Why the Asaram rape case verdict matters | Opinion | editorials | Hindustan Times
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Why the Asaram rape case verdict matters | Opinion

One of the main reasons why self-styled god men such as Asaram get the courage to abuse women and indulge in many other kinds of illegal activities because they think that they can get away, thanks to political patronage and huge fan following. It’s high time political leaders across party lines disassociate themselves from such fraudulent men, and send out a strong message to society.

Asaram Verdict Updated: Apr 25, 2018 19:29 IST
Security personnel stand guard outside Central Jail ahead of the trial court verdict in the rape case against self-styled godman Asaram in Jodhpur on Wednesday.
Security personnel stand guard outside Central Jail ahead of the trial court verdict in the rape case against self-styled godman Asaram in Jodhpur on Wednesday.(PTI Photo)

A Jodhpur court on Wednesday handed life imprisonment to 79-year-old Asaram, a self-styled godman, for raping a minor girl at his ashram in Rajasthan. He was booked under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012, and the Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989. The conviction and adequate sentencing (imprisonment till the end of a person’s natural life) could not have come at a more critical time in India: In the last few months, a plethora of rape cases, including of several minors, has been reported across the country. The conviction and sentencing of a powerful, socially and politically connected man such as Asaram should encourage more victims of sexual abuse to overcome the fear of social stigma and concerns about a slow investigative and legal process and give them the courage to report their cases to the police.

Here’s why it is important to make the environment more conducive for victims of sexual abuse to speak out. Even though social, legal and media support for them have increased noticeably after the December 16, 2012, gang rape case, an analysis of the 2015-16 National Family Health Survey done by the newspaper Mint shows that an estimated 99.1% of sexual violence cases are still not reported, and, in most such instances, the perpetrator is the husband of the victim. The average Indian woman is 17 times more likely to face sexual violence from her husband than from others, the analysis added. In India, marital rape is still not a crime. Even if one excludes marital rape and assault from the analysis, the extent of reporting sexual violence is still small, the report said. Only about 15% of sexual violence committed by others (someone other than the current husband) is reported to the police.

Asaram’s sentencing is also a warning to those who use their powerful positions to harass and intimidate others. Such harassment is not limited to a certain social or economic segment of society; it is far more widespread than many think. A couple of months ago, a ‘#metoo’ campaign rocked the academic world. On Tuesday, senior Congress leader Renuka Chowdhury claimed that even Parliament, the very place that makes the laws to safeguard citizens’ rights, is not immune to such harassment. Many actors have spoken out against the film industry’s open secret: “casting couch”, a euphemism for sexual harassment.

One of the main reasons why self-styled godmen such as Asaram, Nirmal Baba, Rampal and Ram Rahim Singh get the courage to abuse women and indulge in other illegal activities is because they think that they can get away with it, thanks to political patronage and huge bases of followers. It is high time for political leaders across party lines to keep their distance from such men.