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IBN Live
5.9.2013

The Laws are unholy for India's holy men!

Sanal Edamaruku

Asaram Bapu

The law is finally taking its course against Asaram Bapu however, with utmost hesitation. Accused of sexually assaulting a minor girl in his care and custody, and with prima facie evidence against him, he could have been brought to book within hours. But it took days of massive public uproar, a hunger strike of the victim's family, strong media protest and even mounting pressure from a section of parliamentarians to get the state machinery started. There is a big foot standing in the brakes: Asaram is protected by powerful political guardian angels. Another factor coming to his aid is this special kneejerk bent of Indian hierarchies to bow in front of anybody claiming holiness. It is working even without higher orders and often plays a crucial role by guiding a section of administration and police force to misuse their sphere of influence. In case of the alleged rapist Asaram, we see them delaying his arrest and confirming wrong alibi claims to help him escape.

Justitia, the blindfolded one, is not concerned who you are or what people think you are. For her, everyone is equal, what only counts are your deeds. But Indian reality is different. Compare Asaram's case for a moment to the ridiculous blasphemy case that was pressed against me by the Catholic Church in Mumbai to revenge for my TV exposure of their miracle. Here we find like a mirror image - a section of policemen jumping with great zeal on the Catholic bandwagon, accepting without hesitation unacceptable FIRs against me, volunteering to tyrannize me on behalf of the church with regular midnight calls and even pressing a non-bailable arrest warrant against me. Courts wash their hands off with technical excuses. The Indian as well as the Maharashtra government does not even react to my petition. They also ignore statements of the British Index of Censorship in my support and a London petition with more than thirteen thousand prominent signatories, among them rationalist heavy weights like Richard Dawkins and James Randi. My crime: I exposed a Catholic miracle of the water-dripping crucifix in Mumbai as a plumber's problem hereby, by the way, fulfilling the constitutional duty to develop the scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform.

Women protest against Asaram Bapu
Women protest against Asaram Bapu

That is the bias of the Indian system. I had to leave India for security reasons when Catholic fundamentalists threatened to get me eliminated. My friend and colleague Narendra Dabholkar was brutally murdered. But Asaram Bapu, a hardcore criminal in a holy gown, would go scot-free if there was not this enormous public pressure for justice.

The rich and powerful godman, a former cycle shop boy, is one of the darlings of India's political hierarchy. Owning more than 100 ashrams all over the country and 1200 prayer centers around the world, he claims to have some 20 million followers. His empire is estimated to be worth two billion Dollars. In the name of ashram schools, orphanages and homes for girls from poor families, who cannot care for their kids, he is running a system of child labor camps, from which he recruits his bodyguards and goons, the backbone of his power. Equaling himself with Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction, he reigns with terror and violence. Devotees are scared and beaten into absolute submission. He threatens to destroy anybody with his curse who would question and criticize him. In his book Gurubhakti, he orders his devotees to use violence against critics, even to cut out their tongues.

Asaram is yet to stand trial for many brutal crimes. The public knows just the tip of the horrible iceberg: Remember the two little boys, 5 and 6, who were found dead in the toilets of two of his ashram schools in August 2008. One of them had his head in a bucket of water. That was in Madhya Pradesh - and not even an FIR was registered. One month before, two murdered ashram students, 9 and 10, were found in a dried up river bed in Gujarat. From one, liver and sternum were missing; the other had no more ears - a fact that seemed to indicate that they had become victims of human sacrifices. But again, no FIR. The police had obviously orders to hush the cases up. The rest did the godman's goons: Just like last week, investigating journalists were brutally beaten up. And a violent rampage of Asaram's army scared protesting neighborhood people into submission. Think of all this, when you look at those glossy photographs showing Asaram with top politicians, among them former prime minister Vajpayee - even after these crimes came to light!

Asaram is not the only one who has been sitting for decades under the worn old umbrella of holiness to enjoy privileges and commit crimes in a preserve beyond the law. Since the public tide is turning, some of his second grade colleagues already been brought to justice. Swami Premananda, arrested in 1997, has been awarded double life imprisonment for raping thirteen young girls and murdering a disciple. He died in prison. Swami Amritachaitanya was arrested by Interpol in March 2008 for rape of minor girls and many other crimes. Swami Nithyananda, jailed in 2010, stands accused of rape. Sri Jayendra Saraswathi, the Shankaracharya of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham, is the prime accused in two murder cases.

Sai Baba with former Indian President  Abdul Kalam Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi paying last respec to Sai Baba
Sai Baba: revered till the end, despite persistent allegations of his widespread sexual abuse of young disciples [left: with former Indian President Abdul Kalam, right: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi paying last respect]

Satya Sai Baba, however, the superstar among Indian godmen, managed to die a free and immensely rich man. Despite all public scandals, the political elite were at his feet till the end. India's president and prime minister both honored him on occasion of his latest birthday celebrations. They profusely ignored that he was long exposed by rationalists to be a fraud who betrayed his gullible followers with his studied sleights of hand. Even when this was proven with the famous video tape that appeared in Robert Eagle's Guru Busters, they kept their eyes closed. They did not stop praising him even when persistent allegations condemned his widespread sexual abuse of young disciples. More and more victims came out with harrowing detail how they were groped during private audiences and required to take part in sexual acts with the man they had trusted. While the US government warned its citizens from the groping baba, and the UNESCO cancelled a common education project with him, our politicians still pleased to look the other side. Wouldn't India deserve a more honorable political leadership?

That public pressure could achieve Asaram Bapu's arrest despite the massive set-up in his favor, is a big success. If the pressure does not slip now, there are chances that the godman will be brought to book at least for one of all the horrible crimes he committed throughout decades. We owe respect to the unknown little girl that dared to stand up against her torturer and his protectors!