It was around 1984 that Billu moved to Tohana in Haryana’s Fatehabad district and set up his roadside stall selling samosas and jalebis. He was doing well and residents in Tohana remember the time when his ‘Amarvir’ stall (which was named after his son) was a common place for the entire town to have evening snacks and talk about their respective days.
Cut to July 2018, self-styled Baba Amarpuri aka Billu was arrested last week for allegedly raping and blackmailing over 120 women. He is said to have filmed the various times he committed the crime and the videos went viral, leading to his arrest last week.
Baba Amarpuri and What Conspired in His Tohana 'Temple'
In the by-lanes of Tohana, a family of six sits distraught in their two-storeyed house. “I got the video, that’s how we got to know about his crimes,” Akash (name changed) says. He bursts into tears. Akash had received one of the videos of Billu sexually assaulting his sister, Veena (name changed). The two-year-old video had a young, unconscious Veena lying naked on a bed. Billu was recording it. Veena is not a minor anymore but she was when the crime took place.
“My son screamed at me for hiding the incident from him. I told him that I didn’t know about it. Then we confronted Veena and there was an argument about why she hid it from us for all these years,” Veena’s father Gopal (name changed) says. His wife, Sudha (name changed), adds that Veena was slapped by her father and brother in angst and desperation as they got to know about the incident. “We were sad, angry and feeling helpless thinking of what our daughter had gone through. We didn’t know what to do. She should have told us back then,” the mother cries. Other than Akash and Veena, Sudha and Gopal have two other sons, who are mentally challenged.
“We had gone to Baba Amarpuri two years ago because we got to know that he was exorcising people. Sudha and I went with Veena to him to talk about our two sons,” Gopal adds. The self-styled godman had converted his Ward no. 19 home in Tohana’s Bhatia Nagar into his not-so-grand temple. When Gopal visited him along with his family, Billu allegedly told them to go to the market to get a few things but to leave Veena behind since “he had sensed some problem with her too and wanted to cure her.”
One of the side entrances to the self-styled godman’s house (News18)
Gopal and Sudha agreed, came back after about two hours to find their daughter in a daze, sitting on a chair in Billu’s house. When Sudha asked him what had happened to Veena, Billu told her that he had given her something to consume to “cleanse her system” and that they should not worry. “We came back home and Veena complained of feeling dizzy. I asked her to lie down and sleep it off. She appeared fully conscious to us only the next day,” Sudha says. A couple of days after their first visit, the family went to Billu again. This time too, Veena was asked to stay while her parents were sent to the market.
“Veena repeatedly told us that she won’t come with us to his house. She kept saying he was a bad man. But we believed him when he said he would cure our children and forced her to come with us. If only we had listened to her,” says a teary-eyed Gopal.
Even Before Becoming the 'Revered' Baba, Billu Walked 'Like a CM'
Billu’s neighbors in Bhatia Nagar were, for the longest time, ignorant of him. His children had all been married off and his wife had died in 2006. The neighbors didn’t care what he did or who came to meet him. He was foul mouthed, recalls one of the oldest residents there, fondly known as Bebe. Bebe’s house faces Billu’s and her daughters were barred from sitting on the entry to their house in the evening when Billu was there. “He used to take his evening tea sitting on the stairs leading to his house. My late brother used to shout at us for sitting on our stairs when Billu was out,” recalls Bebe’s daughter. Bebe’s family never, for once, believed Billu’s transformation into Baba Amarpuri or his ‘priestly ways.’ “Don’t let Billu get away with this heinous crime,” Bebe says.
Another neighbour remembers Billu walking around the locality like “he was the chief minister.” There is, however, one thing that this person regrets. Richa (name changed) was approached by Billu’s daughter last year to help her father get bail. Billu was arrested in October last year after a man accused the self-styled godman of raping his wife and blackmailing her. Billu’s daughter reached out to Richa’s mother for help, saying that her father was being framed. “My mother decided to help out of sympathy for the girl. Plus we had not heard Billu of doing anything wrong before,” Richa says.
The market where Billu used to sell samosas. (News18)
Billu’s daughter arranged around Rs 8.5 lakh (which she is said to have collected from her father’s followers) and gave it to Richa’s mother. Richa’s mother used Billu’s phone to call the complainant couple and asked them to withdraw their statement and promised them money in return. She also had an arrangement with the police. The couple went ahead and changed their statement in court and when time came to receive the money, Richa’s mother along with others planted a raid on them and got them arrested. The police, which was allegedly hand in glove throughout, were paid handsomely.
