Gangrape, conspiracy and trafficking of a minor – the three key accusations against self-styled godman Asaram could send him to jail for life. The chargesheet was filed on Wednesday and the arguments on the charges will begin on November 16.
The name of Asaram, whose empire was spread across 12 countries, had been mired in controversies -- including mystery deaths at his ashrams and allegations of black magic (See box). But he was finally arrested on September 1 after a 16-year-old girl accused him of rape.
The girl, a student at his Chhindwara gurukul, had alleged that Asaram had sexually assaulted her at his Manai ashram in Jodhpur on August 15 on the pretext of exorcising her of evil spirits, even as her mother was kept waiting outside the room. On her way home, the girl, a resident of Uttar Pradesh, had lodged a complaint with the Delhi police on August 21. Later, her parents alleged that they received repeated death threats from Asaram’s followers.
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The most severe charge against Asaram is gangrape. If convicted, he and his accomplices -- personal caretaker Shiva, Chhindwara gurukul’s caretaker Sharat Chandra, hostel warden Shilpi and personal cook Prakash – would face at least 20 years in jail.
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Besides, Asaram has been charged with trafficking of a minor, sexually assaulting a minor, assault, wrongful confinement, criminal intimidation and conspiracy.
Judicial custody of Asaram and his four aides was to end Wednesday, but it has now been extended till November 16.
“We filed the chargesheet before the court today. The court has fixed November 16 for the arguments on the chargesheet,” said Anand Purohi, additional advocate general of Rajasthan high court.
“The case against Asaram is watertight and the prosecution will prove all the charges during the trial,” said Anand Purohit, additional advocate general of Rajasthan high court.
Police submitted the 1,012-page chargesheet before the Jodhpur district and sessions court against the godman and four of his aides –Chhindwara gurukul caretaker Sharat Chandra, hostel warden Shilpi, his personal caretaker Shiva and driver-cum-personal cook Prakash.
The chargesheet includes 121 documents for evidences and a list of 58 witnesses in the case.
The four co-accused were chargesheeted under Section 17 of the POCSO Act.
The chargesheet was filed amid tight security. Suspecting disturbance by Asaram’s followers, none but lawyers and media persons were allowed in the court premises.
Asaram looked nervous as the proceedings were on, but he managed to remain calm.
He will remain in the Jodhpur Central jail, where he had been lodged since his arrest.
Court will begin hearing arguments on the chargesheet from November 16.
Asaram was booked by Jodhpur Police on August 21 on a complaint filed by the teenage girl studying in Class 12 at his Chhindwara ashram.
The teenager alleged that Asaram had called her to his Manai ashram near Jodhpur on August 15 for an “exorcism ritual” and assaulted her while her parents waited outside.
Police arrested Asaram arrested from his Indore ashram and brought him to Jodhpur on September 1.
He was remanded in judicial custody on September 2. Both the district court and the high court had earlier rejected his bail applications.
On October 6, Asaram was slapped with another sexual assault case on a complaint by a woman from Surat.
The woman and her younger sister lodged separate complaints against Asaram and his son Narayan Sai, accusing them of repeated sexual assault between 1997 and 2006.
The sisters were then living in his ashram on the outskirts of Ahmedabad, according to the complaint.
Gujarat Police had also grilled Asaram before bringing back him to Jodhpur on October 23.
Sai has been absconding.
Asaram runs more than 400 ashrams across India.