Police seek popular Indian guru on sexual assault claims

JAIPUR, India - Police have given a popular Indian guru a Friday deadline to answer allegations of sexually assaulting a schoolgirl, claims he angrily denounced saying he was "ready to go to prison".

Police have summoned Asaram Bapu, one of many Indian self-styled "godmen" who attract large numbers of followers, over allegations he abused a teenage girl whose parents are members of his congregation.

The white-bearded guru has so far failed to report to a police station in the western city of Jodhpur.

"I'm ready to go to prison, that is also a kind of heaven for me," an incensed Asaram told reporters Thursday in the central city of Bhopal, saying the claims against him were a political conspiracy.

His office has previously rejected the allegations as baseless.

The incident allegedly took place on August 15 in Jodhpur, in Rajasthan state, where Asaram was holding a retreat for followers, including the 16-year-old girl and her parents, police said.

Asaram allegedly told the parents he needed to meet their daughter alone after being told of concerns she was possessed by evil spirits, police said.

"The girl along with her parents met Asaram in Jodhpur where the accused took them to a hut on the night of August 15," deputy police commissioner in Jodhpur, Ajay Lamba, told AFP.

"He asked her parents to recite some religious Mantras at the entrance gate and took the girl inside his room where he allegedly exploited the girl," Lamba said.

The girl told her parents two days later about the alleged attack and the family travelled to New Delhi to confront him. The guru refused to meet them, prompting them to go to the police, local reports and an unnamed police official said.

"After initial investigation, we issued notice to Asaram to appear before us for interrogation," the police official said.

"He has to appear before us before August 30. A look-out notice was also issued to prevent him from fleeing the country."

Asaram uses only one name, with Bapu an honorific meaning "father".

Asaram has some 350 ashrams in India and overseas, where he teaches yoga, meditation and a spiritual and peaceful existence, according to his website, which also claims his legions of followers consider him a saint.

For many Indians, "godmen" play an integral role in daily life, offering a pathway to enlightenment in return for spiritual devotion and donations to their ashrams, temples and charity projects.