India’s high-profile spiritual guru Asaram Bapu has been found guilty of raping a teenage girl.An Indian spiritual guru with millions of followers around the globe has been sentenced to life in prison for raping a young female devotee.
Judge Madhusudan Sharma found Asaram Bapu, 77, guilty of raping the 16-year-old girl at his ashram near the northern city of Jodhpur in 2013, lawyers linked with the case said.
The judge pronounced the verdict inside a city jail. Heavy security had been deployed in the region amid fears of violence by his followers.
“The court has handed Asaram life in prison till death. He will have to spend the remainder of his natural life behind bars,” the victim’s lawyer, Utsav Bains, told dpa.
He explained it was the maximum punishment for the crime under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POSCO) Act.
The verdict came amid rising public anger in India over cases of rape of young girls in recent days.
India’s government last week approved stringent punishments for sexual violence against children, including death penalty for those convicted of raping girls below the age of 12 years.
Vikas Pahwa, a lawyer for Asaram, who denied the rape, said they would challenge the verdict in a higher court.
Asaram was arrested in 2013 after a case of sexual assault was filed by the parents of the girl, both Asaram’s followers.
The girl, who was taking spiritual lessons at one of his ashrams, was taken to Asaram, on the pretext that she was possessed by evil spirits and needed to be exorcised.
The guru and his son are also facing trial in another rape case in which two sisters have accused the men of rape.
Asaram, who has a long flowing white beard and dresses in white robes, has 400 ashrams that teach meditation and yoga. He wields considerable political clout and has millions of followers around the world.
Australian Associated Press