Suparn S Verma’s new courtroom drama ‘Sirf Ek Bandaa Kaafi Hai’ opens with a scene showing a teenager with her parents at a police station in New Delhi. We know something is wrong when a lady police official suddenly goes tense and her hands tremble as she sends a message to her superior officer saying – “Sir, case high profile hai (sir, the case is high profile).”
When the lady police official tells the young girl to cover her face, we know the case is big.
Verma—the brains behind the ‘Family Man’ series—teams up with his favourite actor Manoj Bajpayee to bring us his courtroom drama which is a masterclass on a POCSO trial, which was new at the time the film is set in. Verma, the creative producer, joins the growing tribe of filmmakers who are making courtroom dramas that have been inspired by real cases.
Where the movie lacks action, director Apoorv Singh Karki—who marks his Bollywood debut with this film— more than makes it up for the sensitivity with which trials are conducted.
Though no names are taken, there are enough cues throughout the movie to indicate the movie is inspired by self-styled godman Asaram Bapu’s Jodhpur trial in a rape case. Our suspicion that the movie is based on Bapu is cemented by the legal notice the godman’s charitable trust sent the makers soon after the film’s trailer dropped.
In its legal notice, the trust asked the courts to issue “prohibitory orders against the promotion and release of the film.” The film is “highly objectionable” and “defamatory”, the trust said, adding that it has the potential to “tarnish his reputation and hit sentiments of his devotees.”
Bandaa, as the film is known, recreates the five-year Jodhpur trial that began in 2013 and ended with Bapu’s conviction in 2018. Karki—he is known for his web series ‘The Aam Aadmi Family’, ‘Aspirants’ and ‘Saas Bahu Achaar Pvt Ltd’—deftly tries to re-capture the real-life David versus Goliath trial that shook the nation. While Bajpayee plays advocate PC Solanki – the only character named after its real-life counterpart; reel-life versions of senior advocates like Ram Jethmalani, Subramanian Swamy, and Salman Khursheed also make an appearance.
BOOM looks at the real-life case that inspired this courtroom drama.
What was the case against Asaram Bapu?
The real-life case against Asaram Bapu is more dramatic than the reel-life version depicted in the Manoj Bajpayee-starrer film ‘Sirf Ek Bandaa Kaafi Hai’. Bapu's case is significant because the godman had lakhs of followers, lorded over more than 400 ashrams worldwide, and enjoyed patronage from across political parties.
A minor girl accused self-styled godman Asaram Bapu of raping her at his Jodhpur ashram on August 15, 2013. The girl, who claimed she was 16 years old, said her parents took her to the ashram on the pretext of curing her from “evil spirits”.
Five days later, the minor girl and her parents filed an FIR with Delhi Police where she claimed she was forced to perform oral sex and the godman inappropriately touched her.
Fast-forward two weeks later: Bapu was arrested from Indore, Madhya Pradesh on August 31, 2013 amid violent protests by his supporters. Scores of devotees thronged the court premises in his support.
The case was soon shifted to Jodhpur where the local police said Bapu used blackmail in exchange for sexual favours and charged him with rape, illegal confinement, and criminal intimidation under the Indian Penal Code (IPC), 1860 and provisions of Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO), 2012 and the Juvenile Justice Act.
Witness intimidation, tampering and call for Witness protection scheme
During his incarceration in Jodhpur central jail, several key witnesses—Bapu’s personal aide Amrut Prajapati, cook Akhil Gupta and key witness Kripal Singh—were killed between 2014-2015. Key witness Mahendra Chawla was shot at, while Rahul Sachan survived a stabbing on court premises and later went missing. However, Chawla and Sachan both managed to depose in the trial.
The followers purportedly threatened the police officer in charge of the case and even the judge hearing the case at the time—sessions judge Manoj Kumar Vyas—was not spared.
Years later, after the verdict in the trial came out, the Supreme Court in a 2018 landmark judgment approved the Witness Protection Scheme on Chawla’s plea for protection. In its judgment, the top court highlighted the importance of keeping witnesses safe and noted how in the Asaram Bapu case “it was alleged that as many as 10 witnesses have already been attacked and three witnesses have been killed.”
In light of the intimidation and violence, the court directed the state to provide protection to the witnesses, lawyers, the minor girl, and her family, along with all those who were considered material to the case for the remainder of the trial.
Days before the verdict, the state imposed a curfew and increased protection for the minor girl. Five years after the case was filed, a special Jodhpur court convicted the then 77-year-old Bapu and sentenced him to life in prison. Considering the dangers in the case, Special Judge Madhu Sudhan Sharma delivered the verdict in a makeshift court at the Jodhpur Central Jail, where Bapu was lodged since 2013.
Where is Asaram Bapu now?
In 2018, the special court sentenced Bapu to life in prison. As of now, he is still serving his sentence in Jodhpur Central Jail. However, during the Jodhpur trial, two sisters from Gujarat came forward and leveled fresh charges against the godman and his son Narayan Sai. The sisters claimed that they were repeatedly raped by the father-son duo at their Motera Ashram between the years 1997-2005.
Though the case came to light in 2013, it took a Surat court 10 years to convict Bapu. The principal actors in the Surat case faced the same pattern of witness tampering and harassment. In the Surat case, two witnesses were killed, while two others were injured.
The Surat Court on January 31, 2023 convicted the godman and handed down a life sentence. So now, Bapu is effectively serving two life sentences for two different rape cases.
Over the years since Bapu has been in jail, he has filed several petitions across judicial forums seeking his release. Bail, suspension of sentence, or challenging his appeal; Bapu has tried it all. On August 31, 2021 the Supreme Court had observed that this was “no ordinary crime at all” while dismissing Bapu’s plea for temporary suspension of sentence to seek Ayurvedic treatment for his ailments.
One time, the Supreme Court fined Bapu Rs. 1 lakh for lying about his health while seeking medical bail.
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