This article is a counter to an article published by the Open Magazine with the title “The Dark Side of Asaram Bapu” dated 9th February 2013 (http://www.openthemagazine.com/article/nation/the-dark-side-of-asaram-bapu). When I read the article, I was shocked to see the omissions and misrepresentations it contained. These suggested that this article may have been written with the malafide intent of defaming Asaramji Bapu. I have presented some facts here to counter the misrepresentations in the article.
I am posting this article with the humble expectation that perhaps this will open the eyes of the reader to the vicious defamation campaigns run by some sections of the media against popular Hindu spiritual leaders, and with the hope that perhaps some day Indian Media will mend its ways and rise to truly be what is expected of it as the “fourth pillar” of democracy.
Text in Italics is the original text from the article
>>>> “Less than 35 kilometres from the centre of Ahmedabad lies the dusty town of Motera, now made famous by one of India’s best known spiritual gurus, self-styled philosopher and friend to the rich and the powerful. Nearly 42 years ago, a developing friendship with the powers that be in Gujarat earned Asaram Harpalani, the son a coal and wood seller, 10 acres of fertile agricultural land. The land did not come to him all at once, it accumulated over the years as friendships strengthened. Harpalani, who was born in 1941 in Berami village of Pakistan’s Sindh province, set up a small ashram on the land, the first of over 400 ashrams that exist today across the world. Soon enough, this self-styled religious preacher dropped his tongue twister of a surname and began calling himself Asaram Bapu.” <<<<<
Asaramji Bapu was born Asumal Sirumalani. Asharam was a name given to him by his Guru, Lilashahji. And it is a common practice in Gujrat to address spiritual preachers as “Bapu”. The statement “began calling himself Asaram Bapu” and other phrases such as “self-styled” and “friend to the rich and powerful” are intended to influence the reader’s line of though at the outset and set the stage for the sinister stories that follow.
The author then makes an unsubstantiated claim that land for the Ahmedabad Ashram was acquired as a result of “developing friendship with powers that be”. This is just the beginning of this imaginative work of fiction. Please also note the use of the adjectives “fertile agricultural” land. The truth is far from it.
>>>>> “His controversial intervention in the Delhi rape case—when he said “galati ek taraf se nahin hoti hai,” suggesting the victim of the sexual assault was equally responsible for the crime—has recently brought unwanted national attention to the man, but in Gujarat, Asaram and his Motera ashram have been in the eye of a storm since July 2008. The controversy involves the deaths of two ten-year-old cousins, Abhishek and Dipesh Vaghela, at the ashram’s Bal Kendra, on 3 July, a month after they were admitted there as students. On 23 January this year, seven disciples of Asaram accused in the Vaghela case were summoned by an Ahmedabad court.” <<<<<
As you read on, notice how the author weaves a story…
>>>> “In the aftermath of the disappearance of the Vaghela brothers from the heavily guarded Bal Kendra, the ashram administration, including Asaram and Darshan Sai, had initially played down the seriousness of the incident. The parents of the children were told that they had run away home, a fact vociferously contested by them. “My brother Shantibhai and I enrolled our children at the Motera ashram for education,” said Praful Vaghela, father of Dipesh.
“We paid Rs 15,000 each but were not given pucca receipts. It was just a handwritten receipt. The children were given yellow T-shirts and white pajamas as uniform in the ashram. In that month, we visited them at least six to eight times. On 28 June, when we visited the ashram, their hair was tonsured and both had sandalwood tikas on their foreheads. I was uncomfortable with this,” said Vaghela. According to him, the children told him that the tonsuring was done in the presence of Asaram.” <<<<<
For the reader’s information, these Gurukuls are like any other school for the most part. There is obviously no practice of tonsuring heads. These allegations are presented to start building an impression in the reader’s mind that there must be something strange going on in these Gurukuls. Note also the use of the phrase “heavily guarded”. One may view pictures from the Gurukuls here: http://www.gurukul.ashram.org/VirtualTour/Gallery.aspx and the excellent exam results achieved by the students here: http://www.gurukul.ashram.org/ArticleView/tabid/1564/ArticleId/1815/Results-2012-2013.aspx
>>>>> “On the afternoon of 3 July, Shantibhai met the children at the ashram. At 9 pm the same day, Praful Vaghela received a call from the ashram administration inquiring if the children had come home. The Vaghelas went to the ashram and looked for the children. At the end of their futile search, Pankaj Saksena, the administrator of the gurukul told them to go around a peepal tree 11 times and ask for the children. They did so but “nothing happened”. The family, Vaghela claimed, wanted to file a police complaint, but the Ashram administration did not allow them to do so. The family waited out the night and proceeded to the Chandkeda police station the next morning. Two office bearers of the ashram—Vikas Khemcha and Ajay Shah—were already there at the police station. “They went in and spoke to the police. Then they came out and told us to go inside. The police got angry with us when we demanded that a complaint be filed. They did not let us file one,” says the distressed father.
