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Indian Guru Sentenced to Life in Prison for Raping Teenage Girl

Over several decades, Mr. Bapu, 77, had become a celebrity in India, operating hundreds of ashrams, attracting hundreds of thousands of followers and holding giant outdoor gatherings. He has also courted controversy. After the 2012 rape and murder of a young woman on a bus in New Delhi ignited an international outcry, Mr. Bapu told a group of his followers that the victim was to blame.

“She should have taken God’s name and held their hands and feet,” he said. “Then the misconduct wouldn’t have happened. Can one hand clap? I don’t think so.”

Before Mr. Bapu’s conviction was announced, Mahendra Chawla, a former aide who testified against the guru, implored the court to provide additional security for those who stepped forward to testify.

In 2014, Amrut Prajapati, a critical witness in the case against Mr. Bapu, was shot and killed. In 2015, Akhil Gupta, a cook at one of Mr. Bapu’s ashrams, was also murdered. That same year, Mr. Chawla was attacked by two unidentified men who broke into his home and shot him twice in the back.

“Rapists should be hanged,” Mr. Chawla told the court on Wednesday.

Last year, when Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, another well-known guru, was convicted of raping two women more than a decade ago, thousands of his followers flooded the streets of the states of Haryana and Punjab in northern India, hurling rocks at security forces and burning cars. Dozens of people were killed.

In India, some gurus are enormously popular, cultivating a sense of belonging among followers and often providing public services like food and housing that politicians fail to secure for their constituents. Before the verdict was announced, followers of Mr. Bapu prayed for a positive ruling at several of his ashrams and wept when the court convicted him.

Around Jodhpur, the police mobilized extra security forces to secure the area, hoping to avoid a repeat of the clashes that broke out after Mr. Singh’s conviction. Inside the prison, the mood was largely buoyant as Mr. Bapu was escorted back to his cell. He has already served five years in prison.

Utsav Singh Bains, who helped the family of the victim file a case against Mr. Bapu, said the conviction sent a powerful — if long overdue — message to well-connected Indians.

“Asaram was not only rich and powerful, but he was very close to some of the top politicians in the country,” he said. “The judgment will definitely create fear in the minds of those who think that they can get away with something like this because they have power and money.”

Source: NYT > World

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