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07 Aug 2020, 09:35 HRS IST
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  • HC doubts ashram's claim that women there are free

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19:58 HRS IST

New Delhi, Dec 21 (PTI) The Delhi High Court today raised doubts over a north Delhi-based ashram's claims that the female inmates there were not illegally confined, saying that if they were free, why were they being kept behind locked doors.

A bench of Acting Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice C Hari Shankar asked why the ashram's founder and spiritual head was not making an appearance if he was genuine and honest.

"Where is he? This inquiry (by the CBI) into the ashram, where girls and women were allegedly kept in illegal confinement will throw him in suspicion, if he does not appear," the bench said and sought his appearance before the CBI.

The counsel for the ashram, however, told the bench that its founder was not in Delhi and he has sent the message about the court's order through someone else.

Irked over the counsel's statement, the court wished to know about the whereabouts of Virender Dev Dixit, referred to as the founder and spiritual head of the Adhyatmik Vishwa Vidyalaya in North Delhi's Rohini.

It directed the counsel to give information about Dixit by tomorrow, while cautioning him not to act as proxy between the founder and the court.

The bench also enquired into the financial details of the ashram and sought to know from where they were getting funds to run the institution.

It asked the ashram's lawyer, who claimed that he was not representing Dixit, that "if you are claiming that the inmates are free, then why are you controlling their movements?

"Why are you controlling, how they should dress? Why are you not allowing them to meet their parents? Why does your ashram look like a fortress and why are there metal doors, grills and locks at every five feet interval," the bench asked.

It asked why the women are not being allowed to move out of the ashram.

Yesterday the high court had directed the CBI to probe the alleged illegal confinement of girls and women in the ashram where, it was claimed, they were kept in "animal-like" conditions behind metal doors in a "fortress" surrounded by barbed wire.

Taking note of the "seriousness and the sensitivity of the matter", the bench had asked the CBI director to forthwith constitute a special investigation team (SIT) which will take charge of all the records and documents pertaining to the case.

The court has passed the order on the PIL filed by NGO Foundation for Social Empowerment, which informed the court that several minors and women were allegedly being illegally confined at the "spiritual university" here and were not allowed to meet their parents.

Moved by the issued, the high court immediately set up a committee, comprising lawyers and Delhi Commission for Women chief Swati Maliwal, to inspect the premises of the institute.

The committee, comprising lawyers Ajay Verma and Nandita Rao, gave a report detailing the "horrible" living conditions of the over 100 girls and women who were housed in "animal- like conditions with no privacy even for bathing".

The panel, which had again inspected the ashram and its adjoining building, submitted today that over 30 mobile phones were seized and they want the court to order sealing of a room where they found trunks and other documents containing "serious evidence".

The bench said since the CBI is now seized of the issue, they should investigate it.

During the hearing the bench was informed by the ashram that that there were over 168 females living in the premises.

It was informed by Delhi police's standing counsel Rahul Mehra that the Delhi government's health department has set up a medical board, which will soon visit both the premises in question to medically examine all the inmates to ensure their well-being.

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