“I don’t know where my daughter has been kept, in what condition, I have not been allowed to meet her. I have come to know there is some ganda kaam (dirty things) happening in the ashram.”
“When we met our daughter, she said she was happy and wanted to stay in the ashram. But she looked weak and scared. I think she is being pressurised to give such statements. I beg you to bring my daughter back.”
Such letters from distraught and helpless parents are piling up on lawyer Shalabh Gupta’s desk. In the month since the raids on self-proclaimed godman Virender Dev Dixit’s Delhi and Rajasthan ashrams, scores have written to Delhi Police and Gupta, who represents the Foundation for Social Empowerment, the NGO which first filed the FIR against the godman.
TOI’s conversations with Gupta and many ‘bhakts’ revealed the inner workings of the unholy empire Dixit built in the last four decades.
Most of the 75-year-old baba’s victims were followers of Brahma Kumaris, a sect that Dixit had links to in his early days but later fell out with. Dixit had set up an elaborate network of “matas” and “bhais” who held satsangs or Gita path in lower middle class neighbourhoods in UP and Rajasthan. These agents would gradually introduce the followers to the idea that the soul of Brahma Kumari founder Lekhraj Kripalani had transferred to Dixit. The disciples would then go to a seven-day meditation camp where they would listen to Dixit’s sermons. Many of them came back convinced he was the real McCoy. “We used to think he was God,” says K Garg, an assistant sub-inspector of police and former follower.
The disciples had to follow a set of rules — refrain from sex with spouse, eat simple food and keep away from social functions and people, says Gorakhpur-based Vinita who was also a follower. Over time, says Garg, they were so indoctrinated that they would happily part with money, property and their daughters.
Garg’s 16-year-old daughter was sent to the ashram after Baba “asked” for her. “We thought what could be better for a girl than to immerse herself in spirituality,” he says. Garg says his daughter was taken to an ashram in Kampil, a small town in UP, in 2003. “After 2004-2005, we did not see her though we would go to the ashram every week for meditation. We only spoke to her twice on the phone,” he says. Despite his police training, Garg did not find this odd. His daughter is still untraceable, and the police has registered a FIR in the case.
The MODUS OPERANDI
Dixit’s MO was quite simple but still people fell for it. Followers were told that he was God, and that the world would come to an end in 2020. If they wanted to survive, they should make “sacrifices” in the form of donations. Banda’s Savita, who alleges she was raped by Dixit while being a sevadar (servant) at his ashram, sold off 10 bighas and donated Rs 10 lakh. Not only that, she even surrendered her daughter to Dixit’s ashram in 2007. Savita escaped with her daughter in 2015 on the pretext of bringing in more followers. “Hum dhoondh rahe the bhagwaan, aur woh nikla shaitan (We went searching for God, we found the devil),” says the disillusioned Savita.
SHUT PARENTS OUT
In the guise of giving them a spiritual education, Dixit lured girls, some as young as 14. The first thing he did was shift them out of their home state so that the family contact was limited. The Delhi ashram which was raided had several small cage-like rooms, CCTV cameras and areas that were restricted even to inmates. Parents could only meet their daughters in a large hall in the company of several people after a minimum wait of a few hours. One family shifted from Telangana to Delhi to be able to see their daughter more often but managed to gain access to her only two-three times in two years. They say their daughter disappeared mysteriously in July 2015 from the US where she was working as a researcher. The lid blew on the goings-on in the ashram only after a family from Rajasthan’s Jhunjhunu insisted on meeting their daughter in November 2017. The Foundation for Social Empowerment helped them call a PCR. A subsequent raid on December 19 revealed that 50 women were being held inside the Rohini ashram.
PLAYING ‘KRISHNA’ TO RANIS
Older men and women were given sevadar duty and formed the outer cordon. They had no access to the ‘behens’ and ‘matas’ who were kept behind locked doors. Savita, whose daughter was one of the behens, said the girls were woken up at 2-2:30am to listen to Dixit’s sermons blaring from TV sets. They were asked to stare at his image and sit for a couple of hours in “dhyaan”. They would then bathe and get ready around 4am, and spend their day listening to muralis (sermons). The name muralis was borrowed from the Brahma Kumaris who believed that Shiva gave divine knowledge orally to their founder Lekhraj Kripalani. Dixit mixed this wisdom with the threat that parents of the women who left the ashram would be cursed. If Dixit came to the ashram, 8-10 would be selected for the night for ‘gupt prasad’, which according to Garg and Savita was a code for sex.
“Those who got the gupt prasad were called ranis and he was their Krishna. The matas told us that that like Krishna, he could have 16,108 ranis,” Savita says. She claims the ashram kept a register of the menstrual cycles of women.
Among the papers found in the ashram were complaints signed by the female inmates against their relatives, accusing them of ill-treatment and, in some cases, even sexual abuse. Lawyer Shalabh Gupta says: “Besides signed letters and complaints by inmates, a visitors’ register that had only male names was also seized. This raises suspicions about the purpose of their visit to the ashram.”
The number of women the still-elusive Dixit entrapped might be shocking but the ‘godman’ phenomenon isn’t new. Asaram, Gurmeet Ram Rahim and Rampal all enjoyed a massive following. Sociologist Shiv Visvanathan attributes the growing popularity of godmen to the constant search for meaning and a sense of community in life. “Earlier it was political parties that would draw people. But now the centrality of religion is back. The guru is seen as all-powerful and becomes a unifying factor,” he says.