Ahmedabad, Jan 31 (PTI) A court in Gandhinagar on Tuesday sentenced self-styled godman Asaram Bapu to life imprisonment in a rape case filed by a former woman disciple in 2013 noting he sexually abused the victim younger than his daughter and committed a "very serious crime" against the society that should be punished "to the fullest extent" to prevent the exploitation of religious people.
Additional sessions judge DK Soni also ordered Asaram to pay Rs 50,000 as compensation to the victim.
A day earlier, the court had convicted Asaram for rape, unnatural offences, and wrongful confinement in the case registered in 2013 for raping a woman disciple, who hailed from Surat, on several occasions from 2001 to 2007 at his ashram at Motera near Ahmedabad before she managed to escape.
The prosecution had sought life imprisonment for Asaram on the ground that he was a "habitual offender," being convicted and jailed in a similar rape case of a girl at his Jodhpur ashram in Rajasthan.
The court also observed Asaram doesn't deserve sympathy given the nature of the crime and that the defence on the ground of his old age and bad health cannot be considered valid.
"To prevent exploitation of religious people of the society, the perpetrators of such a heinous crime cannot be spared and should be punished to the fullest extent as prescribed by law," the judge said in the order.
The defence said the order will be challenged in the Gujarat High Court.
The 81-year-old godman is currently serving a life term in a Jodhpur jail in another case of raping a minor girl at his ashram in Rajasthan in 2013.
He was produced in the Gandhinagar court via video link when the judge passed the order on Tuesday.
Six other accused in the case, including Asaram's wife Laxmiben, their daughter Bharati, and four disciples who were accused of aiding and abetting the crime, were acquitted for want of evidence on Monday, the prosecution had said.
"The court on Tuesday sentenced Asaram Bapu to life imprisonment under sections 376 (2)(C) for rape and 377 (unnatural offences) of the Indian Penal Code. He was also ordered to pay Rs 50,000 towards the compensation to the victim," said special public prosecutor RC Kodekar, who sought the strictest punishment for Asaram on the ground that he was a "habitual offender." Besides IPC sections 376 (2) (C) and 377, Asaram was convicted under sections 342 (wrongful confinement), 354 (assault or criminal force to woman with intent to outrage her modesty), 357 (assault), and 506 (criminal intimidation in which he was sentenced to six months to one year in jail and nominal fines.
Arguing against life sentence sought by the prosecution, the defence lawyer pleaded with the court to settle for 10 years imprisonment for Asaram on the ground of his age and the fact that he was already serving a life sentence and jailed in another case.
In its order, the court said Asaram sexually abused a victim of a younger age than his daughter and committed a crime that cannot be taken lightly.
"The accused committed a very serious crime against the society and such a heinous crime cannot have any place of sympathy and should be punished to the fullest extent prescribed by law." "It becomes the moral responsibility not only of the society but also of the court to set an example and prevent such behaviour. We all have a shared responsibility to ensure women's safety," the court noted.
The court also observed that in our society, a religious leader is considered a man who instils love for the divine, and leads us through devotion, religion and knowledge via 'satsang' (discourse) to God.
"Even in the scriptures, it is said that the Gods reside where women are given respect. ...If we give respect to women, we can definitely change their attitude and perspective towards men. Article 15 (3) of the Indian Constitution has also directed to make special provision for women and children," the court said in the order.
When the victim was sexually abused, she was 20-21 years of age and Asaram 61-62, and hence it is proved that he sexually abused the victim of the age younger than his daughter, and the crime committed by him cannot be taken lightly, the court observed.
"It becomes the moral responsibility not only of the society but also of the court to set an example in the society and prevent such behaviour. When the crime against the accused has been proved beyond doubt by the prosecution, then the defence on the ground that the accused is old and in bad health cannot be considered valid," it said.
"Also, this court strongly believes that the accused has committed a very serious crime against the society and such a heinous crime cannot have any place of sympathy and should be punished to the fullest extent prescribed by law," it further said. PTI KA GK VT NSK NSK