77-year-old Asaram faces life imprisonment for a raping a 16-year-old schoolgirl. Why do godmen have this compulsion to assault their disciples?
Crime has no religion. Particularly rape, a behavioural crime of violence. Pared of the horror of it all, the bare definition of rape is sex without consent. When power equations are utterly skewed against the victim and in favour of the predator, consent is not requested.
One of the frequent scenes of such crime — where seeking of consent for sex becomes redundant — is an ashram, where a ‘godman’ with all his paraphernalia presides. These are the “potentially prime sites of violations,” says Sanjay Srivastava, a professor of Sociology at Delhi University’s Institute of Economic Growth.
He was explaining why godmen like Asaram, who has been given a life sentence, are found sexually exploiting vulnerable disciples – who can be called clients in modern parlance.
“The disciples are abject in front of the guru,” Srivastava explains, as the dictates of a guru are taken as the word of God. Not just in Hinduism, but also in other religions, complete devotion and trust are vested in the guru to initiate spiritual healing. A disciple is not supposed to question the guru, is required to surrender his ego and, with it, any survival and self-protection instincts.
This is true for both Eastern and Western spiritual leaders. Rajat Mitra, criminal psychologist, makes the point that some of the godmen are serial rapists, and like any rapist, get a high from indulging in sex. He counselled a Briton who was raped several times over a span of 10 days by a yoga guru in Haridwar as part of ‘a communion with the divine’ seven years ago.
Mitra explains, “Godmen are typically rebellious attention-seekers. The disciples, by dissolving self and feeling detached from worldly affairs, get a sense of liberation from the past. But this liberty is laced with vulnerability. Victims are exploited when they are most vulnerable.”
Take the case of Asaram, who is convicted by a special trial court in Jodhpur for raping a teenager in 2013 under various sections of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POSCO) Act and the Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. The judgement had to be pronounced inside the Jodhpur Central Jail for security reasons. Asaram had raped the minor girl on Independence Day after her parents were convinced by his aides to let the girl spend some quality time with the godman so that he could “cure” her of the “evil spirits” that had possessed her.
Asaram, popularly known as ‘Bapu’ or a father figure, turned out to be the embodiment of evil. After the girl was raped, she was threatened with dire consequences if she discussed the treatment meted out to her to any outsider.
It seems to be his modus operandi. Rape is repeated many times by a rapist, and Asaram is no exception. He is facing another case in Gujarat where he allegedly raped two sisters. Each of them has lodged separate complaints against him and his son Narayan Sai, who also enjoys a similar reputation as his father. There could be dozens of other unreported cases, for it is not easy to take on the influential Asaram.
Securing conviction in the Jodhpur case against Asaram wasn’t easy. It’s the result of exemplary perseverance of the family of the minor victim and the nine witnesses. They were under tremendous pressure, intimidated and even attacked, in order to compel them to turn hostile. Out of the nine witnesses, two were attacked, three of them have since died under mysterious circumstance. But none of them budged from their stated positions.
It’s no surprise that the 77-year old godman failed to secure bail: it would have certainly jeopardised the security of witnesses. He tried a dozen times to get bail, six of which were rejected by the trial court, three by the Rajasthan High Court and three by the Supreme Court. With Asaram’s future at stake, even the trial court judge Madhusudan Sharma, who awarded him life sentence, was at risk. He was accorded the highest level of security cover, Z+ category.
In cases involving these unscrupulous godmen, sexual outrage is carried out in the name of healing. Fear is created in the minds of the victim, and rape is carried out in this state of vulnerability. These crimes go unreported in most cases, for this sexual act of violence is portrayed as some sort of divine intervention. People of all ages and genders are potential targets: children, women and men.
Sudhir Kakar, a leading psychoanalyst and writer, in his book Mad and Divine makes the general point that godmen often suffer from repressed sexuality in the earlier part of their lives as are denied a vent, for they lead a rigorous, abstentious life. As they age, become influential, have their own set of disciples, gain a position of power, cultivate a larger-than-life image, they begin to lose their carnal restraints, and more often than not, find easy opportunities to indulge that urge. Their sexuality forcefully re-asserts itself at an advanced age. Asaram was well into his 70s when he raped the minor who was 56 years younger than him.
A psychologist who doesn’t want to be identified was hired by a church based in Delhi to monitor a preacher who was transferred from Europe to India after he was found to be a paedophile six years ago. The psychologist was engaged to meet him regularly, once a month, restrain him, check if he was exploiting children. After about a year of stay in Delhi, the preacher reported having a sexual liaison with a native teenager. “They just can’t control themselves,” says the psychologist. He informed the matter to higher authorities. The preacher was soon transferred to Africa. But the matter was hushed up.
As someone has rightly said, rape is not just women’s issue; it’s also about men who cease to behave like human beings. Like some of these godmen.