Karnataka: Lingayat seer Shivamurthy Murugha Sharanaru, accused of sexual assault, arrested

The pontiff had applied for an anticipatory bail on Monday and on Thursday, the court adjourned the hearing till Friday

FP Staff September 02, 2022 00:03:22 IST
Karnataka: Lingayat seer Shivamurthy Murugha Sharanaru, accused of sexual assault, arrested

File image of Jagadguru Murugarajendra Vidyapeetha mutt seer Shivamurthy Murugha Sharanaru. ANI

New Delhi: Chitradurga police on Thursday arrested Jagadguru Murugarajendra Vidyapeetha mutt seer Shivamurthy Murugha Sharanaru for allegedly sexually abusing two high school girls. The seer was booked under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO) and arrested from his mutt.

The pontiff, who had applied for anticipatory bail on Monday, was additionally charged under the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act on Tuesday as one of the two victims was from the SC community.

The Second Additional District and Sessions Court had already issued notices to the Child Protection Unit seeking its objections to the bail plea under POCSO. The objections of the police (prosecution) to the bail plea on the back of the additional allegations under the Atrocities Act is also required now. The prosecution is expected to file their objections on Friday after which the court will take a decision on the bail petition.

“The chief pontiff of Sri Murugha Mutt, Shivamurthy Murugha Sharanaru, accused of sexually assaulting minors, arrested,” said Alok Kumar, Additional Director General of Police (ADGP), Law and Order, Karnataka.

What is the case

It is alleged that two girls, aged 15 and 16, studying in a school run by the mutt and residing in a hostel, also run by the monastery, were sexually abused between January 2019 and June 2022.

The police in Chitradurga had earlier this week produced the two victims for recording their statements under Section 164 of the Criminal Procedure Code(CrPC).

The case under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012, and Section 376 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) pertaining to rape was first registered on 26 August in Mysuru by a city-based NGO, Odanadi Seva Samsthe, involved in the rescue and rehabilitation of POCSO survivors, on behalf of the minor girls who left the mutt hostel in July. The case was later transferred to Chitradurga where the mutt is located.

Over the last three days, protests have intensified in Chitradurga calling for strict action and arrest of the seer.

Shivamurthy allegedly tried to flee to Dubai via Hubli two days ago. He was stopped at Haveri and forced to return to Chitradurga. He was carrying his passport and other documents, reports News18.

Who else are involved

Apart from the seer, a total of five people, including the warden, Rashmi, of the monastery’s hostel, are accused in the case.

Demand for justice

Protests erupted in Chitradurga on 29 August over police inaction in the case even after medical tests of the minor girls were completed. The protesters demanded strict action against Shivamurthy Murugha Sharanaru, who was back at the mutt. Activists approached the Karnataka governor demanding an impartial probe by a committee headed by a high court judge.

Meanwhile, a group of advocates wrote to the Registrar General of the Karnataka High Court claiming that the investigation against the accused seer “is not being carried out in an unbiased, free and fair manner.” “He(the seer) has not even been summoned for investigation or his medical examination conducted. These lacunas in the investigation show that there is already prejudice caused on part of the investigation,” the letter claimed.

“The accused herein being an influential person not even being summoned by the investigating officer, let alone being arrested is utterly shocking,” advocates Siddharth Bhupathi, Shreeram T Nayak, Ganesh Prasad B S, Ganesh V and Ponnanna K A said.

Alleging that the MLA of Chitradurga, Thippareddy has been visiting the seer regularly and has been extending his “hand of support” in favour of the accused, it said Home Minister Araga Jnanendra is issuing a press statement that an employee of the mutt was conspiring against the Swamiji.

“(This) clearly causes prejudice for the investigating authority in carrying out the investigation in a fair and free manner.”

Further pointing out that the swamiji held a press briefing claiming innocence, it said that since the seer has a large following across Karnataka his statements would cause prejudice.

‘Part of long-drawn conspiracy’

The seer has claimed that the allegations were part of a long-drawn conspiracy against him and indicated an inside job, and vowed to come out clean in the case. Murugha mutt advisory committee member NB Vishwanath alleged that the mutt’s administrative officer, SK Basavarajan, a former MLA, was behind the conspiracy, reports India Today.

‘I have no role to play, says Basavarajan’

Basavarajan and his wife were on Thursday granted bail by the first additional district and sessions judge’s court in Chitradurga in a case of sexual harassment and kidnapping that was registered against them on a complaint by a woman, who is said to be a staff at the mutt.

Basavarajan said the case against him and his wife was “completely false” and a “counter” to cases filed against the seer and four others as the pontiff’s followers in the mutt believe in his involvement and conspiracy behind the girls’ charges against the pontiff.

Breaking his silence for the first time, Basavarajan said everything will be known to everyone in the days to come, and if the children were right, they will get justice, reports PTI.

“I have no role in this case, there is no conspiracy on my part, I’m being intentionally accused. As the case is before the court, I don’t want to comment more.”

Speaking to reporters, he said everything will be known to everyone in the days to come.
He was responding to a query as to whether the charges against the seer were true and were there any irregular happenings in the mutt.

“I have given protection to those children, I have done my duty to an extent possible. When those children were at a police station in Bengaluru, my wife, son and I had gone there in the night and brought them back by giving in writing, and handed them over to their parents…if the children are true they will get justice, if not they will not,” Basavarajan added.

Why are politicians tiptoeing around the issue

The developments come ahead the Assembly elections, slated to be held next year, hence neither the Karnataka government nor the Opposition parties are able to take a public stand on the Lingayat seer, fearing repercussions. Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai has said that the police will have freedom to investigate the case and the truth will come out.

The Murugha Mutt is known to be an influential institution with a long list of politicians visiting regularly. Earlier this month, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi visited Murugha Mutt along with party leaders DK Shivakumar and KC Venugopal. The pontiff also gave Gandhi the ‘Lingadeekshe’, which is an official ceremony inviting a person into the Lingayat sect.

Speaking about it, Lahar Singh Siroya, BJP Rajya Sabha MP, said, “This is an extremely shocking and sad development. Each time something like this happens it shakes our confidence in our own surroundings, and in our own people. As a society, we owe it to ourselves that these allegations are probed thoroughly and impartially. The Karnataka government and all political parties have to ensure that there are no pulls, pressures, politics and interference in this case. The girls deserve nothing but justice.”

“If there is even an iota of doubt that interests of justice will be served better if this case is transferred outside Karnataka, then that too should be considered. In this case, not only do perceptions matter but restoring confidence in the health of our society is important. All of us have a crucial role to play in that respect,” the MP added.

Karnataka minister V Somanna on Monday said, “Let the police investigate the case and let the truth come out. It is not appropriate to speak about the case as an investigation is underway,” Somanna said.

With input from agencies

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