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India ruling in rape case sends a strong message
The sentencing by a Special Court in India of self-styled ‘godman’ Asaram Bapu to a prison term for life till his natural death for raping a minor girl at his ashram in Rajasthan sends a powerful message that no one is above the law.

The judgment will certainly serve as a lesson for those who think they could get away after committing sexual offences against helpless children.

India’s Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act permits lifetime jail terms for sexual assault of children, and was recently amended to allow the death penalty for the rape of girls under 12.

The case assumes significance especially because the 77-year-old godman wielded immense power, boasting many high-profile devotees and admirers, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other past prime ministers.

Many of the ashrams, which mushroomed in his heyday, were actually on land donated by successive state governments.

Two close aides who turned key witnesses against the guru had been murdered in 2014 and 2015. His son is also on trial for rape.

His movement, which grew from rural heartland to an empire with 400 ashrams and Ayurveda health centres, is estimated to be worth more than half a billion dollars.

He still commands considerable following but his star power has faded following the rape charges and other controversies.

So much so that considering his high-profile background, the hearing had to be closed to media and the prison surrounded by tight security, with thousands of police deployed across several states amid fears his devotees could riot if “Bapuji” was found guilty.

India registered as many as 40,000 rape cases in 2016, up from 25,000 in 2012, as per latest available data. Thousands more go unreported because of the fear factor and perceived stigma.

In almost all such cases, the families of victims have been forced to confront powerful people in their bid for justice.

India is already outraged by the recent gangrape and murder of an eight-year-old and a separate assault on a teenager by a ruling party politician, besides a series of sexual assaults underscoring the country’s grim record on rape.

In the Asaram case, the struggles and ordeal during the period they were seeking justice tested the grit of the victim’s family, but they kept full faith in the judicial system.

As a Communist Party of India-Marxist official stated, the victim girl is a symbol of the fight against sexual exploitation.

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