NEW DELHI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – A popular 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 arrested for raping a minor at his ashram, the Times of India reported on Monday.
Asaram Bapu, 72 – who has millions of followers in India and overseas – was charged on August 21 with the rape and sexual assault of a 16-year-old girl in the western city of Jodhpur, but he evaded arrest for several days citing ill health and other reasons.
Medical tests conducted on the guru – who said he was impotent and could not have committed the assault – found him to be capable of the rape, the newspaper said.
"A potency test was conducted on him, which confirmed that he was strong enough to commit the crime of sexual assault and rape on the 16-year-old girl," Jodhpur's Police Commissioner Biju George Joseph was quoted as saying.
The alleged assault took place on August 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. The girl alleged he took her into his room and raped her, threatening to have his guards kill her family if she refused.
Asaram, who has denied the charges, has been remanded in custody for 14 days. Scores of his supporters have staged demonstrations in cities such as Mumbai and New Delhi claiming the guru is being framed. Some of the protests have turned violent.
Right-wing Hindu political groups have also opposed his arrest saying the allegations were an attack on "Hindu culture".
Asaram caused outrage in January when he suggested a 23-year-old student who died after she was beaten and raped on a moving bus in New Delhi and left bleeding on a highway in December should share the blame for the attack. She died in a Singapore hospita two weeks after the assault from internal injuries.
"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.