NEW DELHI // Asaram Bapu, the guru now in jail on suspicion of raping a 16-year-old girl, has been sexually assaulting young women for years and has only now "finally been caught", his former doctor said yesterday.
"This isn't the first time he has done something like this," Amrutbhai Prajapati, who was Asaram's doctor until he left his order in 2004, said yesterday.
Dr Prajapati has accused Asaram previously of a pattern of sexual abuse and assault before. In 2008, he submitted a formal complaint to police in Ahmedabad, where Asaram's main ashram is located. The authorities took no action.
Throughout his career, Asaram Bapu preached a life of purity and religious devotion. In contrast to that spiritual persona, however, he has been repeatedly embroiled in a host of scandals.
The latest instance involves the 16-year-old girl who, accompanied by her parents, traveled to a farmhouse in Jodhpur in search of an exorcism from the guru. He was arrested on Sunday, after the girl accused him of sexually assaulting her.
After his arrest, the 72-year-old Asaram, who uses only one name followed by an honorific meaning father, underwent a police-ordered "potency test" that "confirmed that he was strong enough to commit the crime of sexual assault and rape on the 16-year-old girl," said Biju George Joseph, the Jodhpur commissioner of police.
With his loose white robes and his long white beard, Asaram cuts a striking figure. In his public sermons, he reveals his gift for storytelling, modulating his voice to play different characters and driving home the morals of his tales.
When there is music, he jumps and dances on stage in time to the rhythm. One YouTube video, widely circulated after his arrest, shows Asaram persuading even Atal Behari Vajpayee, the placid former prime minister, to join him in a jig.
Asaram enjoys strong political connections, and Mr Vajpayee was an unabashed admirer. On Asaram's website, an accolade from Mr Vajpayee notes that the guru was engaged "in inculcating good cultural traits in the minds of common people … He is teaching about respect to all religions, and how to discriminate between good and bad."
In a show of his international popularity, Asaram has built 370 ashrams, or hermitages, including some in the United States and Europe. His wealth has been estimated to be worth nearly 50 billion rupees (Dh2.79bn).
Asaram's official biography narrates how he was born to parents who later migrated from Pakistan to India. The family lived near Ahmedabad, in Gujarat, now the location of Asaram's main ashram.
He married young, but he claimed to have left home on a spiritual quest that brought him to temple towns and the Himalayas in search of tutelage. No independent reports have confirmed these claims.
Ironically, he has also exhorted his followers to fight carnal desires. "Rock and pop music," he said, "lead people's thoughts to sex, which diminishes their life force." Sexual couplings during religious festivals, could lead to the birth of crippled children, he says.
While this is the first time he has been arrested, accusations of sexual impropriety have dogged Asaram for years.
In 2008, Avin Varma, who said she had stayed at one of the guru's ashrams for six months, held a press conference in which she accused Asaram and his son Narayan Sai of running their ashrams "like a brothel".
She said the ashram's officials "select girls" for sexual purposes from volunteers and devotees, convincing them "that they are very lucky" to be have been chosen.
Asaram used the code word gyan, or knowledge, for these purposes, Dr Prajapati said.
"'Send me a girl for gyan', he would say," Dr Prajapati said. "That was a signal that he was to be left alone with the girl and not disturbed."
Dr Prajapati did not specify why he left Asaram's order nine years ago. He said only that he "fell out" with the guru.
It is not just suggestions of sexual impropriety that have beset Asaram.
In July 2008, two young boys - aged four and five - were discovered dead in one of Asaram's ashrams, with no apparent injuries to their bodies. The same month, the corpses of two other boys - ages nine and 10, and students at one of Asaram's ashrams - were found in a dried river bed near the ashram.
The boys' bodies were mutilated: one had its ears cut off, while another was missing its liver and sternum. The boys' parents alleged that they had been killed in black magic rituals, but neither Asaram nor any of his ashram's officials was ever indicted of involvement in the boys' deaths.