The conviction of Asaram for raping a minor girl sends out a stern message to the self-styled godmen who exploit gullible people by hiding their bestiality in religious robes. The case reflects the success of judicial system even in the face of enormous pressure from influential sections bent upon protecting the fake spiritual gurus. The brazen impunity of self-styled godmen like Asaram and Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh would not be possible without the patronage of the powerful and the wealthy, especially the political support. As justice has been delivered in the 15-year-old case, the occasion calls for a sombre pause and reflection on how unholy godmen take advantage of the faith that the common public repose in them and resort to illegal activities with impunity. It takes a great amount of courage for the rape victim and her family members to pursue the case in spite of threats to their lives. The mysterious deaths in Asaram’s ashram and the allegations of threats and intimidation should also be probed and the culprits should be brought to justice. Though the offence was committed at Jodhpur ashram in Rajasthan in 2003, the victim’s parents showed exemplary courage by not succumbing to threats and pursued the case till its logical end. Three witnesses were killed during the trial, exposing how the godman and his henchmen employed all the tricks to derail the case. The witnesses in such high-profile cases need special protection so that they do not come under attacks. In fact, the growing trend of witnesses turning hostile for any reason is a stinging indictment of the investigation system’s loopholes.
Dubious godmen like Asaram and Gurmeet thrive on the gullibility of the public and a system that showers political patronage to those who gather a massive number of followers through questionable means. The result is that such fake cult figures amass huge wealth through illegal means and build a mega spiritual industry that operates under the radar of the investigating agencies. The life imprisonment for Asaram could not have come at a more critical time when the country is outraged over a string of child rapes and murders, including the Kathua and Unnao cases. The conviction of a powerful and politically well-connected person like Asaram should prompt the victims of sexual abuse to overcome the fear of social stigma and report the cases to police. The governments must ensure that there is no political interference of any kind in such cases. According to the National Family Health Survey of 2015-16, only 15% of the sexual violence cases are reported. The poor conviction rate for such horrific offences has created a situation where rapists feel no fear of the law. This must change.