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A self-styled “godman” in India was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison Wednesday for raping a teenage girl under the pretense of ridding her of evil spirits.
The verdict against Asaram Bapu, 77, was read at a closed hearing at a prison in Rajasthan state out of fears his supporters would resort to violence. Police were also on standby in Rajasthan and elsewhere in case of riots.
The popular white-bearded guru– who has millions of followers all over the world — was also convicted of criminal conspiracy and wrongful confinement.
“We argued that Asaram is not a saint,” public prosecutor Pokar Ram Bishnoi told reporters after the sentencing.
In 2013, the then-16-year-old girl accused Asaram of raping her when she visited him at his retreat in Jodhpur with her mother. The now-21-year-old woman said Asaram assaulted her to drive away evil forces.
Her family had been followers of Asaram – who preaches a pious life free of sexual desires — for more than a decade.
Asaram, who has denied the charges, has been jailed since his arrest that year. He said his trial was a political conspiracy and refused to cooperate with a police investigation.
Two of four of his co-defendants were also found guilty and sentenced to 20 years. Two others were acquitted.
Two close aides who had flipped to become key witnesses against him were murdered in 2014 and 2015.
The influential leader ran more than 230 ashrams, or religious retreats, with residential schools.
Asaram also stands accused of raping another devotee and was linked to the killing of two students at another of his Hindu retreats. Meanwhile, his son is on trial — also for rape.
The so-called “godman” sparked outrage in 2013 when he said the gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old student in Dehli could’ve been prevented if she begged for mercy from her attackers.
Asaram’s conviction comes after weeks of public protests over the gang rape and murder of an 8-year-old and a separate assault of a teenager by a ruling party politician.
India’s government last week approved the death penalty for those convicted of raping children under age 12.
Last year, another Indian spiritual guru Dr. Saint Gurmeet Singh Ram Rahim Insan – known as the “guru in bling” — was sentenced to 20 years in prison for raping two female devotees.
His supporters went on a days-long rampage that left 38 dead.
With Post Wire Services
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