We are in the police station area of Shahjahanpur, a district 150 kilometres from Lucknow. Despite heavy rain, local reporters and others from Lucknow and Delhi crowd outside the compound of Durga Transport — a three-storeyed building. A board reading Asaram Bapu Trust lies on the road. A few policemen, including a sub-inspector, stand next to the house waiting to meet Dharam Singh, the owner of Durga Transport and the man who filed a case against Asaram Bapu for sexually assaulting his daughter. Dharam Singh and his family, however, refuse to see anyone.
In the past ten days, they have undergone a lot of mental agony. On the night of 15 August, their daughter was allegedly raped by their godman in Jodhpur. After filing a complaint in Delhi on 20 August and getting a medical checkup of Roshni done, they went to Jodhpur for a judicial enquiry after which they returned to Shahjahanpur.
According to a neighbour, Kishan Agarwal, some reporters from the electronic media asked him inappropriate questions. Without his permission, a microphone was clipped on his collar and before he could realise what was happening, he was on television. “As it is, the family had not recovered from the shock,” claims Kishan, “and then this incident happened. It distressed him so much that he refuses to meet the media. But after receiving a written request from TEHELKA, he agreed to meet our correspondent.
Who is Asaram Bapu and what keeps his cult going? Jay Mazoomdaar tracks the controversial godman’s legacy from his base in Ahmedabad
Once his name is mentioned, almost everybody seems to have an Asaram Bapu story. A popular Bollywood director known for his comedies with a message recalls how Asaram’s men were after him to get him to popularise the idea of celebrating Matri Pitri pujan diwas, Bapu’s brainwave to counter Valentine’s Day, even offering to fly him to “locations” in the ashram’s chartered planes.
A prominent foreign tour operator recalls how a group of clients insisted on making a payment of several lakhs through Dubai and confided, after a sundowner too many, that the hawala transaction was done through “Asaram’s ashram channel”, only to laugh away the conversation in the morning.
One of 400-odd shopkeepers of Revdi Bazaar, an Ahmedabad market originally meant for Sindhi refugees from Pakistan, whispers that “Asaram’s crores” keep circulating in loans to businessmen, at interest rates ranging from 1.5-4 percent a month, depending on the amount and the paying capacity of the borrower.
Asaram Bapu’s imprisonment on the charge of raping a minor has failed to shake the faith of thousands who still defend him. Why do followers of holy men become so blindly rapt in their devotion that their power of reasoning fails them? Rahul Kotiyal finds out
Navigating the many roads in Delhi named after truth, justice and peace – Satya Marg, Nyay Marg, Shanti Path – several people are making their way to the famous landmark of Jantar Mantar. Once having sought these very virtues from a godman named Asaram Bapu, today they’re praying for the redemption of their guru. But this godman, who had once claimed to lead them to the path of redemption, is now incarcerated in Jodhpur on the charge of raping a minor.
A variety of prayers, chants, havans, fasts and protests are being organised here. Many sadhus and saints can be seen sitting atop a huge makeshift stage. Announcements are being made at intervals, urging people to keep chanting ‘Om Hari Om’ for Bapu’s speedy release from jail. Incantations echo from every corner. People are carrying placards, some with slogans supporting Asaram – ‘Sadhu-santo ka apmaan, nahin sahega Hindustan’ (An insult to our sages will not be tolerated) – others slamming the media. One of them reads – ‘Sara media bikau hai, Bapu ji tikau hai’ (The media has sold out; only Bapu is here to stay). Posters have been pasted on walls, trees, tanks and poles nearby. Entry for all media channels is banned except for one – ‘Sudarshan News’. The devotees present are convinced that the media has conspired against Asaram Bapu and thus, it is their arch enemy. Some days ago, these seekers of peace also smashed the cameras of a few media persons. Everybody is a volunteer here – they can stop you from taking pictures, inspect your camera, tell you to delete pictures they don’t like and even break your camera. They cannot be intimidated with threats of being handed over to the police because for them, going to jail is an honour. After all, they would be following in the footsteps of their guru. In fact, some of them have earned this ‘honour’ already by spending a day or two in jail.