Hardlook: The cult of self-styled godman Virender Dev Dikshithttps://indianexpress.com/article/india/hardlook-the-cult-of-self-styled-godman-virender-dev-dikshit-5015533/

Hardlook: The cult of self-styled godman Virender Dev Dikshit

Behind the dozens of ashrams under scanner for forcibly confining women and minors is 75-year-old Virender Dev Dixit, who grew up obsessed with religious texts, resented his father, and shared a fraught relationship with women.

Illustration by Subrata Dhar.

The eight sisters had died for reasons which could not be explained. Some said the Brahmin household was cursed, others called it destiny. The story of the eight deaths in infancy in the Dixit household, in the sleepy hamlet of Ahmadganj in Farrukhabad, is now over 80 years old.

Around 12 years later, in the winter of 1942, some old villagers still remember how a heavily pregnant Leelavati Dixit read the entire Ramayana every day for nine days, asking the gods to spare her unborn child the fate of those eight dead girls of the family. In February, she gave birth to a boy who, unlike his cousins, survived. His parents named him Virender Dev Dixit.

The straw and mud house where Dixit was born has long collapsed, but everything else in Ahmadganj seems stuck in time — it has no street lights, no mobile phones, not even a television set. Yet, among the 150-odd Brahmin and Teli families here, the news has spread. That Dixit — the purohit’s son who used to read the Ramayana and race his buffaloes in the fields — is wanted as an alleged rapist, a fake godman who built ashrams across India where he kept women confined, and a land grabber who duped devotees to build the Adhyatmik Vishwavidyalaya.

Following raids at his ashram in Rohini on December 19, the CBI took over the case from the Delhi Police on January 3 and seized evidence collected from the ashram. It is now on the lookout for Dixit, who is absconding.


Four FIRs have been registered at Rohini’s Vijay Vihar police station in connection with Adhyatmik Vishwavidyalaya — two against Dixit alleging rape and forced confinement, one against three devotees for obstructing a team from inspecting the ashram on December 19, and one by a female inmate against her own brother, accusing him of rape.
Earlier, too, Dixit had four rape cases registered against him in Farrukhabad, but was acquitted.


Dixit’s sister Vijay Laxmi (63) said her brother was very ‘protective’ of women. (Express Photo)

Jai Narayan Chaturvedi, who claims to be Dixit’s childhood friend, says the man in the news is a far cry from the boy he knew — a smooth talker but essentially a loner who was kept confined to his home by his family.

“They made sure he never left home unless there was an errand to run. His father, Sohan Lal Dixit, was a strict man and baba (Dixit) had no life apart from school and home. But he loved his mother; they were very close,” says Chaturvedi. The family lived in a kutcha house, and almost every monsoon, the roof would be swept away.

Villagers say Dixit would spend most of his free time reading religious literature. This was largely due to his mother, who never let him forget how he had survived after the death of eight girls. Dixit’s sister, Vijay Laxmi, born 12 years after him, recalls, “We were the only ones who lived. Our parents would always tell us about their deaths. My brother became very protective of women after that.”

But that “protective” nature extended to losing his temper if she left home. “Once, I wanted to watch the Rampur mela. He told me not to go, but I went any way. When I returned, he beat me viciously. After that, I only talked to him when he asked me something… But I barely left the house,” says Laxmi, now 63. Brijnandan Chaturvedi, another of Dixit’s “childhood friends”, says he was particularly fond of the monthly newsletter Kalyan, a religious publication with short stories from religious epics, poems and writings. “My uncle was in the Army. He would bring us copies of Kalyan and Dixit would race to get the first one. He would read out poems to us when just seven,” Chaturvedi says.
Villagers say Dixit grew even more religious after the family moved to the neighbouring Kampil district — home to many religious sites — in 1952, when he was in Class VI. They moved into a one-room accommodation among tobacco fields, next to ‘Draupadi Kund’, the pond where the Pandava wife from the Mahabharata is said to have bathed while in exile.

One of Dixit’s schoolmates at the Prathmik Pathshala in Kampil says he was proficient in Sanskrit: “He was a peculiar boy. After school prayers, he would shout Vande Mataram and keep repeating it. But he gained sympathy as he was from a poor family.” It was in Kampil, at the place where the family house used to be, that Dixit set up his first ashram in 1983, calling it the Adhyatmik Vishwavidyalaya.


