Asaram conviction: How victim, police ensured self styled godman's downfall
The case was unusually sensitive and different. In August 2013, a minor girl from Uttar Pradesh met police officers in Delhi and narrated how Asaram, a self-styled Godman with a huge following, money, and influence had molested her in Jodhpur.
Generally but wrongly, police would direct the complainant to the concerned police station but here, Delhi Police went by the rule book governed by the Supreme Court order that an FIR can be lodged anywhere in the country. Such a complaint is lodged as Zero FIR.
Delhi Police forwarded it to the concerned police station in Jodhpur.
With the ball in its court, the stand of the Congress government at that time was initially full of caution. Senior police officer would say that the girl was not raped and there was not even attempt to rape as Asaram only fondled with her upper naked body and made her touch his genitals.
Few realised the power of POCSO Act back then, this act had made it clear that what is known as molestation would be treated as full-fledged rape that involves penetration if the victim is a minor. That is why Asaram has been sentenced to life imprisonment with sentences running consecutively.
The Congress government was dithering initially to act against him fearing a Hindu backlash given assembly elections were three months away and BJP was gaining on certain Hindu wave built by Narendra Modi, then Gujarat CM.
Meanwhile, stories began to appear how Modi too was opposed to Asaram given his misdeeds at his Ashram although a police officer who spent long years in jail for carrying out encounters was stated to be extremely close to the fake Godman.
Also, it feared whether the case could be as strong to end in a conviction. But there were no instructions to cover it up either. So, officers were clear that they have to be very methodical and thorough before they arrest Asaram.
This approach has helped in conviction now. Of course, the most crucial of it all was a determination of the victim and his family to take on a powerful and dangerous character Asaram to get him punished for the great betrayal.
Parents had left their school going daughter in his custody for education. She was brought to him to cure her. And he instead wanted to have her to satisfy his lust. There was a modus operandi for this premeditated crime which made court punish him with life.
Here is what Ajay Pal Lamba, who was heading the investigations wrote on Facebook immediately after the verdict:
"Finally truth prevailed. Justice delivered in Asharam Bapu case with the conviction of accused Asharam in a case of sexual assault on a minor girl during the night of Independence day of 2013. Judgment is a landmark in criminal jurisprudence in the country. It is heartening to witness that if the law of land is implemented impartially, then even weakest can afford to take on the might of the most influential person like Asharam. Kudos to the whole team who was associated with me in taking this case to its logical conclusion in the most efficient and professional manner despite all odds. Thanks to colleagues, seniors and all members of the team whose support meant a lot to me in the entire phase of this case. My gratitude to all good wishers who stand for the cause directly or indirectly by contributing in own ways. Thanks to one and all. God bless the victim and family."
Lamba, DCP, reported to Jodhpur Police Commissioner Bijju Joseph. Lamba, also an IPS officer, was leading investigations with a belief that victim was wronged, what she stated was correct but needed to be recorded and verified well.
He deputed Chanchal Mishra, a state police officer to arrest Asaram who has refusing to come for interrogation and had moved to his Indore Ashram. Mishra used every tactic to make Asaram gave in peacefully and it was a big success.
A similar success of the government in Rajasthan is now that it could get a court to give the verdict in jail and deployed heavy security to ensure that his supporters do not get violent in the state following an adverse verdict.
Most of the officers involved in the investigations in initial stage were transferred out once BJP government took over in 2013 December. The new team appeared more cautious but one could not say if any officer in new or old team tried to help Asaram.
That is why initial investigations and facts that are brought on record go a long way to ensure delivery of justice.
During the trial, 13 eyewitnesses were attacked and three killed. One was knifed at the court in Jodhpur. But little has been heard about accused of such attacks being tried or their direct link with Asaram. Some alleged that the attacks were a handiwork of Asaram's enemies within his Ashram just to ensure that he did not get bail.
But the way witnesses were killed or attacked in different states despite open threats given to them, and as anticipated by police showed either inefficiency or indifference or a connivance on part of the police.
Asaram's frequent appearances before the courts used to be an event by itself. Hundreds of his followers would wait for hours to get his glimpse and follow him from jail to court and court to jail on their vehicles, some even on foot. They would get aggressive at times. Police weakly tried to get hearings done in the jail and that plea was rejected by the court. But for the verdict, the court agreed to deliver it in jail accepting the plea of the police that bringing accused to the court would create a law and order problem.
Asaram is expected to spend his life in jail in a state from where his rise as a Godman began.
Some say he was a Tonga wallah in Ajmer before he moved to Jaipur and worked as a motorcycle mechanic before his sermons and kirtans began to attract locals.
Will he get a bail?
Even best of efforts to get him bail till his appeal is pending may lead to some relief for a brief period given courts have rejected his bail plea more than a dozen times during trial so far. Police may oppose the grant of bail to him citing law and order problem.
How has been his stay in jail?
Media is not allowed access to such cells where certain privileges are accorded to convicts or under trials and no jail officer will reveal whether Asaram gets a desert cooler or mattresses. They say he does not. Anyway, he is used to living in jail for long.
The punishment served to him is very severe and higher courts may look into whether the consecutive term is justified or concurrent is enough. In any case, to expect that he will outlive even concurrent term is unlikely because of a life term.
Yet, higher courts have, at times, given major reliefs to accused in severe crimes too. Like Salman Khan case, this too originated near Jodhpur and will remain alive for years to come.
Perhaps Asaram can set a precedent by admitting to his crime which nobody in India including celebrity cricketers and film stars has ever done. But he seems to still hopeful of getting out one day to live life like a king.