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Controversial godman Nithyananda
Controversial godman Nithyananda|Photo credit: Nithyananda.org
Karnataka

Nithyananda’s Dance With The Law

Having been arrested twice in the past, the godman has perfected the disappearing act; but has his time now come?

Ashwini YS

Ashwini YS

He has been on the run before, playing side and seek with the Indian authorities for over a decade now.

But will the law ever be able to catch up with fugitive godman Nithyananada aka A Rajashekaran, who has fled the country following serious charges including rape, sodomy, torture, child abuse and financial fraud?

Given the police laxity so far into the long drawn case, coupled with the complexity of the judicial system, chances of securing and penalising the rich and influential godman immediately are slim; but not impossible.

While the Karnataka High Court recently cancelled the bail granted to Nithyananda, the founder of the religious organisation Nithyananda Dhyanapeetam in the 2010 rape case, the Interpol has issued a Blue Corner notice to help locate him. The High Court has directed the district court in Ramanagara to take him into custody and initiate the process of forfeiting the surety and bonds.

The next trial court hearing has been scheduled to be held on March 03. However, proceedings of this trial court hangs in the balance, as it is tied to a related case which is being heard by a different bench in the High Court.

Raising objections to the procedure adopted by the lower court and the exemption granted to Nithyananda, whistleblower Lenin Karuppan, the original complainant in the rape case, had moved the High Court seeking transfer of the case from Ramanagara to Bengaluru.

Lenin, who was at one time one of the closest inner circle disciples and the driver of Nithyananda, had contended that the trial court has repeatedly allowed the exemption petition filed by the latter, but had warned of initiating contempt proceedings against him. Nithyananda has skipped the last 43 hearings of the district court. Justice G Narendar, who is hearing the transfer petition, has stayed the proceedings.

According to a source, until orders are passed in the transfer petition, proceedings in the trial court will not take place. “The transfer petition has been reserved for orders. No proceedings will take place in the trial court, until the transfer petition order is passed. If the court orders the transfer petition, then the proceedings will be transferred to the trial court. If not, the question arises as to where the proceedings of the rape case will take place. Also, Nithyananda’s appearance before the courts is unlikely. He has used vile means to escape the trial,” the source added.

Delaying Court Proceedings

Nithyananda, who has been arrested twice and has secured bail from the High Court, has successfully delayed the proceedings of the trial from the start. He has been absconding from the country from the latter part of 2018. The self-styled godman, who has a thriving religious career, is said to be in Latin America, where he has created his own nation Kailaasa (according to his website).

The Karnataka High Court had on February 05 cancelled the bail granted to Nithyananda in June 2010. Justice John Michael D’Cunha, who had passed the order while allowing a petition filed by Lenin, has directed the Third Additional District & Sessions Judge, Ramanagara, to take Nithyananda into custody.

Lenin had petitioned the Court to cancel the bail granted to Nithyananda, as he had fled the country on an expired passport to skip the trial by making false representations in his exemption petitions to the trial court in Ramanagara.

Justice D’Cunha happens to be the same judge who had sent former Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa to jail. He had convicted Jayalalithaa along with her close associates VK Sasikala, VN Sudhakaran and Elavarasi for possessing assets disproportionate to their known sources of income in September 2014.

It will be an interesting development if the judge will again be instrumental in jailing another prominent Tamilian. Nithyananda, who is known for his pseudoscientific claims, hails from Tiruvannamalai in Tamil Nadu. Speculations are rife that his failure to appear before the court would lead to a non-bailable warrant and subsequently the issue of a Red Corner notice, a global arrest warrant.

Justice D’Cunha had cancelled Nithyananda’s bail two days before the Karnataka police told the Court that it was unable to send a notice to Nithyananda asking him to appear before the Court, as he was on a “spiritual tour”. Karnataka’s miserable claim came after the Ministry of External Affairs stated that it had cancelled the godman’s passport, and the Interpol issued a Blue Corner Notice against him. Lenin’s counsel had argued that Nithyananda was in Ecuador and was in possession of a second passport.

The Court had on January 31 directed the police to serve the notice to Nithyananda and the police had served the same to his disciple Ma Achalananda, a sanyasin attached to Nithyananda Dhyanapeetam, Bidadi, as he was not to be found in the ashram.

Justice D’Cunha in his judgement has said that the purpose of the bail was to ensure that Nithyananda would return for trial. He had said that it was a sheer mockery of the criminal justice system if the godman kept away from the country with impunity, while his whereabouts were unknown to the prosecution.

“The accused has successfully hoodwinked and misled the Court to believe that he is engaged in propagation of Hindu religion. But the fact and circumstances discharged clearly indicate that he is not available in India and his whereabouts are not known either to the prosecution or to the persons close to him. Under the said circumstances this being overwhelming material to show that A-1 has misused the liberties granted to him and has run away to a foreign country to escape the trial,” reads the statement of the order passed by the judge.

