April 25 (UPI) — Asaram Bapu, a self-proclaimed godman and spiritual guru, was sentenced by an Indian court Wednesday to life in prison for raping a minor.
The guilty verdict and sentencing were announced from Jodhpur Central Jail in the western state of Rajasthan.
Asaram, 77, first rose to fame in the 1970s by building a religious empire that now includes 400 ashrams across India. He was called “Bapuji,” or “father,” by supporters.
In jail since August 2013, Asaram was charged with raping a 16-year-old female student at his religious school near Jodhpur.
Asaram, who was 74 at the time, said he was physically incapable of rape. Medical tests later questioned that claim.
Asaram’s arrest prompted violent clashes between his supporters and police across India.
Police placed the Rajasthan, Gujarat and Haryana states — all centers of large numbers of Asaram supporters — on high alert Wednesday before the verdict was read. In Jodhpur, the Rajasthan High Court barred the gathering of more than four people until April 30.
“We have cleared up his ashrams and asked all hotels and guest-houses to not allow any of his followers,” Jodhpur DCP Amandeep Singh Kapoor said. “We have been keeping an eye on bus and railway stations as well as the airport to ensure that his followers did not enter the city.”
Before the verdict was read, Asaram’s team denied claims that guru’s supporters were planning a protest.
“What kind of protest?” Asaram spokesman Neelam Dubey told reporters. “We have full respect for the courts. If the lower court verdict doesn’t go our way, we will approach the High Court or Supreme Court.”