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Asaram BapuAsaram Bapu at his last public appearance on Janmashtami

Days after his arrest, disciples of Asaram Bapu continue to throng his ashrams. Who are these men and women and what drives their blind devotion?

A week after spiritual leader Asaram Bapu, 72, was arrested in Jodhpur for allegedly molesting a minor girl, there's little sign of turmoil at his ashrams in Motera in Ahmedabad and Jehangirpura in Surat. His photographs pepper every corner of the ashrams and his spiritual messages play out on audio systems. Hundreds of devotees turn up for the daily rituals of jap and sadhana, refusing to be drawn into the debate over the culpability of their spiritual guru.

Brijesh Patel, 30, from Patan, a saw-mill owner and a devotee since 2001, is one such disciple who is convinced of Asaram's innocence. "Bapu is a super yogi. He has inculcated such values in us that we have been practising complete restraint; we don't indulge in any addiction," he says. Patel, who brings out a newsletter Patidar Bandhu, mainly for the politically influential Patidar community, says he is working on a book that will explain how the allegations against Asaram are misguided.

Ahmedabad-based Tapasvi Patel, 26, a final-year student of chartered accountancy is similarly outraged by the allegation. A close devotee of Asaram since he was five years old, Tapasvi drives the godman around whenever he is in Ahmedabad. His family a father who recently retired asa company secretary at a corporate firm in Gujarat, a homemaker mother and an elder sister working in a pharmaceutical company have been devotees since 1989, and Patel says that their lives have only improved. "We were in the middle of a financial crunch when my mother went to him first. He assured her we would get over it. Since then, we have continued to do well," he says. What cemented his faith was Asaram's assurance that his father would overcome prostate cancer. "Eighteen months ago, when my father was diagnosed with the disease, the doctors said it was at a late stage. We went to Bapu and he told us not to worry. Now, all my father's tests come out fine. The oncologist says it's a miracle, I think it was Bapu," he says.

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