Hindu leader guilty of molesting children at US ashram

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Washington:  An octogenarian Hindu religious leader, head of one of the largest Hindu ashrams in the US, has been convicted of molesting two young girls.

The girls' family members serve at the ashram Barsana Dham, which is a 200-acre Hindu ashram located in Austin. The girls allege that they were molested by Prakashanand Saraswati, who is known to his devotees as Shree Swamiji, when they grew up there in the mid-1990s.

His conviction at the ashram, which attracts a large number of Hindu Americans from across the country every year, has sent shock waves among the community members.

"We are very disappointed with the verdict. We are certain that Swamiji is innocent. This is not the end of the legal process," said Aman Agrawal, spokesman of Barsana Dham. The sentencing is scheduled for today.

Convicted in all of the 20 counts, he faces a maximum penalty of 20 years on each of the counts.

In their charges, two women Shyama Rose, 30, and Vesla Tonnessen Kazimer, 27, alleged that Prakashanand Saraswati tried to exploit them on numerous occasions over the course of several years, beginning when they were as young as 12. The two lived in the campus of the ashram along with their other family members.

The charges by Rose and Kazimer against Prakashanand were first levied in April 2008 following which he was arrested.

He was later released on a US $1 million bond. A third woman Kate Tonnessen, 31, too made similar allegations recently.

Barsana Dham was established by Prakashanand in 1990.



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