Police conducted a raid at Dixit’s Rohini ashram last year.

In 1965, when Dixit was 23, his mother passed away. By then, cracks had appeared in his relationship with his father. Rafiullah Khan, a neighbour, says that after every argument, Dixit would run to his house to play chess. “One time he took my chess board and never returned it. It may still be inside the Kampil ashram,” he laughs.

The only time father and son were in agreement was around Dussehra, when Dixit would play the part of Ram in the Ramayana. Laxmi says the subject of Dixit’s marriage was a particularly sour point. “My father wanted him to get married but he wanted to study. He was too engrossed in religious texts. Once, a girl our father picked for him died. Dixit decided to never marry after that,” she says.

Often, Dixit would run to the local police station to complain against his father. Om Prakash Agnihotri, who runs a clinic at home in Kampil, calls himself Dixit’s “first devotee”. Agnihotri, who broke ties with him long ago, says Dixit would run away from home and sleep on his terrace. According to him, Dixit went on to do an MA in Sanskrit from a private college in Mathura. He was later spotted by a professor who invited him to join his research work in Berlin. However, Dixit couldn’t raise enough funds to go. In 1970, he moved to Ahmedabad to pursue a PhD.
For the next five years, he worked on his thesis topic, ‘Sristhi ka ard purush kaun hai (Who is the first human being in the universe)?’, at Ahmedabad University.

It was here that he made contact with the Brahmakumaris — a religious sect founded by Lekhraj Khubchand Kripalani, with spiritual headquarters at Mount Abu. Dixit often went to Mount Abu and later claimed to have perfected the ‘Gyan Muralis’ — divine knowledge about the universe that Lekhraj used to preach to his followers.
Agnihotri says that Dixit lost interest in the PhD, and even got into a row with the sect. “He claimed Lekhraj’s spirit resides in him; that he was Brahma. He left Ahmedabad after the fight but took the scripts of Gyan Muralis with him. He was smart that way.”

During his stay at the Ahmedabad ashram of the Brahmakumaris, Dixit allegedly tried to enter the women’s quarters, but was stopped by the male followers. “He tried to convince devotees that he was the incarnation of Shiva, and later, of Brahma. He would recruit devotees outside our centres. He had subverted our muralis for personal use,” says Brij Mohan, the additional secretary of the Brahmakumaris.

Agnihotri moved with Dixit when he set up base in Delhi. The second devotee Dixit acquired, he says, was former Delhi Police sub-inspector Ashok Pahuja. “He would claim to be Brahma and say he cannot be hurt during a trance. But Pahuja slapped Dixit during his so-called trance and said Brahma could be hurt. We all laughed. Dixit was furious and tried to retaliate, but the officer twisted his arm. Pahuja left for Delhi after that,” Agnihotri says.
In 1982, when his father died, Dixit did not attend the cremation. But he came soon after as ‘Baba Virender Dev Dixit’, demolished his paternal home, and built the first Adhyatmik Vishwavidyalaya. Locals remember Dixit applying plaster on the walls and building the ashram himself. It was initially two storeys, with yawning gaps covered by blankets.

The first coterie of Dixit’s supporters to arrive were Brahmakumaris from Mount Abu, Mathura and Delhi. In 1992, an income tax lawyer from Gujarat, Dashrat Patel, helped finance the ashram. In 1994, the second ashram came up in Kolkata’s Salt Lake City, with the help of a local resident.

“He took away entire Brahmakumari groups,” Agnihotri says. “But then we started to question his teachings. He claimed the world would end in the 2000s, and we contested his calculations. His initial group broke away as he could not tolerate dissent. We became the first ones to oppose Dixit… One time, he came to me with a penicillin injection and I poked fun at him saying that if he was Brahma, why the need for injections. That was the first time we fought.”

Over the next 23 years, he set up over 160 ashrams in several states, including Delhi, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Jammu, UP and Rajasthan. Ashrams were also opened in the US, London, Malaysia and Nepal. As soon as an ashram would come up, residents were urged to join. Many of the ashrams are believed to have been constructed by grabbing the land of devotees. In 2017, a marine engineer from Hong Kong Merchant Shipping, Ravindra Nath (69), alleged Dixit had grabbed his three-storey house in Salt Lake using forged documents. Nath said he used to be a devotee, but in 2017, he questioned Dixit about some of his teachings. Dixit started avoiding him, and a month later, his property was “taken over”.


