UK & World News
Spiritual Guru Asaram Bapu Held Over Teen Rape
Police have arrested a controversial spiritual guru for an alleged sexual assault on a 16-year-old schoolgirl at a religious retreat in India, according to officials.
Asaram Bapu, one of many self-styled Hindu "godmen" who attract large numbers of followers, was arrested on Sunday in the central town of Indore.
The 72-year-old was flown to the western city of Jodhpur where the alleged assault on the girl took place.
The girl's parents were members of his congregation, local police official Ajay Pal Lamba said.
Asaram had earlier failed to report to a police station voluntarily, despite being given a deadline that ended last Friday.
"An opportunity was given to Asaram Bapu for presenting his version regarding the allegation levelled against him by the 16-year-old girl," said a police spokesman.
The guru reportedly claimed not to be physically fit and wanted more time to appear before Jodhpur police," according to Lamba.
Asaram has dismissed the claims against him as a "political conspiracy".
The alleged attack took place in August as Asaram was holding a retreat for followers, including the victim and her parents, police said.
It is claimed he told the parents he needed to meet their daughter alone as he was concerned she was possessed by evil spirits. It was then the alleged assault took place.
Asaram sparked a backlash in January this year when he said a 23-year-old student could have averted a fatal gang-rape on a moving bus in New Delhi last December by begging for mercy from her attackers.
He told his devotees that blame for the assault should not just rest with her attackers, one of whom was sentenced to three years in a juvenile centre Saturday, in the first verdict to be handed down in the case so far.
His remarks drew a chorus of condemnation from public figures.
Asaram has some 350 ashrams or religious retreats in India and overseas, where he teaches yoga, meditation and offers lessons on leading a spiritual and peaceful existence, according to his website.
For many Indians, "godmen" play an integral role in daily life, offering a pathway to enlightenment in return for spiritual devotion and donations to their ashrams, temples and charity projects.