New Delhi: The Karnataka police, at around 10 pm on the night of Thursday, September 1, arrested Shivamurthy Murugha Sharanaru, the chief pontiff of Murugha Math, who was booked under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act for alleged sexual abuse of high school girls.
The seer was produced before the first additional district and sessions judge at her residence and subsequently sent to 14-day judicial custody. According to police, he is currently lodged in Chitradurga district prison.
A week prior, on August 26, Mysuru police had registered a first information report (FIR) against the influential seer on charges of rape (under Section 376 of the Indian Penal Code) as well as sections of the POCSO Act and the SC/ST Prevention of Artocities Act, since one of the alleged survivors belonged to the Dalit community.
In addition to the seer, four others were booked in the case, including the warden of the monastery’s hostel.
The two minors who accused the seer of the sexual assault had approached a non-governmental organisation in Mysuru and narrated the alleged abuse following which it contacted the Child Welfare Commission (CWC).
According to a report by the Indian Express, the case was filed by Chandrakumar C., a member of the Mysuru district child protection unit. After the case was registered, it was transferred to the Chitradurga police.
Dalit protests in Karnataka
Dalit organisations in Chitradurga had launched a protest on Tuesday against the police’s failure to arrest the seer immediately.
“If some common man is accused in a rape case, police wouldn’t have let him out even for a single day, but because this Swamiji is influential, he has still not been arrested. He should have been arrested immediately. No action is being taken against him, he is not even being questioned,” district president of ‘Dalita Horata Sameeti’, Ravi had said, according to news agency PTI.
The protestors had also threatened protests across the state if the seer was not brought into custody.
The Muragha Mutt is considered one of the most influential Lingayat seminaries in the state and several pontiffs of this and other subordinate mutts had come out in support of the seer, rubbishing the allegations.
Sharanaru, the accused, himself claimed that the allegations were part of a “conspiracy” to malign him. While he said that he would cooperate with the investigation, he had filed for anticipatory bail earlier on Thursday, but the matter was adjourned to Friday by the court.
On August 28, former Karnataka chief minister and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) member B.S. Yeddiyurappa had flatly denied the allegations against the pontiff, saying that the “truth will come out soon” and the investigation into the matter would prove the latter’s innocence.
“The investigations will also reveal people involved in framing the seer,” the News Minute had quoted him as saying.
The Muragha Mutt has electoral implications as well, especially since assembly elections in the state are due next year.
On August 3, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi had visited the Mutt and posted on Twitter that he had received “Ishtalinga Deekshe” (loosely, an initiation) from the now rape-accused Sharanaru.
It is an absolute honour to visit Sri Jagadguru Murugharajendra Vidyapeetha and receive the ‘Ishtalinga Deekshe’ from Dr. Sri Shivamurthy Murugha Sharanaru.
The teachings of Guru Basavanna are eternal and I am humbled to learn more about it from the Sharanaru of the Math. pic.twitter.com/5Dgj53roSp
— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) August 3, 2022
With PTI inputs.
Featured image: Muragha Mutt chief seer Shivamurthy Murugha Sharanaru. Photo: Twitter.