Almost five years have passed since 11 November 2017, when a family from Jhunjhnu, Rajasthan, visited a Brahma Kumari Ashram to meet their daughter (name withheld). The girl’s personality was noticeably altered, and it looked like she had been given some intoxicating chemical.
Despite demands from the police, journalists, neighbours and the girl’s relatives, the Ashram staff refused to allow them to meet her. The family had to pass through at least seven closed gates to get to the chamber where the alleged girl was held.
When the family got to meet her, she refused to leave the ashram. But it raised a lot of questions.
The institution claims itself to be a reformative splinter group within the Brahma Kumari religious movement but is undergoing investigation for allegedly running a sex racket in the guise of an ashram. The Adhyatmik Vishwa Vidyalaya (which translates as ‘spiritual university’) is said to be a jail of sorts where women (both minor and major) are being detained and exploited by the founder. It is said they are kept under the influence of drugs and indoctrinated to such an extent that they don’t want to leave.
After the activities of the Ashram were brought to the attention of the media, it was found that the founder Virender Dev Dixit had previously been the subject of several similar FIRs and complaints. The majority of the FIRs allege that Dixit and his staff at the ashram enticed women to visit the Ashram under the guise of seeking spiritual counselling and then confined them against their will.
One such victim told her harrowing experience to the media and also filed a complaint at the Vijay Vihar Police Station, which resulted in the filing of an FIR. The victim gathered courage after discovering that there were other distressed women like her. She also attempted to see her younger sister, who was allegedly entrapped.
Patriot reached out to the case lawyer to get an update about what has transpired in the last five years. “A lot of developments have taken place since we filed a petition. There has been a lot of relief and ideally the Ashram should be closed,” he says.
However, what is stopping the authorities from doing so, he says, is that the females living there have themselves said that they want to stay there,” says Shalabh Gupta, who has been involved with the case since 2018.
Are things fine?
Naturally, if the girls are living there willingly, there is a possibility that things are fine or that the management has mended its ways.
However, if there is nothing wrong with the Ashram, then why is the founder, who claims to be a spiritual healer, on the run? Why are there so many rape and molestation complaints made against the founder? Why are inmates not permitted to meet their families? There have also been whispers that some of the girls have tried commiting suicide.
He goes on to say that it is widely assumed that the girls and families are under some kind of coercion. He tells Patriot that when the case was first filed, 7-8 families used to accompany him to court for hearings, but they slowly dropped out. This could be because false rape cases were filed against family members of the girls by the Ashram.
He concludes by saying that certain indirect attempts were made to get him off the case as well.
Wall of silence
Patriot attempted to contact the Ashram, but whoever picked up refused to speak with the media and disconnected the phone. Entry to the Ashram was also barred, just like Shalabh Gupta predicted.
According to the locals, nobody except a few of the girls’ parents are ever let inside the building. Only at night, in the darkness, do vehicles approach.
Then there is the question of funding, especially in the recent past, if the founder has been on the run. There is no concrete answer for this but Patriot did manage to contact a police official who was associated with the case.
Under the guise of anonymity, the official agreed to speak about possible sources of funds. “These ashrams have followers from all sections of society,” he points out. “Not just ordinary people, highly respected doctors from the biggest institutions are funding these ashrams. Many of them have been spotted in the hearings as well and when you ask them why would such respectable sections of society donate to frauds, they reply that it is social service.”
Con artists in general, he explains, usually play on the emotions of their followers in order to make money. For this reason, ashrams do not accept women from their own hometowns. A Delhi girl will not be placed in an ashram in the city, so that she is unable to access help to fight back.
These people typically prey on economically disadvantaged families that lack the means and resources to stand up to them when necessary.
The founder, Dixit, has a large quantity of land, and in terms of resources, these people are far better placed than the legal authorities.
Social activist Seema Sharma, founder of the Foundation for Social Empowerment, who filed the petition with Shalabh Gupta, recalls her visit to the Ashram in 2018. “First, getting into the ashram is very difficult. They had more security than a prison. There are approximately seven locked gates. I couldn’t talk to any of the girls alone as they just wouldn’t let me..”
The conditions were terrible and inhuman. The location smelled of pot and the general atmosphere was dark and gloomy, as there were curtains all around. “It was far different from what we think of as an ashram. Used condoms were found lying on the ground. Persons were imprisoned in almirahs. What type of ashram is it,” she says.
Just a few days following Sharma’s visit, a total of 40 females were rescued from the Ashram, on the grounds that there was allegedly a sex racket run from the premises. However, after a few months, all of those girls voluntarily came back, making all the efforts infructuous.
However, since the matter was highlighted, the Delhi High Court has taken appropriate steps to guarantee that the living circumstances of females in the city are addressed. Patriot learns that Kiran Bedi has filed a report that will be made public in coming days.
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