A 50-year-old self-styled priest found big "business" opportunities in spirituality but landed in police net after he allegedly kidnapped five minor boys to make them "godmen" in his ashrams, police said on Friday.
It was because of the presence of mind of one of the kidnapped boys, hailing from Ayodhya, that led to the priest's arrest and their rescue, as he managed to make a telephone call to his house.
Prem Dass, hailing from Bihar's Bhagalpur, was apprehended from south Delhi's Fatehpuri Beri on Thursday following investigations into the missing of a boy in school uniform from Ayodhya.
"Dass was very ambitious and wanted to get rich by setting his own ashram but due to his economic conditions, he could not do so. He felt that if his ashrams have child 'godman' devotees will make a beeline and he could soon become rich," H G S Dhaliwal, Deputy Commissioner of Police, said.
The accused was "greatly" influenced by the success of some of the biggest religious ashrams which had huge donations pouring in from devotees, he said.
However, Dhaliwal said, Dass' plans were undid after 13-year-old Deepak whom he kidnapped four days ago outwitted him by making a telephone call to his father informing him about his whereabouts.
Dass came to Delhi in 1985 and worked as a priest in a local temple of Jaunapur. He wanted to set up his own ashrams and three years later, he established a small temple in Gadaipur.
Following the mushrooming of farm houses in the area, he started getting rich clientage for performing religious rites and felt the need to expand the base.
"It was then he came up with the idea of creating child 'godman' at ashrams as masses are greatly swayed by any young 'godman' in priestly robes. He planned to send these child godmen to different cities," Dhaliwal said.
Dass wanted to set up his own ashrams so that he can preside over a "business empire" which will have its branches in various cities and he would get some percentage of offerings from all such religious centres, the official said.
He started visiting religious places in UP and Bihar to get easy targets to find more such children who have a religious bent and can be indoctrinated.
The arrest followed the rescue of five children, including Deepak, who was kidnapped from Ayodhya.
On March 1, Dass allegedly kidnapped Deepak from outside his school in UP's Basti district. "After prayers at school, he was going to the class when Dass intercepted him, and on the pretext of helping him to lift the luggage started talking."
Dass allegedly lured him by giving him a rosy picture of Delhi and convinced him to accompany him. They changed several trains to Delhi from Ayodhya in order to escape from any possible police action.
He also did not give Deepak anything to eat and once they reached Delhi, the child was made to sleep on the floor on March two early morning.
"However, in the morning, Deepak sensed trouble and clandestinely made a telephone call to his father and immediately a house to house search was made by police leading to the arrest," Dhaliwal said.
Another victim was Swas Dass (12), hailing from Bhagalpur, was brought to Delhi three months back and was made to work as a priest. His father has recently been murdered at his native place in Bhagalpur in a dispute with a local village headman.
Raghunandan Dass (12), also from Bhagalpur, was also brought by Dass from his native place in July 2010 by promising of providing good education and better life but he was made to work in the temple.
Two brothers Shiv Shankar Dass (15) and Manohar Dass (13) were brought to the city with the promise of getting better life and education and were rescued while they were in priests attire.