During this period Asaram sent a message to the parents that they should go to a char rasta (crossroad), pick up seven stones, put the stones in hot water along with the children’s clothes and then take out the wet clothes inside out and hang them to dry in the children’s room. The children would return within four hours. “The ashram people told us to wait for the mandatory four hours as directed by Asaram. Nothing happened,” said Vaghela. On the third day of the search, the ashram administration told the Vaghelas another bizarre story—the thumbnail of a 10-year-old gurukul resident had indicated that the missing children were at Kallol. Not surprisingly, that was not where the children were found. Their bodies were finally recovered from a dried-up riverbed close to the ashram.
Vaghela can still vividly recall the harrowing sight—his son Dipesh’s arms were missing from the shoulder down. All the internal organs were missing, only the hollowed out ribcage remained. His left leg appeared to be cut off at the ankle, the right leg seemed burnt. His nephew Abhishek’s body was half burnt as well. Instead of helping the family, the policemen harassed them and refused to register complaints against Asaram and the ashram. “When I said the guilty should be arrested, we were told the consequences could be dire. Then we saw a tempo full of ashram inmates coming to the place where the bodies were recovered, armed with weapons and sticks. We ran away,” said Vaghela. Till this point, Asaram had always enjoyed a cosy relationship with the media. But when the media started reporting on the Vaghela case, many other skeletons started tumbling out of the ashram closets. The media, including several women reporters, were targeted and mercilessly beaten up. Kuldeep Singh Kalair, a reporter with Divya Bhaskar, was locked up in a room in the ashram and beaten by sadhaks. He had to be rescued by the police.
The incident served to lend credence to the allegations of tantric practices by Asaram and his followers. The rumours had been around for a while, but before the deaths of these boys these were mere whispers.” <<<<<<<
I shall not go into the veracity of the story narrated above, since the matter is sub judice, I shall focus rather on the charge of black magic. Asaramji Bapu’s satsangs are based on Vedanta and the objective of self-realization. An allegation that black magic is practiced in his Ashrams is preposterous. However, law must take its course. Let us see what happened to the black magic charges that were made in 2008.
In 2010: The Gujarat CID told the High Court in a report that they have found no evidence of black magic in the Ashram. “Places (in the ashram) were thoroughly searched and photographed as well as videography was done during the visit, but no material suggesting practice of black magic has been found,” the report said. Here are links to related news reports:
From DNA: http://www.dnaindia.com/india/1368832/report-no-evidence-of-black-magic-practice-in-asaram-ashram-cid
From Indian Express: http://www.indianexpress.com/news/cid-finds-no-proof-of-black-magic-in-asaram-ashram/601871/
In 2011, 2012: In a judgment in 2011, the Gujarat High Court ordered the CID to quash the charges of culpable homicide against the seven accused and register the offence under section 304(A) of the IPC (causing death by negligence). This order was challenged, but was upheld by the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court also dismissed a plea by the family members of the deceased and refused to order a CBI probe into the matter.
From Times of India: http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2013-01-22/india/36483288_1_minketan-patra-narayan-sai-kaushik-vani, http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2012-11-09/india/35015331_1_cbi-probe-cbi-enquiry-death-of-two-boys
In 2013: In January 2013, the lawyer of the family members of the deceased admitted before the DK Trivedi Commission that there is no evidence in the case that suggests that black magic was practiced on the two boys. He also said that the matter of black magic is not relevant to the case and he was not relying on it for his case.
From Indian Express: http://www.indianexpress.com/news/deaths-in-ashram-no-evidence-of-black-magic-says-lawyer/1062387/
Now, an important question that comes up is, if in April 2010 the CID reported that they found no evidence of black magic, and if in January 2013 the lawyer of family members of the deceased himself admitted before the Inquiry Commission that there exists no evidence of black magic and that the subject of black magic is not relevant to the case, then how come the author writes such an article on 9th Feb 2013? Does this not suggest malafide intent?
