Hindu religious leader in Texas held, freed on million dollar bail

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New York, May 4 (UNI) The founder of a Hindu house of worship in Texas has been charged with 20 counts of indecent behaviour with teenagers and later released on a million dollar bail, according to news reports.

A local district judge Bill Henry, had earlier set the million dollar bail bond at 50,000 dollar for each count.

The founder of the Barsana Dham Hindu center in Hays County, Texas, Prakashanand Saraswati, was arrested in Washington last week.

An investigation, which began began roughly a year ago, led to the filing of the case. An indictment was given last month and an arrest warrant was issued against Saraswati, who is 79.

The Hindu religious leader is known among his followers as Shree Swamiji. The charges against him included groping under-age girls on several separate occasions in the 1990s. According to the indictment, the incidents took place between 1993 and 1996.

Officials at Barsana Dham, built on a 200-acre complex, rejected the allegations as ''false and damaging.'' ''It's absolutely baseless,'' added Ethan DeMitchell, who runs a separate Bharsana Dham chapter in South Florida. He questioned why the allegations arose some 10 years after the incidents were said to have taken place. ''Unfortunately, you can accuse anyone of anything,'' he was quoted as saying in The Austin American Statesman, a local newspaper.

A previously scheduled ''mela'' (festive event) was held over the weekend at Barsana Dham despite the news of the arrest of the founder-guru of the house of worship. About 7,000 flocked the place watching traditional dances, buying jewelry and dining masala dosa and other Indian delicacies, according to the newspaper.

Temple vice president Prabhakari Devi said that Saraswati was arrested at Dulles Airport in Washington shortly after his arrival from a medical treatment trip to Europe. According to the Barsana Dham Web site, Saraswati was born in India in 1929.

UNI XC SZ HT1328

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