UP baba ‘confined, drugged, raped’ hundreds of followers: India needs to crack down on ‘religious’ hostels

Ashrams, madarsas and church-run establishments are imperiling the vulnerable.

 |  6-minute read |   21-12-2017
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Another day, another horrifying baba. Even as the country was still reeling under the Gurmeet Ram Rahim story, a similar sordid tale has come to light from the nation's capital, where a "religious guru", Baba Virendra Dev Dixit, is found to have confined hundreds of girls and women, and drugged and raped them for years.

The story came to light after a Rajasthan family, whose daughter was lodged at one of the ashrams of Adhyatmik Vishwa Vidyalaya, which Dixit runs, approached the Delhi High Court along with NGO Foundation for Social Empowerment, alleging many women had been raped and had committed suicide at the ashram.

The HC ordered a raid at the ashram complex in Delhi’s Rohini area, which was carried out on December 19 by the police, Delhi Commission for Women (DCW) chief Swati Maliwal, and four advocates appointed by the court.

The police have now taken into custody one inmate and a security guard of the ashram, and seized medicines, syringes, and a suitcase full of “sexually explicit” letters. The baba himself is on the run.

House of horrors

The raid found close to hundred women living at the ashram, “in animal-like conditions, in dark spaces with no sunlight and metal grill, with nowhere to exit. The sleeping area is also monitored and the girls have no privacy,” a report quoted Nandita Rao, one of the advocates appointed by the court, as saying.

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The women were allegedly shipped to different states at night. Many of them had been living at the ashram for decades, and had no contact with the outside world, as the Baba had told them that was a “sin”.

Even the families who had left the women and children at the ashrams were not allowed to meet them.

The baba regularly raped the inmates, including minors, and had a target of sleeping with 16,000 women, which, according to some beliefs, is the number of wives Lord Krishna is supposed to have had.

The Indian Express quoted an inmate as saying: “They used to tell us that if we interacted with the outside world, we would be committing a sin. They kept telling us we would not survive. The baba had told me that I was one of his 16,000 ranis. He raped me on several occasions.”

On Tuesday, the inmates allegedly clashed with the raiding team, and one of the advocates was roughed up. According to the team, the women were kept under the influence of drugs. Some were found to be unwell, with no medical care provided to them.

“Sexually explicit” letters written by the inmates to the babas were found in a suitcase.

The ashram had metal doors with heavy locks and maze-like lanes. On Wednesday, the men’s quarters were also inspected.

Who is Virendra Dev Dixit

Dixit’s ashram, Adhyatmik Vishwa Vidyalaya, claims to teach its students yoga and spiritual knowledge. It has several centres in Uttar Pradesh, and most of its inmates come from villages of the state and Chhattisgarh.

According to a report in India Today, Dixit would “press his followers to send their minor daughters to his ashram permanently. The parents are made to sign a Rs 10 stamp paper saying they willingly handed over their daughter to him. When the girls turned 18, he would make them sign a paper that said they were willingly staying with him.”

A copy of this paper would then be sent to the local police station and the parents. The families were asked to send money for the upkeep of the girls.

This is not the first time Dixit, who claims links to the Prajapita Brahma Kumaris Ishwariya Vishwa Vidyalaya, has run foul of the law. The Brahma Kumaris movement was founded by Dada Lekhraj Kripalani, and Dixit claims that Lekhraj’s soul enters his body. He has reportedly also had a falling out with the Brahma Kumaris.

A screengrab of the Adhyatmik Vishwa Vidyalaya website. A screengrab of the Adhyatmik Vishwa Vidyalaya website.

In 1998, he had been arrested for raping a follower, clashing with the police and stealing electricity.

Till when will Babas be allowed a free run?

People living near the Delhi ashram of the Adhyatmik Vishwa Vidyalaya had complained to the police about his nefarious activities several times, as cars with number plates of different states often came to take women away at night, and the neighbours suspected the ashram was running a flesh trade racket.

While the police made several daily diary entries, it is unclear what action was taken regarding the complaints.

The team that raided the ashram on Tuesday said it was “fortress-like”, with Maliwal saying “not even a bird could enter or leave” it.

If the baba had known criminal antecedents, why was he allowed a free run? Why did the police wait for HC directions to act against him?

The past few years have seen a number of babas being accused or convicted of rape – Asaram in 2013, Rampal in 2014, Nityananda and Amrita Chaitanya in 2009, and most recently, Ram Rahim.

It is not very difficult to understand why such men are driven to sexual abuse – rape is, after all, a power trip, and these babas exploit the absolute control they have over their disciples’ minds and bodies.

These “gurus” twist “devotion” to mean ultimate surrender and obedience to them, and disciples oblige, offering up their women relatives unquestioningly. Women, in such scenarios, act under multiple pressures, and the concept of consent, which is based on equality of the participating partners, anyway does not exist here.

In India, tantra conflates spiritual and sexual union, and the vaguely understood idea is often used by such “gurus” to sell beliefs that sexual intercourse with them is a form of blessing.  

Blind faith is a powerful adversary to reason, logic and a sense of right and wrong. While every such baba being exposed should serve as an eye opener to obedient disciples everywhere, the administration, too, has a larger role to play.

For too long, ashrams and other institutions with “religion” attached to them – madarsas, church-run hostels – have been allowed to run without any scrutiny. No outsider really knows what goes on behind the closed doors of these buildings, effectively leaving the lives of all their inmates in the hands of the one person or group that runs them. One human having unscrutinised, unbridled power over other human beings’ lives is never a good idea.

The government should think of a formal framework where all such ashrams are registered, and subjected to periodic inspections and audits. Otherwise, ordinary citizens, especially the more vulnerable – women, the poor, children – will continue to be exploited by criminals masquerading as godmen.

Also read: 5-year-old brutalised in Haryana: Why India fails to curb rape

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