>>>> “Meanwhile, in the Chhind- wara town of Madhya Pradesh, two other children were found dead in the residential institution run by Asaram. The students—Ramakrishna Yadav (a nursery student) and Vedant Moraya (Class 1 student)—were found in the hostel toilet on 31 July 2008. Here too, angry residents protested and demanded the closure of the ashram.” <<<<<<
Just like in the Ahmedabad Gurukul case, sections of the media went hysterical with the Chhindwara case too, jumping to conclusions, and running a despicable smear campaign around ‘black magic’ being practised in the Gurukuls. The author does not feel it necessary to mention here that the local law enforcing authorities solved the Chhindwara case within a week. A ninth grade student confessed to both the murders and this was corroborated by forensic evidence. Here are links to news reports on the outcome of the investigation:
From Indian Express: http://www.indianexpress.com/news/14yearold-killed-gurukul-students-cops/344322/
From the Hindu: http://www.hindu.com/2008/08/05/stories/2008080557630500.htm
So, what are we to conclude about the author – selective memory, or malafide intent to slander?
>>>> “Vaghela continues to maintain that Asaram and his son are involved in black magic and tantric practices, a claim he has made in his deposition before the Justice (retired) DK Trivedi Commission of Inquiry.
The Commission, appointed by Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi to probe the deaths following the public outcry, has already been censured by the Gujarat High Court for going soft on Asaram and his son. The high court order on a petition filed by Asaram (15637/2012), challenging the Commis- sion summons to appear before it, stated: “a picture emerges where the Commis- sion has, on its knees, with folded hands craved the convenience of the petitioner and his son to record their evidence before it and this has continued for a period of more than one and a half years”. When Asaram appeared before the Commis- sion, after being summoned on six different occasions, he was accompanied by an entourage of slogan-shouting followers. Eyewitnesses say that even as the deposition before the Commission was on, Asaram would leave the room without permission, either to drink milk or address his followers.” <<<<
A press release on the Ashram’s website clarifies that Asaramji Bapu was summoned only once. The release states that in accordance with proper legal procedure, it had been decided that Asaramji Bapu’s deposition was to happen after all other witnesses. Accordingly Bapuji deposed before the Commission on 1st December 2012.
Link to the press note: http://www.ashram.org/Publications/ArticleView/tabid/417/ArticleId/3092/.aspx
Meanwhile the story spinning continues… “Eyewitnesses say that he would leave the room without permission, either to drink milk or address his followers”.
>>>>> “This brazenness in the face of the law is in keeping with this guru’s attitude to life. Initially, after the Motera ashram was set up, the numbers who came to listen to him were not large, but as local politicians started paying obeisance, they swelled. At the core of his attraction was an aggressive discourse that preached an ethic of ‘tit for tat’. The attitude is still visible at the sprawling Motera ashram” <<<<<
Wow! So the number of followers increased because of local politicians paying obeisance!! Crores of followers, all because polticians attend his Satsangs? “Aggressive discourse” and ethic of “tit for tat”? What is that supposed to mean? Asaramji Bapu’s Satsangs are about finding peace and discovering one’s true self.
>>>>>> “Beyond a huge peach-coloured arch, plastered with flex banners of the white-bearded preacher in elaborate head gear, two listless guards in khaki uniform watch people enter and exit the ashram. Many prostrate themselves at the ashram entrance before entering or leaving. Asaram speaks to the people via recorded discourses heard through the ashram compound, but few who come into the ashram seem interested in listening to the recorded version. It is the white kurta-pajama-clad male disciples, spread across various age groups, who catch their attention. They are everywhere—behind the various counters, walking around, talking in groups and working. They speak rough even with each other and some even use colourful expletives to make a point.” <<<<<<
The author now makes an allegation that Ashram residents use expletives, and colourful ones at that! If this is from the author’s personal experience based on a visit to the Ahmedabad Ashram, looks like she didn’t see people chanting, doing sewa, dhyaan; she didn’t hear them greeting each other with a ‘Hari Om’, referring to each other as ‘Prabhu’, or perhaps she didn’t think it worth mentioning; she only heard them speak rough and use colourful expletives! More stories follow…
>>>>> “At the far corner of the ashram stands the heavily guarded Bal Kendra. The presence of the guards is in keeping with the fear the name of Asaram invokes among present-day and former disciples when they discuss the godman.” <<<<<<
The name of Asaramji Bapu evokes fear in his present-day disciples? I think this is stretching credulity a bit too far! Do those lakhs of disciples who throng to his satsangs and for his darshan do so out of fear?
