NEW DELHI — The Delhi High Court Dec. 20 said it has "no confidence in police" and ordered a Central Bureau of Investigation probe into an ashram here where minor girls and women were allegedly kept in illegal confinement in the name of religious preaching.
A division bench of Acting Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice C. Hari Shankar, noting that an ashram cannot work under a "shroud of secrecy," asked CBI Director Alok Verma to forthwith set up a special investigation team to probe various First Information Reports of girls and women being allegedly lured into the ashram in the Rohini area on the pretext of spiritual guidance and then being raped.
The judges, who met girls rescued from the ashram and their parents in their chambers, said they cannot reveal what a 13-year-old girl told them about what was going on there.
Saying "we have no confidence in the police," which failed to take action on about 10 FIRs lodged against the ashram and its members, the bench directed the CBI to seize all records relating to FIRs lodged and entries in the 'daily diary' maintained by police in connection with alleged rape and suicides of women in the ashram.
Taking note that girls and women in the ashram were in dire need of medical help, it also directed Delhi's Principal Secretary, Health, to set up a medical team to examine the inmates.
On Dec. 19, the court ordered a committee, which included Delhi Commission for Women Chief Swati Maliwal, to conduct an inspection of the Adhyatmik Vishwa Vidyalaya and said it should be filmed.
The committee, which visited the ashram Dec. 19, told the bench Dec. 20 that the girls and women they found there were not in their senses and appeared to be under the influence of drugs, adding that some kind of sex racket was going on at the ashram.
They also said that the girls and women were kept in "unhygienic and animal-like conditions with no privacy even for bathing."
"Even the bathing area consists of a room with four water taps and no walls," Maliwal said.
The committee also sought age verification of the inmates, alleging that most of them, based on their appearances, seemed to be minors.
Maliwal also suggested that all the inmates be removed from the ashram and sent to a safe place, like Nari Niketan, under the DCW's custody.
She also told the court that the committee members were assaulted and confined for about an hour by ashram inmates when they went to inspect the premises, despite the court Dec. 19 telling Virender Dev Dixit, referred to as the founder and spiritual head of the institute, to cooperate with the committee and police.
The committee described the building, which is surrounded by barbed wire, as a fortress with iron grilles and locks all over. Maliwal said that police had to break open many of the locked iron doors as the inmates were not cooperating.
At this, the court said: "Why do you need so many iron grilles and locks... If you are running an ashram or 'sanstha,' you should be completely open." It then directed the commissioner of North Delhi Municipal Corporation to inspect the building and take action in case of any illegalities.
The court directed the Child Welfare Committee chairperson concerned, along with the committee, to visit the ashram premises and take steps in accordance with the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act.
On Dec. 19, the court referred to a similar situation witnessed in Dera Sacha Sauda chief and rape convict Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh's ashram in Haryana's Sirsa.
The court's order had come on a plea filed by the NGO Foundation for Social Empowerment, which said that several minors and women were being illegally confined there and not allowed to meet their parents.