DAYS after the management of Shree Mangueshi Devasthan Temple in Goa closed complaints filed with them by two US-based Indian women who alleged sexual abuse at the hands of a temple priest, one of them, a 26-year-old medical student from Texas, approached Ponda police on Thursday seeking to register a case against the priest.
The alleged incident took place in June.
“I go to a temple thinking it is a place of faith, of worship, and I place my trust in the temple. Something like this shakes your trust. The management has been extremely biased towards the priest,” the father of the 26-year-old told The Indian Express from Houston, Texas.
On Thursday, the woman mailed her complaint to Ponda police who have accepted it as a First Information Report in the case. Police inspector Harishchandra Madkaikar, from Ponda, said a case under Section 354 (outraging the modesty of a woman) of the Indian Penal Code has been registered against priest Dhananjay Bhave of Mangueshi Temple. “Investigations are on. We accepted the e-mail complaint to register an FIR as the complainant has returned to the US,” he said, adding that the second complainant is also expected to register a case via e-mail.
In her complaint, the medical student said: “… he beckoned me to come near the lockers and put his arm around my shoulder, and then proceeded to tightly hug me and then attempted to kiss me”.
The NRI complainant who was visiting Mumbai had attended a puja at the temple in Goa on June 22, along with her parents. Her Mumbai-based aunt said it is a family custom to visit the temple every year. “Our forefathers used to conduct puja there,” she said.
The medical student’s father said the priest called her for a “pradakshina” (circumambulation of the sanctum) and attempted to kiss her.
Following the incident, the woman informed her parents who discussed the issue with the priest’s elder brother. “The next day when I spoke to the priest, he did not sound remorseful. Instead, he said he only touched her shoulder,” the father said.
He added: “We are devout followers. We did not want to taint the image of the temple. So we decided to complain to the management.
But the management did not even call us to hear our side of the story. They said the CCTV camera in that part of temple is not working and found no evidence against the priest.”
The woman returned to Texas with her mother 10 days ago, while her father stayed back to take up the matter with the Ponda police.
On July 11, the Shree Manguesh Devasthan of Priol, in its observation to the complaints, said: “During the inquiry, the committee could not lay its hand on any dependable evidence to establish a prima facie case.”
While the temple trustees remained unavailable to respond to queries on Friday, a representative of the temple had told The Indian Express earlier this week that they have replied to the victim and that the matter is over. He said the temple did not have further comment to make.
On Friday, the Superintendent of Police (South Goa), Arvind Gawas, told reporters: “A First Information Report has been filed at the Ponda police station by the 26-year-old under Section 354 of the Indian Penal Code,” The issue was raised after Goa’s Culture Minister Govind Gaude was updated on the matter and he sought a police inquiry.
In a similar incident on June 14, a 20-year-old NRI from USA had raised allegations against the same priest. “The incident that happened in the Mangeshi temple changed my world forever. I had faith in the temple. Now, I am scared to go there,” she said.
According to the woman, her father was in the sanctum when she and her mother started the “pradakshina”. The priest allegedly asked the woman’s mother to continue while he spoke to her near the locker section. In her complaint, the woman has said that he pulled her by the shoulder and kissed her on her cheeks.
The 20-year-old’s parents informed the temple management immediately before returning to the USA. But they alleged that they were not even called by the temple committee.
(With inputs from Smita Nair in Goa)
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