Bhubaneswar: Self-styled godman Sarathi Baba, who had a huge following in coastal Odisha before being arrested on a battery of charges including sexual exploitation of women and misuse of religious institutions in 2015, was granted bail by Odisha High Court on Monday.
After Baba has been granted bail in the last of the three criminal cases, he is set to be released from Central Jail at Chowdwar on Thursday, said his counsel Manas Chand. Baba, whose real name is Santosh Raul, was lodged in the Central Jail for the last four years.
A Bench headed by Justice Sangram Kumar Sahoo of the High Court granted bail to the self-styled godman on conditions that he would not engage in any activity that would amount to influencing the witnesses in the cases against him. The Bench also restrained Baba from visiting his palatial ashram at Barimul in Kendrapara district.
The Lower Court in Kendrapara, where the trial in the three cases against Baba are on trial, can also impose any other condition to the bail if it felt necessary, the court ruled.
“Bail was granted in the Crime Branch police case number 20/2015 against a bail bond of Rs 2 lakh and the surety of two local bailers. Baba was lodged in jail since October 16, 2015 in connection with this case which pertains to a string of allegations levelled against him by a woman,” said Chand.
Claiming that she had worked for him for nearly 10 years and that Baba had taken some gold and cash from her with the promise to marry her, the woman had accused him of attempting to rape her, added the counsel.
A college dropout, Baba took to spiritual preaching in the mid-1990s and drew thousands of followers at his ashram at Barimul since 2010. Constant airing of his spiritual talks, often interspersed with his singing, on local television channels by way of advertisement helped swell his following.
Baba was arrested by Crime Branch on August 8, 2015 on the basis of complaints against him following media reports that he had spent time in the company of a young woman at a posh hotel in Hyderabad the previous month. Investigators had later found evidence that Baba had engaged in a string of immoral acts with his women followers and also accumulated huge wealth through illegal means.
Projecting himself as a modern incarnation of Lord Vishnu, Baba had allegedly indulged in sexual acts with his women devotees at his Barimul Ashram as part of a ritual he had formulated, which was called ‘supt seva’ or ‘secret service’. He allegedly engaged in these acts on a luxuriously built cot fitted with a wooden seven-hood snake and decorated with gold and silver ornaments.
The young woman who had spent a few days in the company of Baba in the Hyderabad hotel had also lodged an FIR later alleging that the self-styled godman and two women had threatened her with dire consequences if she disclosed to anyone her relations with him. This unmarried woman was then a final-year student of MBBS at a medical college in Odisha.