A British woman who moved to India to build an orphanage claims she has been trapped there for two years after being accused of a local child’s manslaughter.
Frightened Narges Ashtari, 28, originally from Iran but who grew up and went to school in Exeter, Devon, set up the Prishan Foundation in 2010 with the hope of ‘improving the lives of orphans and abandoned children around the world’.
Ms Ashtari’s parents both died when she was a child and when she met an orphaned baby boy in Sri Lanka named Prishan he inspired her to help others. The Prishan Foundation has since built an orphanage for girls and a home for blind children in the eastern state of Odisha in India.
However, after the disappearance of a child in 2014, feared drowned, she has become embroiled in a criminal case and now faces a possible jail term if convicted.
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Narges Ashtari (centre), 28, has issued a desperate plea for her old friends and colleagues in England to support her through her ordeal amid fears she could be jailed
Tragedy struck at a riverside picnic for staff, parents and children, where the young girl vanished.
Witnesses have been giving evidence about her disappearance including the child’s mother, who testified on September 29.
Ms Ashtari claims to have been targeted by vengeful locals intent on destroying her work or extorting money.
She insists she has been wrongly accused and is the victim of corruption, which is endemic in parts of India.
The terrified traveller grew up and went to school in Exeter, Devon, before setting up the Prishan Foundation for orphans
Ms Ashtari, who was born in Iran, was inspired to help orphans after losing her own parents as a child
She has now issued a desperate plea to her old friends and colleagues in England to support her through her ordeal amid fears she could be jailed.
An online campaign has been launched calling on the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to intervene in her case, which has been rumbling on for two years.
Ms Ashtari fears she will not get a fair trial and is calling on people to support her by adding their names to an online petition.
She said she has been denied permission to leave the country until the legal action has concluded.
She said: ‘I feel betrayed – I have spent years in this area and we have made a huge difference – this is how I have been repaid.
‘There is only so much I can put up with – I feel like going somewhere else but this just seems to be dragging on. There have been just three hearings so far.’
Since a child disappeared at a picnic, feared drowned, Ms Ashtari has become embroiled in a criminal case and now faces a possible jail term if convicted
The 28-year-old, a former West Exe and Exeter College student, claims she has been wrongly accused and is the victim of corruption, which is endemic in parts of India
She said the British Embassy has not helped but an online petition has raised awareness of her cause, reminding people in India that she is not alone in her fight.
‘I grew up in Exeter and see myself as being as British as you can be.
‘Because of the childhood I had – losing my mother and father – I just wanted to give something back,’ she explained.
‘I travelled a lot and found myself here, a place where lots of people are in need.
‘We have done real work but there are lots of bad people here and they take advantage. When they see somebody from the outside they just see money.
The troubled charity worker is seen here in a selfie with a smiling young Indian girl
Ms Ashtari’s Prishan Foundation has built an orphanage for girls and a home for blind children in the eastern state of Odisha in India
‘At least I have a voice to speak to the outside world, something a lot of people here don’t have.
‘If this can happen to a British national like me I cannot imagine what can happen to them.’
She added: ‘I still have friends in Exeter who I grew up with who have always been in touch even though I have been all over the place.
‘If people sign my petition it really helps. People see names from around the world and think ‘she’s not alone’. All I ask is that I get a fair trial.’
Ms Ashtari first arrived in India in 2011 and began working with local non-governmental organisations to help children get a better education.
MailOnline has contacted the Foreign Office for comment.