We are in the police station area of Shahjahanpur, a district 150 kilometres from Lucknow. Despite heavy rain, local reporters and others from Lucknow and Delhi crowd outside the compound of Durga Transport — a three-storeyed building. A board reading Asaram Bapu Trust lies on the road. A few policemen, including a sub-inspector, stand next to the house waiting to meet Dharam Singh, the owner of Durga Transport and the man who filed a case against Asaram Bapu for sexually assaulting his daughter. Dharam Singh and his family, however, refuse to see anyone.
In the past ten days, they have undergone a lot of mental agony. On the night of 15 August, their daughter was allegedly raped by their godman in Jodhpur. After filing a complaint in Delhi on 20 August and getting a medical checkup of Roshni done, they went to Jodhpur for a judicial enquiry after which they returned to Shahjahanpur.
According to a neighbour, Kishan Agarwal, some reporters from the electronic media asked him inappropriate questions. Without his permission, a microphone was clipped on his collar and before he could realise what was happening, he was on television. “As it is, the family had not recovered from the shock,” claims Kishan, “and then this incident happened. It distressed him so much that he refuses to meet the media. But after receiving a written request from TEHELKA, he agreed to meet our correspondent.
The family stays on the first floor of the house in the backyard of the compound. As we enter the drawing room, we see Dharam Singh, a 50-year-old man, dressed in a soiled kurta-pyjama. He is crying as he talks to someone on the phone.
In a heavy voice, he pleads on the phone, “No… no matter what happens now, I will not take back the case. Our condition is very bad. My wife and daughter both are very ill. If he is not sent to jail and roams around free, he will keep threatening us. We are under a lot of pressure. The police have not even arrested him yet. After what he did to our daughter, how can I take my complaint back?”
Meanwhile, his relatives tell us that he has been receiving phone calls not only from acquaintances and ‘well-wishers’, but also from ministers and intermediaries. They added that officials from the ashram tried to threaten the family using their younger son. His son studied at the Chhindwara Gurukul run by the Asaram Trust, where his daughter used to study too. The ashram authorities refused to allow him to leave. After a prolonged struggle, he got a ‘Transfer Certificate’ from the ashram on 26 August and was handed over to them.
The assault has not only scarred the family physically and emotionally, but has also left their religious belief shaken.
Here’s an account in his own words.
On how he came to know of Asaram Bapu
‘In the beginning we didn’t have anything. Then I started a small transport business. It grew steadily. About 10 years ago, I came to know of Asaram. There is something about him that wins the hearts of the people, mesmerises them. We fell for his charm and my family and I became his devotees. We were among the earliest devotees from Shahjahanpur. We made him popular here. We had such deep faith in him that we even constructed an ashram for him on 7 acres of land in Tilhad district some 8 or 10 kilometers from here. We handed the land over to his son Sai Narayan. Selflessly, I spent lakhs on this man. And today he is trying to lure us with money. He says, “Take money and forget about the case.” The way he has bought everyone, he wants to buy me too.
On what happened to his daughter
‘She had been studying in Asaram’s Chhindwara Gurukul for the past five years. My younger son also studied there. There was never any issue. Everything being said about Roshni’s health is false. She has always been perfectly healthy. But for no reason, they started her treatment. My daughter told me that she didn’t have any problem, but suddenly the Gurukul sevikas told her that she was under the influence of spirits. They told me that she would have to perform a puja for one whole night. They took her away and at night, four or five of them sat around her in a hall. They made her recite the mahamrityunjay mantra. She told me later how she had got a headache after that. The next day we received a call from the Ashram informing us that our daughter was unwell. The sevikas told us that only Asaram Bapu could heal her. We were told to meet Asaram on 15 August in his Jodhpur ashram. My wife and I reached Chhindwara and took our daughter along with us to Jodhpur.’
‘We were told to go there at night on 15 August. Behind the Manai Ashram of Jodhpur there are some cottages. Asaram had called us there. When we reached there, he told us to meditate by looking into his eyes. We were overjoyed that someone people crave to meet is asking us to look into his eyes. But now I know that it was just a plot to hypnotize us. He asked us to leave our daughter as he was going perform some incantations on her to cure her. We told him it was late and we had no place to go. Moreover, we did not want to leave our daughter alone. So he told us we could rest in the hut next door, while he attended to our daughter. We worshipped him like God and trusted him so we went to the other cottage leaving our daughter with him. Even then we were reciting his bhajans. When Roshni returned after about one-and-a-half hour later, she was crying. When I asked what had happened, she asked to leave immediately. I got suspicious. When we reached home, I told my wife to ask her what happened there. After much insistence, she told her that when we had left, Asaram took her to another room from a door at the back. There, Asaram told her that he would heal her and that she was going to become a great orator. Then he asked her to remove her clothes and raped her. He threatened her that if she told anybody about it, her family would face the consequences. Had Roshni told me there, I would have picked a stone and hit Asaram with it. There wasn’t even much security there. He destroyed the life and honour of our daughter. We will never forgive him.”
On registering his complaint in Delhi
(The incident took place on 15 August in Jodhpur and was reported on 20 August in the Kamla Nagar police station of Delhi)
“We are often asked why we registered the complaint so late and that too in Delhi. Our daughter had not told us anything on the night of 15 August. She kept crying. But after persistent enquiries, she revealed the story two days later. We were shocked and decided to meet him (Asaram). We came to know that he had a pravachan at the Ramlila Ground of Delhi on 18 and 19 August. We reached Delhi, but we were stopped at the Ramlila Ground. Asaram refused to meet us. This happened on 19 August. We immediately decided we had to go to the police. The nearest police station was at Kamla Nagar so we went there and registered the complaint.”
On being pressurised
“It’s been more than a week since we registered the complaint but Asaram is roaming around freely. As long as he is free, we will be under pressure. They are trying to threaten us saying that we will lose our money and even our lives. They want us to withdraw the case at any cost. Tell me, if your daughter is raped, will you take money in return for her loss of honour? I can’t take the money. All I want is justice for my daughter. My wife and children are constantly crying. Both my daughter and wife are still in shock. We are ready to fight, but the police and the administration are all under pressure. If it were some ordinary man, would he be roaming free like him? Now he’s saying that Roshni is like his granddaughter. He is trying to break me. (Weeping bitterly) He shattered my belief, my faith…”
On Asaram’s criminal activities
“If the CBI conducts a probe, he will be exposed. Many girls go missing from the Chhindwara Ashram every year. Where do they go? They are sent to Asaram at different places. Young girls surround this man during his functions. Recently, 25 girls arrived at the ashram from Haridwar, of which 3 were selected. My daughter too must have been picked like this. Now I know why he always has young girls around him. Of these, the best are chosen and sent to different ashrams. I have come to know of other such instances. But the families of those girls do not come out in the open for fear of losing honour. Some people are afraid of him while others simply do not consider his acts objectionable. They are so blind in his devotion that they take his misconduct towards their wives and daughters as ‘Baba’s blessings’. What do I say about anyone else? If my wife and I had not been present there and seen our daughter in that condition, we would never have believed it. We would have belied our own daughter. He had cast such a spell on us that he was the only truth for us. But now we want to break the spell so that other children of the country can remain safe.”
(All the names in this article have been changed to protect the identity of the people involved)
With inputs from Jai Prakash Tripathi
Translated from Tehelka Hindi by Naushin Rehman