[NOTE: The Appeal of Sanchita Gupta @ Shilpi is pending adjudication before the Hon’ble Rajasthan High Court and her sentence has been suspended till disposal of the Appeal.]

The SHO paused for a moment to compose herself and recounted to me what the girl had told her, as she had told her. She began:

“When I asked the girl to narrate the entire story to me, careful that she leave out no detail, this is what she told me in her own words...

“‘I belong to Shahjahanpur, Uttar Pradesh. My father has a transport business there with about eleven trucks. For years, my entire family has been a devotee of Asaram Bapu. My father even took loans to get a small ashram built there for guru ji. My brother and I were sent by my parents to Bapu’s gurukul [residential school] to study. We stay at the ashram- cum-hostel there.

“‘On the 2nd and the 3rd of August, I started feeling sick. Since I had not been well for two days, I felt weak and fell. My classmates somehow managed to take me to the room that I shared with other girls and laid me down on my bed. Then, they informed the warden of the hostel, Shilpi ma’am, about my condition. When the warden came to my room, she asked the other girls what had happened. When they told her that I had not been feeling well for the last few days and had fallen down perhaps due to weakness, she asked me to lie down and take rest.

“‘I slept, but the warden did not take me to any doctor for the next two days. Then, on the third day, she called me down to the office of the director of the ashram. When I reached his office, I saw that another girl was already present there. They told me that she was possessed by demons and was under the influence of evil spirits.

“‘As I stood in front of the director, he looked at me for a long time and then told me flatly that I, too, was under the influence of evil spirits. He told me that I needed to pray, chant mantras and perform rituals to ward off the evil spirits that had gained control over me and were making me sick.

“‘I was told by both the warden and the director to become satvik (virtuous) and spend more time in doing sadhana (concentrate/study religion). The very next day, I experienced an acute pain in my stomach, but still, they asked me to sit and continue to perform religious rituals. I was made to sit through the chanting of the Mahamrityunjaya mantra to please Lord Shiva, and even asked to chant them. They did not even allow me to sleep.

“‘The next day, as I lay in my room, Shilpi ma’am came in and said to me that I was under the influence of evil spirits and the matter had been conveyed to Bapu. She asked me to tell my brother about it and also inform my parents in Shahjahanpur.

“‘On the 7th of August, she telephoned my elder brother and made me tell him what she had asked me to say. Upon her instructions, I told my brother that my condition was very serious and that they should arrange to send me for treatment.

“‘On hearing about my condition, my parents rushed to the ashram. They reached on the 8th of August, but were prevented from meeting me. It was only on the 9th of August that they were finally allowed to meet me, but warden Shilpi was with us throughout our meeting. She told my parents that I was under the influence of evil spirits, that Bapu had already been informed of my condition and we would have to go wherever he currently was to meet him.’”

At this point, Mukta stopped and said to me, “Sir, that warden, Shilpi, scared the little girl about being possessed by evil spirits and she did not realise the vortex that she was being pulled into. She did exactly as Shilpi said.”

I nodded and asked her to resume the story of the girl. “Sir, next, the girl said...

‘“My parents were asked to locate Asaram Bapu, and meet him. My father, owing to his long association with Bapu’s ashrams, knew Bapu’s attendant, Shiva, as he has been with Asaram Bapu for a long time. He sought him out and asked him where we would be able to find Bapu. Shiva told us to go to Delhi as Bapu was there.

“‘Then, my parents and I decided to go to Delhi to meet Bapu, as advised by warden Shilpi, to seek treatment for my condition. We reached Delhi on the 12th of August, but when we failed to locate him there, we were told that Bapu was in Jodhpur.

“‘We left Delhi and reached Jodhpur on the 14th of August. Once we reached Jodhpur, Shiva called us to the kutiya at Manai.

“‘When we reached Manai, I realised that it was not a kutiya but a proper house. We saw Bapu there; he was doing satsang, singing devotional songs, with about a hundred and fifty of his followers. After the satsang got over, he called us over and spoke to us.

“‘“Hari om, Hari om...” he said, looking directly at me.

“‘We all folded our hands and bowed our heads in front of him.

“‘“Where have you come from?” he asked us.

“‘“Bapu, we were told that we are to meet you...” my father told him politely.

