NEW DELHI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - An Indian spiritual leader who sparked controversy earlier this year when he said a gang-rape and murder victim should share the blame for her assault has been charged with raping a minor, the Hindustan Times reported on Thursday.
Police in the western city of Jodhpur said a 16-year-old girl had registered a complaint against guru Asaram Bapu, 72, and that he had been charged with rape and forcible "unnatural sex" with the girl. Unnatural sex refers to acts such as sodomy in the Indian Penal Code.
The alleged assault took place on Aug. 15 when the girl, who was studying at a school owned by Asaram, was taken by her parents to the guru's ashram near Jodhpur after she became ill, police said.
"According to the complaint, the girl had fallen ill at the school and the authorities had advised her parents to take her to Asaram, who would do a special puja (ceremony) for her cure," Jodhpur Deputy Commissioner of Police Ajaypal Lamba was quoted as saying.
The girl alleged he then took her into his room and forced her into unnatural sex, threatening to have his guards kill her family if she refused, Lamba said. A medical examination confirmed that the sexual act had taken place, he said.
Asaram’s spokesman, Sunil Wankhede, has denied all the charges against the guru, saying that he was not in Jodhpur on the date the alleged attack took place. Wankhede said Asaram planned to take legal action against the girl.
The age of consent in India is 18.
Asaram created outrage among many activists and middle-class Indians in January when he suggested that the victim of a high-profile gang rape and murder should share the blame for her assault. The 23-year-old student and a male companion were left bleeding on a highway after she was raped and beaten on a moving bus in New Delhi on Dec. 16. She died two weeks later from internal injuries in a Singapore hospital.
"Guilt is not one-sided," the guru had told his followers, adding that if the student had pleaded with her six attackers in God's name and told them she was of the "weaker sex", they would have relented.