Cult & Controversy: the story of Asaram ashram

For the phenomenally influential religious guru, Asaram Bapu, his 37-year-long spiritual career had never been a cakewalk and the four mysterious deaths in his ashramss here and in Madhya Pradesh and the public ire he has been courting are only the latest that he hopes to shrug off.

His spiritual domain is spread across 300 ashrams throughout India, as also in the US, with lakhs of his followers and admirers flooding his commune with funds. Sixty-seven-year-old Bapu has even delivered a speech at the parliament of world religions.

Few controversies connected with his ashrams have invited media attention the way the deaths of four children in his two ashrams in Ahmedabad and Chhindwara did in just one month. His ashram, in both the cases, is facing serious problems, with investigators finally getting down to grilling inmates of the ashrams in connection with the deaths.

Asaram Bapu may not have had to look back ever since he set up his first kutia or hutment in Motera village here in 1971, but the path had all along been strewn with scandals.

Sindh-born Asaram, who had migrated to Ahmedabad with his parents during Partition, is facing about dozen-odd cases at different places all of them pertaining to alleged land grabbing by his Sant Asaram Bapu Trust. One of the villagers in Motera, Ashok Thakore, has moved the court to get back five acres of his family's land allegedly grabbed by the ashram. According to Thakore, the land is situated adjoining the ashram and was used for erecting tents on the Guru Purnima day. Permission to this effect was given by his father to the ashram. After his father's death, the ashram grabbed it by saying that Thakore's father had 'gifted' it to the ashram. However, the ashram has not been able to substantiate its claim with proofs.

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