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Accused, not a convict

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Asaram Bapu, the ‘godman’ who was on Monday sent to 14 days’ judicial custody, is still only an accused and has not yet been...

Asaram Bapu, the ‘godman’ who was on Monday sent to 14 days’ judicial custody, is still only an accused and has not yet been found guilty of rape by any court and convicted. As such, he is as entitled to a fair trial in a court of law as any other citizen. Meanwhile, no attempt should be made either by the media or by politicians to prejudge his case and thus vitiate his trial. A 16-year-old girl has filed a complaint with the police against the septuagenarian, alleging that he had raped her.

But Asaram forfeited public sympathy the day it became known that some of his followers had threatened the parents of the victim with dire consequences if they breathed a word about the foul deed to anyone, and again on Sunday when they stopped trains at Thane in Maharashtra in protest against his arrest. Another development that reinforced public perception, that with the political clout that the ‘godman’ enjoyed nobody could touch him, was that the Rajasthan police set for him a “deadline” of about 10 days in which to come clean.

Thereafter, the ‘godman’ kept shifting his area of operations from Rajasthan to Madhya Pradesh until a posse of policemen arrested him and brought him back to Jodhpur for interrogation. The ‘spiritual guru’ was questioned by the Jodhpur police for about four hours and was later produced before the District and Sessions Judge (Rural) who remanded him to one-day police custody. Asaram had claimed that he could not meet the deadline of August 30 set by the Jodhpur police as his health condition had deteriorated, but subsequent medical examination had shown that he was fit enough for interrogation. The ‘godman’ continues to argue that he is innocent and that he has been framed by everyone from Sonia and Rahul Gandhi downwards. Yet, if he is proved guilty, no mercy need be shown to him and he would have to be punished the way any ordinary citizen of this land would.

By far the most unfortunate aspect of this entire sordid episode is that some major political parties are trying to weaken the case against him, all with an eye cocked on the Parliament elections scheduled for 2014 in which Asaram’s hordes of followers may be able to tilt the scales one way or the other. But that belief is facile and that has been proved by the black-flag protests that greeted him on his return on Sunday under police escort to Jodhpur. Votes may be important for every political party at election time, but that consideration needs to be subordinated to the imperatives of law and order if the country is to remain a civilized one.
No democracy can dispense with the rule of law and yet claim to be a democracy. Meanwhile, authorities should consider doing away with some practices that, while they may be scientific, are repulsive to the temper of modernity. For instance, what is the “potency” test to which Asaram has been subjected and which has shown that he is not short of libido? Was it not enough that a minor girl complained that she had been violated?
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