — and despite the countless alleged attempts to bribe police, tamper with evidence and intimidate witnesses some of whom went missing and many of whom were physically attacked — the court followed due process established in law as it would have done in the case involving a lesser well-known individual and wrapped up the trial in four-and-a-half years. Despite his cult status in the eyes of his devotees (who should surely rethink their blind allegiance to a convicted rapist), and the tag of being a religious leader, the court showed neither fear nor favour and he was prosecuted under the stringent provisions of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act. The relative promptness of the court in conducting the trial and pronouncing the verdict as well as the preparedness of police in maintaining law and order in the aftermath of the verdict must be appreciated. We endorse the reasoning of the court to show no mercy to the convict and sentencing him to life in prison till death given the heinous nature of his crime. It is also to the credit of the lawmakers across party lines who have given precedence to sensitive law-making by amending laws relating to crimes against women periodically, despite some reservations on the issue of capital punishment in general. At the same time, while it is appropriate that Asaram was handed down the maximum sentence, what remains to be seen is whether it has some effect on the mindset of those men who objectify women and exploit as well as assault them with relative impunity in India.
For that to happen, society must be sensitised and perversions have to called out regardless of political correctness albeit through due process and under the rule of law and not self-interest driven social media posturing. We also have to contend with the reality in this country that women from marginalised, economically weaker sections of society face a double whammy and misuse of gender laws rarely come from these sections. As the multiple allegations of rape by different women against Asaram — there are two rape cases from Gujarat pending against him — have shown, there seem to have been several victims of the cult leader’s perversions. Above all, though, the victim and her family members deserve support for not letting the perpetrator get away using his enormous influence. In a deeply spiritual and still desperately poor country like India, faith in gurus and spiritual teachers whether from the Indic civilizational or Abrahamic religious traditions will continue hold great attraction for millions. It is the frauds, exploiters and criminals in their garb whom we must all try and ensure our vast population remains wary of. Brokers ought to be eschewed in the quest for communion with the divine or whilst surrendering oneself to the supreme life force. In the interim, on a more temporal plane, the conviction for rape of another self-styled spiritual/religious leader will hopefully expose his machinations to his followers.