>>>>> “Two who have shared a close rapport with Asaram—Raju Chandak, a secretary, and Amrut Prajapati, personal physician—are running scared ever since they called it quits. Both claim to be privy to numerous illegal activities at the ashram. While Chandak has been shot at and wounded by three bullets following his deposition before the Trivedi Commission, Prajapati says he has been attacked at least six times by the ashram goons. Both are scared of sting operations done by the ashram, which have been furnished as proof before investigating agencies. Speaking to Open on telephone, a scared Chandak kept demanding proof that this reporter was not a part of a sting operation. “Asaram and his goondas have ruined my family life. We are running all the time because he has threatened to eliminate me. An attempt was also made. There is sexual exploitation going on at the ashram. I am being attacked because he does not want the illegal activities made public,” said Chandak.
Prajapati spoke to Open at the Ayurveda Yog Centre in Ahmedabad’s Odav Circle. Responding to an advertisement for an ayurvedic doctor at one of Asaram’s ashrams, the BAMS-educated Prajapati met the godman for the first time in 1988. He was offered Rs 15,000 a month for a job that included food and accommodation. “I was entrusted with the job of setting up their ayurvedic formulation laboratory and allied services at the Surat ashram,” said Prajapati. As the number of disciples grew, Prajapati says Asaram insisted that they compromise on the quality of raw material used to prepare medicines. “Cow’s ghee was replaced by mixed ghee. I am also a witness to corruption and womanising. I saw these things closely when I became his personal physician. I could go to Asaram’s room at any time. One afternoon I went to his Jatikara farmhouse in Delhi. This was the day after his mother died. There was a woman in the room and it was a sight I should not have seen,” said Prajapti.
“On 20 August 2005 I left the ashram after being threatened by them. I was scared. In September 2005, I was attacked by 10-15 people when I was visiting a friend in Ghaziabad. They threatened to kill me if I spoke against Asaram or the ashram. After the attacks I do not inform my patients about my schedule. I don’t even tell my family about my travel plans. This is the price I’m paying for the inability of the Gujarat police to protect me. There will never be justice. Even the Trivedi Commission will not be able to do anything to Asaram,” said Prajapati.
The death of the boys is not the only allegation of wrongdoing against Asaram and his ashram. The cases against him range from the sinister to the bizarre, from land grab (in February 2009, the Gujarat government admitted in the legislative assembly that the Asaram ashram had encroached on 67,099 sq. m of land in Ahmedabad) to this allegation by a man blinded in one eye during a discourse, who has alleged that toffees were showered from a high-speed rotating machine at those in attendance. One such toffee hit him in the eye.
Ashram spokesman Uday Sangani, an accused in the Vaghela case, dismisses the cases against Asaram and his associates as politically motivated. “It is perceived that Bapuji is close to the BJP due to his Hindutva teachings, hence the Congress has started this harassment.” He has been associated with the ashram for the past 17 years.” <<<<<<<
The author does not hesitate to quote ad verbatim, a person who was expelled from the Ashram. And she does not hesitate to quote him making the most scandalous of charges! They are scared of sting operations done by the Ashram, the author reports. Now why would the Ashram need to resort to sting operations, and why would someone be so scared of sting operations unless he is doing something wrong/criminal? Should such questions not occur to our journalist author? Should she not make effort to find out what the sting operation revealed? And should she not mention that in her article?
For interested readers, here is a link to a video of the sting operation where Raju Chandak (alias Raju Lambu) is caught red handed hatching a conspiracy against Asaramji Bapu. He explains how he executed such conspiracies in the past too. For instance, an “Aghori” had been produced before the media. In the video, Raju says “In the evening, the Aghori told me that he wanted liquor for offering it to the Divine Mother. I provided him liquor everyday for five days and waited on him from morning till evening. He asked for the services of a prostitute also. On the sixth day, I took him to *** (name of a newspaper) and handed him over to them. Seventh day, I brought him to Delhi and gave him to the media. On the eighth day, I handed him over to *** (name of a news channel). For eight days, I have endured him continuously”
Link to the video from the sting operation: A2Z News: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GWvKqyTJ4dc