Priest repeatedly raped girls at MP Ashram

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Jabalpur, Sep 23 (UNI) A priest, arrested for raping a 14-year-old student of Swami Pragyanand Maharaj's Pragyadham Ashram in this district's Katangi, has confessed to sexually assaulting several girls at the Ashram that receives a large quantity of funds from non-resident Indians for social service.

Local intellectuals, members of the victim's community and political parties demanded that the Ashram be sealed, forfeited and a high-level probe ordered. They demanded that Swami Pragyanand and his female disciple Vibhanand be taken into custody and questioned.

Omprakash Awasthi (47) alias Omanand, who worked at the Ashram's Shiva temple, confessed to having repeatedly raped students of the Swami Pragyanand Girls' Gurukul Residential School after taking them to his room above the shrine.

''The 14-year-old's condition improved at the Medical College Hospital and the priest was apprehended on the basis of her statement. Tight security arrangements have been made at the Ashram and girls' statements are being recorded by a team led by a lady sub-inspector. Other persons are also being taken into custody at the Ashram,'' Superintendent of Police Makrand Deuskar said here today.

About 75 girls' statements were recorded thus far. Awasthi, who hails from Kaimor village near Katangi, became the Swami's disciple a few years back and emerged as a confidante of the seer and Vibhanand who merely scolded the priest after the 14-year-old complained to her of the rapes.

Income Tax sleuths raided the Ashram, its trustees and chartered accountant's office last month. A television news channel also conducted a sting operation at the Swami's ashram at Delhi's Saket locality and showed him making a shady financial transaction.


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