Asaram Bapu: The fall of a godman
When a teenaged girl accused religious leader Asaram Bapu of rape in his Jodhpur ashram recently, it was not for the first time the 72 year old godman had courted controversy. Mysterious death of two boys in his ashram, allegations of hiring goons to eliminate those who went against him and sexual assaults have been reported earlier.
For Asaram, who claims to have crores of followers, this time though, the long arm of the law caught up with him.
The 16 year old girl had alleged that on the pretext of curing her ‘abnormality’ the godman had sexually assaulted her in his Jodhpur ashram. The girl’s parents managed to muster courage to file a complaint against Asaram, eventually culminating in the swami with flowing white beard being put behind the bars under dramatic circumstances. Since then, more allegations of sexual assault have been slapped against him and his son.
The self proclaimed godman had always bragged about his political connections. He had followers from across the political spectrum at his religious discourses and it was understandable that police, despite a plethora of complaints against him, had failed to act till now. In July 2008, badly mutilated bodies of two teenaged boys were found near the Asaram Bapu’s ashram in Ahmedabad.
The boys had been enrolled by their parents in the ashram gurukul by their parents just a few days before the incident. The parents cried foul, claiming that it was the result of the black magic being practiced in the ashram. The parents sat on fast unto death seeking a CBI probe. Nothing happened and a CID inquiry gave a clean chit to Asaram, even as the report submitted by Justice D K Trivedi commission, set up by the state government to probe into deaths, is yet to be tabled in the Assembly.
So who is Asaram Bapu? The self proclaimed godman of western India was born Asumal Serumalani on April 14, 1941 at Berani village in Sindh in Pakistan. Fourth child of Thaumal Serumalani and his wife Menhgiba, Asumal apparently realised the futility of academic enrichment early in life.
After India’s partition, the family moved from Sindh to Ahmedabad. His father died early and Asumal, had to shoulder the responsibility of his family. The official website of Asaram Ashram indicates that Asumal entered the family trade. While the site does not make it clear as to what was the exact trade, Ashram spokesperson Neelam Dubey said that the family ran a small grocery shop in Ahmedabad.
However, those in the know allege that Asumal was into illicit liquor trade those days. “He used to live near Sardarnagar water tank and work for some Sindhi persons named Nathumal, Lachrani, Jhammatmal who used to sell liquor near the Sabarmati post office in a big way,” says a bootlegger of early ’70s, who used to operate in Ahmedabad then. “Asumal used to get Rs 150 as salary from them,” he adds.
This is however strongly contested by Dubey, who vehemently rejects the allegation. “Bapuji was never into selling liquor,” she said adding that Asaramhad helped people quit addiction. “In fact there used to be a liquor den before the hut where he used to pray in Sabarmati,” Dubey said adding that Asaram stood by the women of the vicinity whose husbands were addicted to hooch, which had irked them and they wanted to throw Asaram out.
Dubey further pointed out that while the locals could not throw him, the liquor tag got associated with him ever since. During this period Asumal was married to Lakshmi Devi. He then spent some time out of Ahmedabad, before returning to the city as Asaram. He stayed with Sadashiv near Motera in his ashram before setting up his own establishment adjacent to the same.
Asaram moved from strength to strength since then. With ashrams across Gujarat, neighbouring Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and in Jammu, allegations of land grab kept growing. But many commoners, who have been his followers, saw him as a man with healing power. Many believed that he had the divine power to cure people from diseases, enable them to get mental peace.
With the rise of saffron politics, he started enjoying enormous political clout as well. Even former prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee had attended his public meetings and it is alleged that he enjoys considerable proximity with senior BJP leader and Gandhinagar MP, L K Advani. As a matter of fact, the ashram website flaunts words of appreciation for Asaram from politicians like Kapil Sibal, Kamal Nath, former president K R Narayanan and former prime minister Chandra Shekhar.
But with arrest and exposure of his misdeeds, the clout he enjoyed all this while seems to be fading quickly. The allegations which have been levelled against him and his son Narayan Sai from time to time ranges from attempts to murder to land grab and macabre black magic, to name a few. Asaram’s ashram was also served notices for land grabbing in Ahmedabad, where his ashram had encroached upon 67,000 square metres land in Motera, which an embarrassed Modi government had to admit on the floor of the Assembly in February 2009.
Fearful after the attack on the life of Raju Chandak, an erstwhile associate of Asaram, many of his followers who are aware of the reasons for the fall of the godman, do not want to speak out.
So with the allegations about his sexcapades with the female devotees tumbling out, the local people have turned against him and even ransacked his ashram. Circumspect so far, even Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi last week described Asaram as a ‘demon’ who had exploited people’s gullibilities.
Modi has issued a gag order on his party colleagues not to speak about Asaram, who, from being a godman, has suddenly become a hate figure.