It all started with a missing persons case. A 23-year-old girl from Pilani village in Rajasthan had gone missing on November 9 this year. There was no trace of the girl even as her family frantically searched for her at bus stops in Pilani, Jaipur. They tried to figure out her whereabouts from Om Shanti Ashram in Mount Abu and several pravachaks and matas from the offshoots of Adhyatmik Vishwa Vidyalaya.
Days later, her brother found the first clue — her written statement at Mandela police station, wherein she said that she had left home on her own will and that nobody has forced her to enrol into the ashram.
Almost immediately, the family approached Foundation for Social Empowerment, an NGO looking into such cases. The NGO formed a special team comprising advocates, former inmates of the ashram and members of the local police to look into the issue. “We were trying to investigate the whereabouts of the girl and found her at the ashram. We were shocked to find so many women living in such pitiable conditions. It was only when we traced the girl did we figure out the sheer scale of what was happening inside the ashram,” said Seema Sharma from the NGO.
Meanwhile, the girl’s brother managed to track her down with the help of Rajasthan police, who gave to him details of her call records. “We tracked her down to Rewari. We thought Delhi was closest to Rewari and visited the local branch of the ashram in Jaipur,” the brother said, adding that he got the address of the ashram’s Rohini branch after visiting the Jaipur one. “I had taken my aunt to the Jaipur ashram and had told them that I wanted to enrol her at the Delhi ashram,” he said.
Satender Singh Rathore, an advocate from Jaipur, said, “We had tried to get the local police to raid the premises but they kept refusing. Later, we managed to enter the ashram on November 29 and tried to get the girl out.” But even as her family tried to reason with her to leave the ashram, the girl refused. “My father broke down and kept pleading with her to leave. She just stood there with no expressions and kept saying that she was attaining knowledge and did not want to leave,” her brother said.
“The NGO then got in touch with several other parents, who were also trying to get their daughters to leave the ashram, and managed to dig out 11 FIRs out of which two were registered in Delhi, four in Kanpur and some in Rajasthan and six DD entries,” said Shalabh Sharma, an advocate from the Delhi High court. The findings of the NGO were made part of a PIL, which was brought to the notice of the Delhi High Court, following which the raid was undertaken.
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