New Delhi: The atmosphere of terror and threats surrounding the rape case against Asaram — the 77-year-old self-styled spiritual guru who was convicted today — extended to a school in Uttar Pradesh the survivor attended. The girl was 16 years old when the attack took place, but there were attempts to prove that she was at least 18 years old, since the quantum of punishment is much higher for rape of minors.
The principal of the girl’s school has told NDTV he was under a lot of pressure to falsify the girl’s date of birth in the school records.
“I was pressured, threatened… have suffered mentally and physically,” the principal of the school in Shahjahanpur, Uttar Pradesh, told NDTV. “I received threatening letters. I was to mention the date of birth as in the records, they wanted it to be manipulated.”
Asaram has been charged under POCSO – a stringent law to protect children from sexual assaults. Under the law, he faces a maximum punishment of life imprisonment.
Today, ahead of the sentencing, his lawyers argued that the girl was 18 years old in 2013, when the sexual assault took place. “There is enough evidence that she is above 18. If the court holds that she is above 18, the Juvenile Act and POCSO laws will not be applicable,” said Asaram’s counsel Vikas Pahwa.
Under a new law last week, child rape has become punishable by death. The ordinance or executive order was passed following a nationwide fury over a spate of horrific cases, the foremost among the gangrape and murder of an 8-year-old in Kathua in Jammu and Kashmir.”It would have been good had the verdict come out post-ordinance, but it is a welcome step,” said senior Congress leader Renuka Choudhary, adding, “It is good that law caught up with Asaram; people like him destroy people.”
Asaram had assaulted the girl after she was taken to his Jodhpur ashram in 2013 on the pretext of exorcism. Over the years that followed, nine people who agreed to testify against him in court were attacked. Three of them died. Even police officers who investigated the case and local mediapersons who reported on it, said they received threats.