There was also a legal team which had to be paid for figuring out the details of his bail. Additionally, Richa says that Billu’s son was accused of rape by a woman and the case had to be monetarily settled. All these steps had cost Richa’s family more than what they were given. Finally, after almost six months, Billu was released from jail around April 23, 2018. He was felicitated by the people in the locality — men, women and children. His ambit only grew since he was considered as the man who had been wronged.
But something else happened in between the process to get the rape-accused out.
“My mother had made all calls using Billu’s phone. So we asked his daughter for the memory card where everything was recorded so that we could keep a copy of it. We stumbled upon his rape videos when we were copying the recordings. This happened around April 18,” says Richa. But since they wanted to recover the extra money that they had spent on Billu’s release, they remained silent. Once Billu was out on April 23, Richa’s family went and asked him for the extra money. Billu, however, went to the police saying that Richa’s family owed him around Rs 16 lakh. “He started harassing us. For months, there would be someone or the other from his side who would come and threaten us of physical harm if we didn’t pay up. We had had enough and finally told someone we knew about the videos, requesting the person to help us,” Richa says.
One of Billu’s aides had allegedly reached out to Richa’s family promising help and asked them for a copy of the memory card, which also had the videos. This happens to be the strongest theory around how the videos went viral. “We were only concerned about the extra money that we had spent. We thought he would help us. Now, we only want to get out of this mess,” Richa says.
Billu’s daughter, now, has doubts on whether she did the right thing by helping her father. While giving the memory card to Richa’s family, she didn’t know the contents of it. She was unaware until last week when she received a call informing her of Billu’s arrest. “My father used to exorcise for typhoid cases, etc. But once me and my siblings got married off, we didn’t see much of him. Now, when I look back on the struggle we had to release him, I think maybe the woman who accused him of rape was right. I have daughters too and I would have never allowed my father to get away with it, had I known,” she tells News18.
How the Aggrieved Family Found Solace in a Rajasthan Baba
Veena’s gaze is stuck to the ground. She’s always been an introvert and the favorite child in the household. No demands, she would wear whatever I got her from the market, even if she didn’t like it, says a teary-eyed Sudha. Veena doesn’t remember much of what happened to her at Billu’s house. “I remember having chai that he had given me and feeling dizzy. After that, he took me inside a room and I saw a gun on the side of the bed,” the young survivor narrates. Billu threatened her with dire consequences, including harming her family, if she uttered a word about the incident to anyone. And Veena didn’t say a word for two years.
Veena is yet to complete her school education. Sudha and Gopal have given up on it and are looking for probable matches to get their daughter married. There have been a few good proposals but her educational qualification is being a hindrance, says Sudha. In the meantime, Veena helps her mother with the chores and in managing her two mentally-challenged brothers.
She had not been her usual self over the last two years, her mother says. “I wish we had known. We would have helped her. This video surfacing has only made it worse,” Sudha adds. The 2-year-old video has a younger Veena, making it difficult for people in Tohana to identify her which is the only thing Gopal is grateful for. “Kya karein, sharam bhi aati hai. Samaaj hai. Gussa bhi aata hai. Meri beti par koi ungli nahi uthni chaiye bas (What to do? There is a feeling of shamefulness and anger too. This is a society. I just don’t want anyone to point fingers at my daughter),” the father says.
Over the last two years, Gopal and his family had only briefly met Billu when he was released in April earlier this year. The accused didn’t ask him about his children, Gopal says. “We didn’t have much of an interaction. There was a swarm of people to meet him,” Gopal says, adding that they had stopped going to Baba Amarpuri two years ago itself when they realized that their kids were not getting better.
But Gopal’s faith is undeterred. “We found a very honest baba in Rajasthan. We have been going to him since the last two years,” Gopal says. The godman does everything in front of the public, he adds. Akash has accompanied his family on such visits over the two last two years. ‘Earlier I didn’t believe in him. But then I saw the baba call out the name of a blind person from the crowd. And then next thing I know, the man was able to see,” Akash exclaims.
“The baba has told me that all these years I was wasting my money. He told me that I had suffered enough and that my children would be fine soon,” Gopal says.
(With inputs from Parmjit in Tohana)