Police arrest Indian guru over teen sex assault claim

JODHPUR, India - Police have arrested a popular Indian spiritual guru for an alleged sexual assault on a 16-year-old schoolgirl at a religious retreat, a local official said Sunday.

Asaram Bapu, one of many self-styled Hindu "godmen" who attract large numbers of followers, was arrested shortly after midnight on Sunday in the central town of Indore.

The 72-year-old was then flown to the western city of Jodhpur where the alleged assault on the girl - whose parents were members of his congregation - took place, local police official Ajay Pal Lamba said.

The guru had earlier failed to report to a police station voluntarily, despite being given a deadline that ended last Friday.

Deputy police commissioner in Jodhpur, Lamba told AFP: "An opportunity was given to Asaram Bapu for presenting his version regarding the allegation levelled against him by the 16-year-old girl."

Asaram, who uses only one name, with Bapu an honorific meaning "father", told officials on Friday that "he is not physically fit and he wants more time to appear before Jodhpur police", Lamba said.

"His request was turned down."

The white-bearded guru has dismissed the claims against him as a political conspiracy.

The alleged attack took place on August 15 as Asaram was holding a retreat for followers, including the victim and her parents, police said.

He told the parents he needed to meet their daughter alone after being told of concerns she was possessed by evil spirits.

Once alone in his room, the guru allegedly assaulted the girl, who told her parents two days later.

The family then travelled to New Delhi to confront him. The guru refused to meet them, prompting them to go to the police, local reports and a police official said.

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.

More about