It is ironic that while India is outraged at sexual assaults on women, a section of Indians are protesting equally strongly against the arrest of someone accused of the same crime.
The fact that the ‘someone’ is a spiritual leader makes all the difference. In a country where organised religion is a make-or-break factor, the charge against Asaram Bapu is a headline-grabber for various reasons. He himself has termed the accusations a political plot, while his supporters have turned violent in hs defence -- violence seems to be the default response to any opposing viewpoint.
This is not the first time that spiritual or religious leaders have been accused of sexual assault or molestation. In the case of Asaram, however, it is particularly striking because of his own pronouncements in the past. In the wake of the Delhi gang-rape, he famously said that the assaulted girl should have won over her attackers by terming them “brothers”. He also implied that the victim was culpable, saying, “Can one hand clap? I don’t think so.”
Asaram has come out with startling statements on other occasions too. Condemning Valentine’s Day as encouragement for young people to “engage in dirty acts”, he urged that the day be marked as Parent Worship Day instead. On Holi and Diwali, he has said, married couples should not engage in intercourse as it results in disease. Sex seems to be at the forefront of the movement for a pure life that he preaches.
Asaram’s arrest should not become a jamboree. He needs to be treated the same as any other accused. Questions have arisen around him before, in the deaths of children living at his ashrams. Perhaps some answers may now emerge.