Two trustees of a Catholic charity organisation have been booked for sexually abusing four women and a minor girl who came to the care home for spiritual counselling.
The police on Sunday registered a case against Brother Patrick and Brother Josy of Karunya Ashram at Agali village in Kerala's Palakkad district after the five victims complained they were physically and mentally tortured at the orphanage-cum-counselling centre for the past three months.
Both accused, members of a faction of the missionaries of Assisi in Italy, are absconding.
The issue came to light when the railway police took the four women, aged between 18 and 23, and the 16-year-old girl into custody when they were moving about suspiciously at Palakkad railway station.
On interrogation, they told the police they fled the ashram on Friday night with the help of a local panchayat member, but were stranded at the station because they didn't have enough money to buy tickets.
"We've booked the accused on five counts, including rape, illegal confinement and intimidation. Efforts are on to nab the two," Agali ASP Rajpal Meena told Hindustan Times.
The women said inmates were strictly barred from contacting their relatives.
"We were taken separately for counselling and were physically and mentally abused for days. We were threatened with dire consequences if we revealed this. When we questioned them, they told us it was all part of the treatment," one of the victims, an MBA student, said.
The police later sent the women to their parents. "The parents told us they sent their wards to the ashram for a year's counselling to correct their wayward behavior through spiritual classes. They never expected such treatment," Meena said.
No ashram member was available for comment. Located at a secluded spot, the ashram was founded in 1997 without any licence. Locals said that many such cases of abuse had been reported earlier but the authorities chose to ignore them.