Karnataka Police on Monday (August 29) escorted Dr Shivamurthy Murugha Sharana, the chief pontiff of the Murugha mutt in Karnataka’s Chitradurga, back to his mutt along with heavy security, after the seer, accused of sexually assaulting girls studying in institutions run by the mutt, was reported to be attempting an escape in anticipation of an imminent arrest.
While the police are yet to confirm the arrest of the seer, Sharana’s legal team has termed earlier reports about his arrest as rumours, stating that the pontiff went out to attend an event organised by the mutt. His lawyer K Umesh said the seer has now returned to the mutt with police protection and his legal team is applying for a bail.
Speaking to devotees and the media on his return, the seer said he doesn’t believe in escapism and will respect the law of the land.
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He said that a conspiracy has been brewing against him for 15 years and now it is coming to a logical end. “We will find a solution to it soon. We have to understand the law of the land and give all support to implement it. No need to be afraid of anything,” he told devotees gathered at the mutt.
Intercepted at Maharashtra border: Police
Earlier in the morning, rumours about the seer’s alleged escape spread when he, accompanied by his personal assistant and driver was spotted travelling in his car near Bankapur toll gate near Dharwad.
Police said the seer first had several rounds of discussions with those involved in the filing of the case against him, but couldn’t reach an agreement with them. After that he was seen heading towards Maharashtra, but was stopped by police at the border and sent back to Chitradurga.
Security has been beefed up near the mutt, in view of the popularity of the seer in the north Karnataka region. With the Lingayat community having a greater say in matters of the mutt, Sharana is known among devotees for initiating progressive activities under the Basava philosophy.
While he has been booked under Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act POCSO), sources say, a counter case of sexual exploitation filed by the hostel warden against a former administrator may protect the seer from arrest for a while. The said administrator was sacked from the mutt management a few days ago. So, police have to look at all angles before taking any action, a legal expert said. Also the government will think cautiously before arresting a popular seer belonging to the Lingayat community, the expert added.
Responding to the matter on Sunday, Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai said that police have been given a free hand in the case and the truth will come out after investigation.
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Another case of kidnapping has been registered in Chitradurga. Both the cases are being investigated by police. Bommai said under these circumstances it is not right on his part to talk or comment on the case.
What is the case?
The POCSO case was filed on Friday in Mysuru city, 200 km from Chitradurga, based on the complaint by Odanadi, an NGO working for the rescue and rehabilitation of women and children who have been trafficked or sexually exploited.
Two girls studying in a school run by the mutt, had approached the NGO with their ordeal. Aged 15 and 16, they had alleged that they were sexually abused for more than three years during their stay in the hostel run by the mutt.
The NGO filed a complaint against the seer and four others after apprising the district children’s welfare committee which comes under the Women and Child Development Department, on the matter. The committee, after an inquiry, directed the Legal Commission Probation officer of the District Child Protection Unit to file an FIR with the police under the POCSO Act. Later the Nazarbad police registered the FIR and transferred the case to Chitradurga police as the incident took place in the school that comes under its jurisdiction.
The other accused are Rashmi, the warden of Akkamahadevi hostel located at Murugha Mutt in Chitradurga and junior pontiffs Basavadithya, Paramashivaiah and Gangadharaiah.
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According to the FIR, the hostel’s warden and the three others were complicit in the crime. The warden allegedly sent the girls to the seer along with fruits. The girls said they were asked to consume the fruits after which they fell unconscious and were sexually abused. They also suspected that other hostel inmates also faced sexual abuse on mutt premises.
Strangely, the hostel warden, one of the accused, has filed a separate complaint with the Chitradurga police against the mutt’s former administrator, SK Basavarajan and his wife and ex-president of Chitradurga Zilla Panchayat Soubhagha. The warden has accused the couple of kidnapping the girls and sexually harassing them. Based on the complaint, Basavarajan was dismissed from the mutt administration body on Friday, police said.
In the complaint, the warden alleged that the two minors went out of the hostel on July 24 after obtaining the gate pass, but were traced in Bengaluru the same day by the Cottonpet police. The matter was reported to Basavajaran. The warden alleged that both Basavajaran and his wife wrongfully confined the two students from July 25 morning to July 27 without informing their parents or hostel authorities. She also said that Basavarajan misbehaved with the girls on the pretext of inspecting the hostel, and threatened her when she objected to it.
An official said that internal politics of the mutt was the real reason behind these cases and the minor girls were merely being made scapegoats.
Clout of seer among Lingayats
The seer holds a powerful sway over devotees belonging to the Lingayat community, mostly for his progressive initiatives.
Immediately after his initiation as mutt mahant, he discarded age-old rituals practised in the mutt and those which were inconsistent with Basava philosophy. By switching over to active social service from simple religious ceremonies, he gave a progressive outlook to the mutt’s activities.
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He also set an example by renouncing the prefix “Jagadguru” and the suffix “ Swamiji”. He humbly asked people to call him “Sharana,” meaning “one who has submitted himself to God”. He also discontinued the practices where a seer sits on the silver throne or is carried in a holy palanquin on ceremonial occasions; and traditional abhishekam to the “Karthru Gaddhuge.” He also lifted the centuries-old ban on women from visiting the holy burial place of the founder of the Mutt Muruge Shantaveera Swamiji.