The Sex Tape

Nithyananda has been in the controversy ever since a purported video footage showing him in a compromising position with a Tamil actor, also his disciple, was leaked. Television channels had splashed the video footage and Lenin had owned up to filming the duo clandestinely.

The case was first registered by the City Crime Branch, Chennai on 04 March 2010, for the offences punishable under Sections 295-A (deliberate acts intended to outrage religious sentiments), 376 (rape), 377 (unnatural offences), 420 (cheating), 506 (criminal intimidation) and 120-B (criminal conspiracy) of IPC. The case was later transferred to Karnataka with the Bidadi police, Ramanagara registering a criminal petition against Nithyananda on 18 March 2010. The Bidadi police had also registered another case on transfer of FIR in CCB crime registered by IOS Park Police Station, Coimbatore for an offense punishable under Sections 295-A and 420 IPC.

Lenin along with another disciple Vidya Kumar (name changed to protect identity), who had also alleged rape by Nithyananda, had secretly filmed the video, which led to the police investigation against the godman.

Lenin had said that he had had lost faith in Nithyananda after learning that the latter had been sleeping with his disciples, hurting religious sentiments. A BBA graduate, Lenin had become Nithyananda’s follower after listening to his preaching. He joined the ashram in Bengaluru in 2006.

In his original complaint, Lenin had said that there were many restrictions in the ashram as the followers were not allowed to watch TV, read newspapers or even use their mobile phones. He said that Nithyananda was collecting a membership fee ranging from Rs 1000 to Rs 4 lakh from his disciples who were largely young professionals and foreigners. Lenin had charged that Nithyananda was sexually involved with many disciples, both men and women. He had said that a disciple, Vimalananda Swami had told him that Nithyananda had sodomised him. Another disciple Nithyananda Gopika had informed him that Nithyananda had allegedly physically and mentally tortured her to “fulfil his desire”.

Lenin had accused that Nithyananda had claimed that he was an incarnation of Lord Shiva, Vishnu, Brahma and Krishna, and had indulged in acts unbecoming of a ‘sanyasi’ or a ‘guru’ (which are punishable under Section 295-A of IPC).

To expose Nithyananda, he said that he had installed a camera in the former’s private chambers and later released the recordings. Both Nithyananda and the actor had however disassociated themselves from the video, accusing it of having been fabricated. They had claimed that the images in the video footage had been morphed and that he was involved in any wrongdoing.

But later Forensic Sciences Laboratory in Bengaluru had confirmed that it was indeed Nithyananda and the actor in the video. In 2012, Nithyananda had refuted this by claiming that four independent US based experts had analysed the video and had concluded that the same was morphed. In 2017, the central forensic lab had seconded the Bengaluru FSL’s findings.

When the Karnataka police took up the matter for investigation and raided his ashram in Bidadi, Nithyananda, charging that there was a conspiracy against him, had resigned as the head of the Dhyanapeetam saying that he would lead a life of spiritual seclusion for an indefinite time.

He had subsequently made himself scarce after the Karnataka High Court had rejected his plea for anticipatory bail and quashing of criminal cases against him. He had been on the run for over a month since 23 March 2010. He, along with his four associates, was however nabbed by CID sleuths from Karnataka and Himachal Pradesh police at Bikrampur, Solan district in Himachal Pradesh on April 21, 2010 and brought to Bengaluru on 23 April 2010.

The cops had seized Rs 3 lakh and USD 7000 in cash, laptops, video cameras, cell phones and five SIM cards from the house where he was holed up.

In June 2010, after 52 days in Ramanagara district jail, Nithyananda had walked out on bail, which was granted to him on certain conditions by the Karnataka High Court.

The Court had observed that Nithyananda did not attract punishment under Section 376 of IPC (rape), as the allegations were not supported in the complaint. It noted that the complainant (Lenin) had merely accused the Tamil actor of living and traveling together with Nithyananda, which did not amount to rape. Also, since she had not made a complaint, it was difficult to ascertain whether the rape allegations were true or not, the Court had held.

The Court had however allowed the Bidadi police to interrogate Nithyananda for charges levied against him under Sections 295-A and 420. It had granted him bail on a personal bond of Rs 1 lakh and two sureties of equal amount and asked him not to leave the country till the investigations were complete. He was also supposed to mark his attendance once in 15 days before the jurisdictional police. The Court had also ordered him not to conduct any religious preaching or classes, except performing yoga till the investigations were complete. Another condition was that the accused would not tamper with the prosecution witnesses or material evidence.

