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Indian yoga guru faces 6 sex assault charges in US

February 27, 2015 15:31 IST

A 69-year-old prominent Indian-American yoga guru who founded an exercise routine practiced in hot rooms is facing six lawsuits filed by women, accusing him of sexual assault or rape at various locations, including in India.

Bikram Choudhury the founder of Bikram's Yoga College of India, is facing the lawsuits filed by six women with the latest case being filed in the Los Angeles supreme court this month by a woman identified as Jill Lawler, a Canadian.

In the suit, she is described as a bright, driven woman who fell in love with Bikram Yoga almost from her first class. She begged her parents to let her borrow money from her college fund to attend a gruelling nine-week teacher training, which cost $10,000 at the time, CNN reported. She started the course in April 2010. The alleged abuse started soon after.

According to the lawsuit, it began with Choudhury trying to put his hand inside Lawler's pants, eventually escalating to rape, which continued for years, the report said.

"She was ashamed, and embarrassed. She did not think that anyone would believe her and she was afraid that if defendant Bikram Choudhury heard that she had told, that he would kick her out of training and she would have lost both the $10,000 from her college fund and her ability to work as a yoga instructor in order to pay for college," the suit reads.

It accuses Choudhury of rape at that training, and at a variety of other locations, including India, where he visited Lawler in 2013, the report said.

The suit says Lawler feared speaking out earlier because she needed her Bikram Yoga certification to support herself. She was also physically afraid of Choudhury.

The yoga guru's lawyers said they have not yet been served with Lawler's suit.

Choudhury, who founded a form of 'hot yoga' performed in a series of 26 yoga postures done in a hot environment, is not facing any criminal charges and has denied any wrongdoing. In a statement, Choudhury's lawyers called the accusations "lurid" and said they were made to "apparently to exploit the legal system for financial gain."

"The women did not independently come forward to tell their stories of sexual assault after years of keeping them secret. Instead, they signed on to become plaintiffs in these cases following a world-wide and lengthy period of solicitation through letters and social media seeking to convince women to sue Mr Choudhury," the statement said.

Attorney Mary Shea, who represents the women, said, "The one common thread to all their complaints is the betrayal of trust." Shea said the six cases will not be combined because each woman has a different story. The accounts share certain similarities -- something that Choudhury's lawyers argue was proof that the accusations were false.

According to one of the six lawsuits, Larissa Anderson went to Los Angeles in 2006 where, the suit says, Choudhury raped her at his home with his wife and children upstairs.

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