Criminal acts by scores of self-proclaimed god-men in past puts Mutt seer in a tight spot

A Karnataka court has extended the judicial custody of Shivamurthy Sharanaru, a seer accused of raping schoolgirls. It remains to be seen if there is sufficient evidence against him to get convicted

Shivamurthy Sharanaru
Shivamurthy Sharanaru

Amarabati Bhattacharyya

On Monday, a Karnataka court extended the judicial custody of Shivamurthy Sharanaru, one of Karnataka's most influential seers belonging to the Lingayat community.

As fresh allegations surfaced against the seer, the court stated that he will remain in jail for at least another week.

Sharanaru, who heads the Murugha Math, one of the Lingayat seminaries located near Bengaluru, has been accused of sexual assault and rape by six minor schoolgirls. He was first jailed in September under the Protection of Children Against Sexual Offences (POCSO) when two minor girls accused him of sexual assault.

As per the latest allegations, he would offer spiked chocolates to the girls; it was also alleged that the Mutt hostel’s warden, Rashmi (26), is an accomplice to his crimes. 

“Warden Rashmi sent me to Swami's room through a backdoor. When I entered, I saw he was drinking. He offered me fruits, after eating them, I fell unconscious. When I regained consciousness, I had no clothes on me. He threatened me at knifepoint when I refused to cooperate,” claimed one of the victims.

The seer wields significant political and social influence over the region and is often shielded by the BJP – Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai and his predecessor BS Yediyurappa have both consistently remained silent on Sharanaru’s allegations.

Several sources also said that the Lingayat community, forming 17 percent of the state’s population, serves as a lucrative vote bank and therefore enjoys untethered impunity.

Sharanaru’s case, however, is the newest in a long line of allegations against such self-proclaimed god-men, referred to as swami, guru, baba, and several other misnomers.

Considering that these god-men often function under the protection of certain political parties, their crimes have either been quickly shoved under the carpet or punished briefly with no ‘real’ consequence.

One of the most striking cases was that of self-style guru Asaram Bapu who was sentenced to life-imprisonment for raping a teenager in 2018. Prior to being convicted, he exercised massive influence over his devotees, creating a large community of disciples who fawned over his journey from being a tea-seller to a guru.

Even after his conviction, his influence lingers over his two crore odd devotees – his followers are known to have threatened, attacked, and killed witnesses of his crimes. 

“Asaram Bapu’s case was exceptional because it shed light upon the myriad other cases where these so-called sadhus rape their own disciples. He had amassed millions of followers based on fake sermons. In reality, he is a criminal and there are countless such criminals who hide under the garb of godliness,” said Jinat Rehana Islam, who has been working for women’s rights in the rural areas of West Bengal over 10 years.

Rehana claimed that she has come across many young girls who have been abused at places of worship by pujaris and sadhus.

Similarly, the arrest of priest Robin Vadakkumchery in 2017 for allegedly raping a 16-year-old girl brought forth allegations of sexual misconduct in the catholic churches of Kerala.

In another prime example of impunity enjoyed by such individuals due to support from politicians, self-proclaimed godman and preacher Gurmeet Ram Rahim, who was sentenced to life-imprisonment in 2021, has been freed on parole and furlough from jail multiple times despite being convicted of rape and murder. He was freed on parole on October 15 this year, ahead of by-polls in Haryana.  

Other such cases include self-styled spiritual teacher Swami Amrita Chaitanya who was convicted in 2009 of raping two minor girls and producing pornographic films of underage girls; Sant Rampal, who had kept bodies of five women in his ashram in Haryana in 2018; Nithyananda Paramahamsa, who was convicted under several counts of rape, sexual assault and kidnapping and whose whereabouts are unknown to this day after he fled India in 2019; and Swami Bhimanand who was arrested for running a high-profile sex racket in 2010. 

Terming them as “con-men”, journalist Aditya Mukherjee says: “The spiritual gurus purvey deception and religiosity in the name of god. Before their arrest, Baba Ram Rahim and Asaram Bapu managed to pull the wool over their devotees’ eyes for decades. Both these popular spiritual gurus not only enjoyed massive political patronage but also commanded a huge following from the well-educated middle classes. When police raided their ashrams, they stumbled upon pieces of evidence that pointed toward sex and murder, which were reportedly enacted there. These godmen lived a life of dissipation and got away with so much dishonesty for as long as they did. It can be attributed to the thriving nexus between political power and religious establishments.”

The chargesheet filed against Shivamurthy Sharanaru states that he has been raping schoolgirls in Mutt since 2013 and he was arrested for the first time in September this year. 

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