Of Asaram Bapu, Rape, Doublespeak Of Politicians

Photograph by Sameer Ashraf

Rupee’s free fall and the missing coal scam files aren’t the only issues India is facing right now; there are more troubling issues like the one persistently troubling half of the country’s population.

Economic issues, sooner or later, will pass off, but the monster (read rape and harassment of women) is refusing to go away – apparently because there are no cosmetic solutions. Some would argue that stringent punishment would prove to be a panacea, but I would choose to disagree, though it could act as a deterrent in many cases.

However, the case looks completely different in this country where every rape and harassment doesn’t lead to outrage; people would pour on to the streets only after finding out the class of the society the victim belongs to; the community she comes from; and last but not the least, the class and political affiliation of the rapists. As an example, people would chose to overlook, rather condone, rapes by armed forces in Kashmir and Northeast in the so-called ‘line of duty’.

Just a few days before the gang rape of a 23-year-old photojournalist in Mumbai, a Chicago University student revealed how she was ‘groped, stalked and masturbated at’ during her study trip to the country. Immediately after the Mumbai incident, protests were held across the country and politicians – from both ruling and opposition parties – have been demanding severe punishment for the culprits.

Earlier, in December last year, a woman was fatally gang raped on a moving bus in capital New Delhi. The brutal incident brought thousands of people, especially youth, on the streets across the country – who were demanding stringent anti-rape laws.

Opposition politicians joined the protesters – with some even demanding death for rapists. The laws were strengthened after a committee headed by late Justice Verma recommended various measures to curb the menace. But one thing is certain: we have failed to rein in the monster.

More than eight months later, we are witnessing déjà vu – the same politicians are again demanding death sentence for rapists, but this time one can decipher that these politicians are making this din just to derive the political mileage ahead of the country’s general elections, scheduled next year.

Days after this horrific incident in Mumbai, a minor girl from Uttar Pradesh accused self-styled godman Asaram Bapu of sexually assaulting her. Whether or not Bapu is guilty will be decided in the court of law, but what merits attention is the doublespeak of politicians on these two issues.

Sushma Swaraj, senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader and Leader of the Opposition, reiterated in Parliament that ‘the culprits (in Mumbai gang rape case) should be hanged’. “Hang them, the incidents will stop. Let us not just make laws, implement them too,” she told the lawmakers.

What merits attention here is that the politicians from her party not only alleged that the Congress was framing Bapu but the BJP’s frontal organisations VHP and Bajrang Dal also held demonstrations in his support. They even alleged that Bapu was targeted as he was ‘working for awakening among Hindus’. The speakers from the BJP, VHP and Bajrang Dal said that people in power want to keep field open for Christian missionaries by implicating in false cases the sants who were working against conversions.

Even though cases have been registered against the godman in Delhi, UP and Rajasthan, police didn’t arrest him and instead issued summons – to deliver them, policemen had to wait outside Baba’s ashram for six hours as he was, according to his staff, ‘meditating and can’t be disturbed’.

With the way police had to act in this case, the people will certainly doubt if anything can stand trial against such powerful people. And when politicians demand from the government implementation of laws and at the same time claim that charges against Bapu are politically motivated, how can one even imagine that justice will be done to the minor girl?

This is not the first time that such charges have been leveled against Bapu. Even land grab cases have been registered against the godman in Gujarat, so politicians should let the justice and law enforcements system work in this country before then even try to protect these babas who should be no sacred cows.

Can we afford to forget Baba’s controversial remarks in the Delhi rape case—when he said “galati ek taraf se nahin hoti hai,” suggesting the victim of the sexual assault was equally responsible for the crime?

Add to this the controversial remarks made by the godman’s son about the minor girl. According to The Times of India, he has said that the girl is ‘mentally unstable’. Of course, his son and followers have the right to defend the godman, but how is it justified that they will make uncalled for remarks against the minor?

If the minor girl is to be believed, the godman even asked her to perform oral sex on him. With such grave allegations, is there any justification that the politicians should defend the so-called spiritual leader – who along with his son has only been promoting, according to father of Dipesh Vaghela (he disappeared mysteriously from Bapu’s ashram and his hallowed out body was found near the ashram later), promoting black magic and tantric practices – a claim he has made in his deposition before the Justice (retired) DK Trivedi Commission of Inquiry.

To probe the death of Vaghela and his cousin, the Commission was set up by Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi following the public outcry. But the Gujarat High Court has censured the Commission for going soft on Asaram and his son.

The high court order on a petition filed by Bapu (15637/2012), challenging the Commission summons to appear before it, stated: “a picture emerges where the Commission has, on its knees, with folded hands craved the convenience of the petitioner and his son to record their evidence before it and this has continued for a period of more than one and a half years”.

The Open Magazine wrote in February earlier this year that Bapu, according to eyewitnesses, would leave the room without permission, either to drink milk or address his followers, even as the deposition before the Commission was on.

Unless India, its politicians and people start seeing ‘rape as rape and rapists as rapists’, irrespective of their power and clout, the country will continue to be shamed by such horrific and shameful incidents.

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