Defending a priest who allegedly sexually assaulted two devotees inside Mangueshi temple in Goa, a defence lawyer said in court on Friday that their false allegations stemmed from their “mindset” and “reformist attitude”, and their “almost similar complaints” were a way to gain publicity and draw attention to the temple’s norm that women are not allowed inside the inner sanctum of the Shiv temple.
On June 14 and June 22, priest Dhananjay Bhave allegedly sexually assaulted the two women just outside the inner sanctum, when their parents and male relatives were making an offering to the main idol.
“It’s pure reformist attitude and these girls have links to America, and are broad-minded. They are not village girls. This is the new generation of (girls). They are using this to gain publicity. They have destroyed the reputation of the temple. Look at the other cases across the country, be it Shani Shingnapur temple or Mahalakshmi or many other temples… look at what is happening at Sabarimala temple. Women are fighting to gain access. In this case, these are norms that will take time to change and these girls cannot use these methods (molestation charges) to point to the fact that women are not allowed inside Mangueshi temple. These allegations are to gain publicity and use force of law to bring reform,” said Shashikant Joshi, arguing the anticipatory bail application for Bhave.
“They are mixing their molestation charges with the temple’s rules,” said Joshi, reading the complaint letters, where one woman called the exercise of isolating women “antiquated… illegal and sexist”. The medical student residing in the US pointed that the practice made her vulnerable to the attack.
Judge Bela Naik reserved her order for August 4.
Joshi also pointed to the delay in filing FIR, the manner in which the “complainants ran away from Goa” instead “of rushing to the police”. One victim took 20 days, the other 36 to lodge a complaint.
Pointing to the title of the second woman, who resides in Mumbai, he said, “I am not implying anything, but it cannot be ignored, as the second victim according to the management is not a Mahajan, and there could be rivals who are trying to take advantage of the temple’s Mahajan status. The temple probed and have found their temple booking was done by someone else,” he said. The Mangueshi temple was established by 24 Gaud Saraswat families, whose titles are identified as Mahajans.
The accused and the temple have told the police that only the shoulder was touched, based on their CCTV footage. “What is outrage in patting? What if he has touched the head, or the shoulder, or the back?… It’s normal in Indian families. Affection cannot and should not be misunderstood,” he said, adding it needs to be differentiated from “sexual overt actions”.
Public prosecutor Satyavan Dessai denied all the arguments, and pointed out that initial investigation by Goa Police had revealed that the priest might have used his knowledge of blind spots of camera to molest the women. “These are two students, one medical student and US citizen, another student in Mumbai. Both are young and have no conspiracy to tarnish the temple’s reputation. You call him pious, we call him habitual offender,” he said.