The trial proceedings in the Ramanagara district court did not begin until August 2018 as Nithyananda had moved the higher courts delaying the proceedings. Trial had begun only after the Supreme Court intervened and directed the lower court to dispose the matter expeditiously. The Court had directed Nithyananda to undergo potency test and give blood and voice samples for the investigation. Nithyananda, who had contended that he was impotent, had later changed his stance by stating that he had consensual sex with his disciple.

The proceedings in the trial court had begun on June 6, 2018, but following Nithyananda’s failure to appear before the court, it had issued a non-bailable warrant against him. His counsel had claimed that he was in Varanasi performing the Chaturmasa Parikrama ritual.

The warrant issued by the trial court was however quashed by the Karnataka High Court in January 2019, following the petition filed by Nithyananda seeking stay in the trial court proceedings.

Nithyananda has been skipping court since mid-2018. While exempting Nithyananda from appearing for the proceedings, the court has instead insisted on Lenin deposing before it. He was warned of contempt proceedings if he failed to do so.

Lenin subsequently filed a petition before the High Court seeking transfer of the trial from Ramanagara to Bengaluru. The matter is being heard by Justice Narendar, who has sought information from the Karnataka government about the whereabouts of Nithyananda.

More Charges

Between 2010 and 2018, Nithyananda had faced several other charges and had even spent a day in jail for the second time. In June 2012, exactly two years after his first arrest, he was arrested again for manhandling media persons at his Bidadi ashram and was sent to the Mysuru prison. At that time, Vidya Kumar had levelled rape allegations against him. She had claimed that she had been sexually assaulted by Nithyananda for a period of five years, and that it was she who had secretly filmed the godman’s sex tapes in 2010. Other disciples too have made rape allegations against Nithyananda.

Meanwhile, the Tamil actor, who had vehemently denied her presence in the sex tape, had filed a defamation case complaint against Lenin and Kumar the same year as the release of the sex tape. She had also made a surprise reappearance three years later by taking a vow to lead a pious life in the same Bidadi ashram, where the sex tape was shot.

On 27 December 2013, the actor had taken the vow to mark Nithyananda’s 37th birthday celebrations and had changed her name to Ma Anandamayi.

Gujarat Case

Nithyananada is also wanted by the Gujarat police. The police here is on the lookout for Nithyananda for the alleged kidnapping and illegal detention of minors in Ahmedabad. Following complaints, two prominent women inmates Pranpriya and Priyatatva of the Gujarat ashram were arrested and later released on bail.

Incidentally, the Interpol had issued a Blue Corner notice against Nithyananda on January 22 at the behest of the Gujarat police.

Republic Of Kailaasa

In December 2019 it was revealed that Nithyananda has set up his own nation, ‘Republic of Kailaasa’ (to propagate the Kailaasa movement) after purchasing an island from the government of Ecuador in South America (near Trinidad and Tobago). He is believed to have fled here in 2018 on an expired passport. His passport, which expired in September 2018, has not been renewed on legal grounds.

Entry into this “World’s greatest and purest Hindu nation” for his devotees and those committed to his cause, is apparently subject to the approval of the “Prime Minister” and the “Cabinet”. The nation, which is yet to be recognised by any other country, has a flag (Rishabha Dhvaja), emblem, national bird (Sharabam), animal (scared bull Nandi), flower (lotus) and tree (banyan). The nation, which is said to work towards “reviving the Sanatana Hindu Dharma”, has three official languages, English, Sanskrit and Tamil.

Citizens will be given a Kailaasa passport. Visit kailaasa.org for more details.

‘Nobody Can Touch Me’

While concerted efforts are being made to locate and apprehend Nithyananda, the godman in a video which became viral in November 2019, has claimed that he is immortal and that he cannot be prosecuted. “Now nobody can touch me, I can tell you the truth, I am Parama Shiva. Understand? No stupid court can prosecute me for revealing the truth. I am Parama Shiva,” he is heard claiming in the video.

Speaking to The Lede, political analyst and commentator, Sumanth C Raman said that the Indian public had the right to know the whereabouts of Nithyananda and also measures being taken by the authorities to bring him to justice.

"Do the authorities even know where he is? If so, what steps are being taken to bring him back and being him to justice? He faces multiple charges in India, which are far graver than the ones faced by the likes of Vijay Mallya and Nirav Modi. They (Mallya and Modi) are charged with economic offences, while Nithyananda has been charged of rape. The authorities need to let the public know what steps are being taken to bring him to justice. And the sooner they do it, the better," he said.

Raman also said that though there were media reports about him being in Ecuador, in addition to Nithyananda's self proclamation that he had established his own kingdom abroad, the authorities however were giving contradictory versions about his whereabouts.

Will the long arm of the law ever catch up to him?

This drama is just beginning.