Muslim Times(Web Desk) – An Indian court has sentenced Asaram Bapu, a controversial popular guru, to life in prison for raping a teenage devotee under the pretext of ridding her of evil spirits, his lawyer says.
The white-bearded guru, 77, was given the maximum sentence at a closed jailhouse hearing in the western city of Jodhpur of Rajasthan state on Wednesday.
“Asaram has been sentenced for life until death,” Rajendra Singh, a lawyer for the defense team, told reporters outside the court.
His lawyer said the sentence would be appealed.
Two of the four other defendants were also found guilty and sentenced to 20 years. Two were acquitted.
The influential guru has always denied raping the then 16-year-old in 2013 during a spiritual retreat. He had called the trial a political conspiracy and refused to cooperate with a police investigation.
Asaram is also accused of raping another devotee and involvement in the killing of two students at another of his Hindu retreats. His son is also on trial for rape.
The guru still commands a devoted following despite his star power fading following the rape charges and other controversies.
Law enforcement agencies on Wednesday deployed thousands of police across several Indian states amid fears his devotees could riot and spark violence.
Asaram’s followers have been blamed for attacking or pressuring those who have spoken out against the guru into withdrawing their allegations. Two close aides who turned key witnesses against him were murdered in 2014 and 2015.
Last year, a spiritual leader called the “guru in bling” was jailed for 20 years for rape. His devotees went on a rampage that lasted days and left 38 people dead.
The latest conviction follows weeks of protest over the gang rape and murder of an eight-year-old and a separate assault on a teenager by a ruling party politician.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi last week approved the death penalty for child rapists and vowed “to hang the people of demonic tendencies who misbehave with daughters.”
India is notorious for its history of violence against women, including frequent cases of rape. The country toughened punishment for sexual violence after the fatal gang-rape of a student on a Delhi bus in 2012. The death sparked mass protests as well as domestic and international outrage.