New Delhi: Asaram Bapu, arrested by Rajasthan Police on charges of sexual assault, is not new to controversies. The spiritual guru, who started preaching in Gujarat in the late 1960s and today owns 200 ashrams across the country, has earlier been involved in criminal cases.
Asaram, 72, is in police custody in Jodhpur over allegations of sexual assault levelled against him by a minor girl.
His brush with trouble first started in 2008 after the deaths of two 10-year-old cousins, Abhishek and Dipesh Vaghela, at his Motera ashram in Gujarat. A charge sheet has been filed against him in the case.
Since 2008 he has remained in news for all the wrong reasons, be it criminal cases filed against him, encroachment by his ashrams or his remarks on the Delhi gang-rape.
According to a website titled "Sant Shri Asharamji Ashram official website", the spiritual guru was born as Asumal on April 14, 1941 and he migrated with his family from Sindh in Pakistan to Mani Nagar near Ahmedabad in Gujarat during the partition of the country in 1947.
The fourth child of Thaumal and Mehgiba Sirumalani, Asaram is known to have been inclined to fulfil his quest on the existence of life and the mystery behind it, after his father`s demise, the website said.
Seeing his inclination away from worldly affairs, Asaram was forcibly married to Lakshmi Devi, though he had tried to run away eight days before his marriage, it said.
He left his family in 1968 and went to Uttar Pradesh`s Vrindavan, the land of Lord Krishna.
After staying in the ashram for 70 days and meditating in the caves of Mount Abu in Rajasthan, he returned to Ahmedabad and started preaching. He also built an ashram on the banks of the Sabarmati, the website said.
He has a son Narayan Prem Sai who is also a spiritual leader.
The 2008 death of two boys at his Motera ashram in Gujarat raised a stink.
The decomposed bodies of the boys were found on a dried-up river bed near the ashram, police said.
In September 2012, the Gujarat Criminal Investigation Department filed a chargesheet against seven office-bearers at Asaram`s ashram in connection with the mysterious death of the two boys.
In December 2009, a former ashram trustee, Raju Chandak, registered a complaint with the police alleging that Asaram and two other people tried to kill him in Ahmedabad.
The following year in March, the Gujarat government authorities reclaimed 67,099 square metres of land which was allegedly encroached upon by Asaram`s ashram in Ahmedabad.
In August 2012, Bapu is known to have survived a helicopter crash at Godhra, when he was on his way to deliver a lecture in a college.
However, the most controversial of his statements was the one related to the Delhi gang-rape.
Asaram Bapu said the victim of the Dec 16, 2012 gang-rape in Delhi was also to be blamed for the incident and that she should have begged the culprits to stop by calling them brother. He later claimed that his statement was misread.
In February, a 24-year-old man, Rahul Pachouri, died under mysterious circumstances in Asaram Bapu`s Jabalpur ashram. Pachouri`s father alleged that his son was poisoned.
Though surrounded by controversy, the spiritual leader enjoys the support of a large number of people who have been relentlessly protesting his arrest in the recent sexual assault case filed against him Aug 20.
According to the allegations of the girl, who studied at Asaram`s ashram in Madhya Pradesh`s Chhindwara and stayed in a girls` hostel there, the guru sexually assaulted her on the pretext of exorcism.
According to Jodhpur Police Commissioner Biju George Joseph, Asaram has claimed innocence in the case registered under various sections of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act and the Indian Penal Code.