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Indian guru Asaram given life sentence in second rape case

An Indian court on Tuesday sentenced self-proclaimed spiritual guru Asaram Bapu to life imprisonment on charges of rape and sodomy, according to his lawyer.

The verdict is the second life term against the octogenarian, who is already serving a life sentence following his 2018 conviction for raping a 16-year-old girl.

Asaram’s lawyer C.B. Gupta told CNN the court in the western state of Gujarat also ordered him to pay 50,000 rupees (about $600) in compensation to the victim.

“We may appeal the judgment in the high court,” the lawyer said.

Asaram, 81, described on his website as a “spiritual revolutionist” and “great teacher,” is one of India’s best-known spiritual gurus.

Known as “Bapuji” or “father” among his followers, he rose to prominence in the 1970s before building a vast religious empire that includes hundreds of thousands of followers, about 400 religious schools across India, and numerous global outreach programs.

Last August, an Indian court freed 11 Hindu men who had been sentenced to life for the gang-rape of a pregnant Muslim woman during deadly riots in 2002, angering rights groups and activists.

On average, there is one rape reported every 17 minutes in India, according to government figures. Campaigners say deeply-entrenched misogynistic and patriarchal values in the country of 1.3 billion are partly to blame.

Spiritual gurus in India can draw millions of devotees to religious schools known as ashrams that are spread across the country.

In recent years, sexual assault accusations against some of these gurus have sparked violent skirmishes.

After Asaram was arrested in 2013 on the first rape charge, clashes broke out between his supporters and police in several major cities.

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In 2019, Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, head of the spiritual sect Dera Sacha Sauda, was sentenced to life in prison for the 2002 murder of a journalist who helped expose the sexual abuse of women within his group. The guru was already serving a life sentence for raping two of his followers.

After the first verdict against Singth, riots erupted that left 36 people dead and hundreds injured.