Om Prakash Agnihotri, who calls himself Dixit’s ‘first devotee’, stands in front of Dixit’s first ashram in Farrukhabad’s Kampil. Photos: (Express Photo by Praveen Khanna)

In 1998, Pahuja returned from Delhi and, coordinating with Agnihotri and Dashrat Patel, compiled the first list of rape charges against Dixit. In 1998, four rape cases were registered against him after a Kolkata resident alleged his daughter was confined and raped inside the Kampil ashram.

The then SP of Farrukhabad, Gurbachan Singh, led the ashram raid. As police dragged Dixit out, his pyjamas slipped and fell off, and he was taken to Farrukhabad Jail in his undergarments. Bhagat alias Shailander, in jail at the time, claims, “Everyone knew he was charged with rape. He was beaten up and for the next four months, we made him clean toilets, sweep the cells and prepare food. He would hide every time he saw us.”

Dixit’s nephew Hridesh Pandey, a lawyer, came to his defence. “The rape charges fell apart in court. He was let off after four months in jail,” he says. Pandey and Dixit remained close till the late 2000s, when the former was barred from entering the Kampil ashram due to dipping attendance.

“Witnesses in the four rape cases turned hostile,” says local SP at Farrukhabad, Mrigender Singh. The night he was dragged out of the Kampil ashram was the last time locals saw Dixit. They say he has not returned since. The ashram has grown into a white fortress, with main doors locked with steel shutters, windows with iron bars, barbed wire on the terrace, and several solar panels on top.

Meanwhile, in 2002, 30 km away in Sikattar Bagh, Dixit built another branch of the Adhyatmik Vishwavidyalaya, reportedly after generous funding from a follower who stays in London, Pandey claims. Sikattar Bagh residents say there was a steady stream of visitors to the ashram. Then, in 2011, history repeated itself as a Banda resident alleged his daughter was confined and raped inside. This time, the Gulabi gang — women activists who fight against domestic abuse — stepped in. Their Sikattar Bagh leader, Anjali Yadav, mobilised locals and laid siege to the ashram with help from the police. The Banda girl was rescued.

Yadav says the ashram’s lawyers filed several court cases against her, and the girl went on to testify against her parents. “The ashram had brainwashed many women,” Yadav says. Residents claim many other parents trickled in afterwards, looking for their daughters. Again, after the siege, Dixit was never spotted. The Farrukhabad ashram was again raided on December 25 last year, with police rescuing about 40 women. However, the women claimed that they were staying on their own will, and later returned to the ashram.


The raid at the Rohini ashram on December 19 last year, which sparked the latest rape allegations against Dixit, were prompted by a Delhi High Court order on a PIL filed by the NGO, Foundation for Social Empowerment. The NGO alleged several minors and women were being illegally confined, and had referred to a missing girl from Pilani and a woman from Telangana, pursuing a PhD from the US.

One of the women who has alleged rape is the 32-year-old daughter of a former Delhi Police officer. The policeman had enrolled three of his daughters at the ashram. Every morning, she says, 15-odd televisions would play Dixit’s discourse. “We would listen to his muralis. He would say the outside world was dangerous and we would not survive there. They tried to make me sign an affidavit-like thing which said our parents were ‘surrendering’ us to the ashram,” she says.

She alleges that between 2006-07, she was raped by Dixit. “I could never tell anyone about what was happening inside. They blackmail you afterwards. He told me I was a part of his 16,000 ranis,” she alleges. The woman says she used the excuse of her board exams to leave the ashram around 2007, but her sisters stayed back. A 13-year-old girl from UP, rescued during last month’s raid, says, “Baba would come to our quarters and sleep with us naked. The girls around me said they were his ranis, and if I did not sleep with him, I would become a chandalni (demon).”
The 48 women rescued in the raid have been transferred to a shelter home in Delhi, says CWC chairperson Sabrina Sabharwal.


With Dixit’s whereabouts unknown, all is quiet at the Kampil ashram. The front gate rarely opens. A few metres away is a gaushala, now turned into a self-sustaining farming community run by the ashram’s male workers. One of them, Somresh, a former chartered accountant, says, “Everything has been foreseen by Dixit baba. The world is about to come to an end, and only those pure of heart will survive. The baba is coming and everyone should wait.”