“‘“Achha, achha ... okay, you are the girl who is under evil influence and has been possessed by demons. All right, let’s look at this demon of yours. And let’s get rid of him too,” he said, looking directly at me.

“‘Then, he got up from his chair, took some water in his palm from a copper vessel and sprinkled it on my face after reciting some mantras. At once, I retreated a step backwards as the water hit my face with great force. Then, he looked at me closely, again, and placed his hand over my head. He had a benign smile on his face.

“‘“Hmm ... How are your studies?” he asked me gently.

“‘“Ji, it is fine,” I told him softly.

“‘“Okay, now, go and rest in Vishnu’s house,” he told us. Then around 10 pm, we were summoned by Bapu to the same garden. When we reached there, he started showing us his kutiya and then, later, while strolling in the garden, he began chatting with us.

“‘He sat down on a garden swing and, gently swinging, he asked me directly, “What do you want to become after you complete your education?”

“‘“CA,” I told him.

“‘He gave a short laugh and told me, “What will you do by becoming a CA? They are all sitting at my feet. Become a teacher.”

“‘Then, after a pause, he told me, “You stay on here and perform religious rituals for eleven days. You can go to Ahmedabad. As for your parents, they can go back home.”

“‘I nodded, and asked him, “But, Bapu, what about my studies?”

“‘He thought for a moment, and then said, “We will send you back to the gurukul with someone after you have been cured.”

“‘After this, we all retired for the night in the room on the first floor of Vishnu Dewada’s house. The next day, Bapu arrived a little late for the satsang. The satsang over, we were about to leave, alongside the other followers, when Bapu summoned us. It was around 10 o’clock then.

“‘When we reached his kutiya, he met us in the garden. Then, he sat on a chair and started explaining to us the rituals, etc. After some time, he asked my father and mother to go sit near the main gate – about five hundred yards from the kutiya – and chant mantras. He also asked his cook to bring us some milk, after which he went into his room and we saw the lights inside the room go off. The room was now in darkness.

“‘After some time, the cook, who had given us the milk, asked me to come and sit near the stairs behind Bapu’s room and asked my parents to leave. My father left immediately and, as directed by Bapu, went and sat on the other side of the main gate while my mother continued to sit some distance away in the garden itself.

“‘I sat behind Bapu’s room as directed. After some time, Bapu opened the rear door of his room and gestured at me to come inside. I hesitated but entered his room which was in complete darkness. The only little illumination inside the dark room was from the light filtering in from the outside.

“‘When I adjusted my eyes to the darkness, I saw that Bapu was lying on his bed. As he saw me, he asked me to come and sit next to him on the bed. As I sat on the bed near him, he grabbed my hand and started massaging it gently. I tried to pull my hand away but Bapu held it firmly. Holding my hand, he tried to draw me close to him. When I resisted, he loosened his grip and released me. Then, in a gentle voice, he started telling me that I would have to perform some rituals with him to get rid of the evil power that had possessed me. I kept quiet. After all, hadn’t we all travelled from Chhindwara to Delhi and again to Jodhpur for Bapu to cure me?

“‘Then, Bapu planted a kiss on my forehead and hugged me close to him. He kept kissing me for some time all over my face. He released me after a while and started removing his clothes. I was quite shocked at this, because I had never been in this kind of a situation before. I had never been in a room alone with a man. But I told myself that this was our guru, the man my entire family had been worshipping for so many years as our god and our messiah. I was scared to upset or defy him. I was also scared that my parents would scold me if I did not do as Bapu asked me or failed to comply with his wishes. This man was a saint...a god incarnate, wasn’t he? I kept telling myself that his removing his clothes and getting stark naked in front of me must be a part of some ritual that he wanted to perform to help rid me of my demons.

“‘I kept sitting on the bed with my eyes lowered as I was ashamed to look at Bapu who did not have any clothes on.’”

Mukta stopped suddenly, her eyes lowered. I asked her what made her stop in the middle of recounting the story the girl had narrated to her, although a little embarrassed by the turn the story had taken. I realised that Mukta, too, was embarrassed and uncomfortable telling me about it. In response, Mukta apologised.

Excerpted with permission from Gunning for the Godman: The True Story Behind Asaram Bapu’s Conviction, Ajay Lamba with Sanjeev Mathur, HarperCollins India.