Karnataka’s Chitradurga police have begun an investigation into a Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act 2012 (POCSO) case registered against the chief pontiff of the Murugha Mutt, Dr Shivamurthy Murugha Sharanaru, along with four others.
The first information report (FIR) alleges the pontiff and four others allegedly sexually abused two high school girls. In his defence, the pontiff called the case a “big conspiracy against him and the truth will be revealed soon”. He further said that this was the handiwork of his adversaries who tend to resort to blackmail or ‘roll call’ as a method to gain power.
Earlier this month, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi had visited Murugha Mutt, considered one of the important religious centres for the Lingayat community, in Chitradurga.
While religious institutions like mutts are known to be involved in social work and other religious duties, they are also increasingly getting involved in the political sphere. Murugha Mutt is also known to be an influential institution with a long list of politicians who have marked their presence. The pontiff gave Gandhi the ‘Lingadeekshe’, which is an official ceremony inviting a person into the Lingayat sect.
SURVIVORS’ STATEMENTS BEING RECORDED
The FIR was originally lodged by the Mysuru police based on the complaint by city-based NGO, Odanadi Seva Samsthe, involved in the rescue and rehabilitation of POCSO survivors. The NGO had approached the Child Welfare Committee (CWC) after two girl students who were lodged at one of the hostels run by the mutt complained of being sexually exploited. The CWC, along with the NGO, filed an FIR alleging harassment by the pontiff and also naming a junior seer and the hostel warden.
Mysuru city deputy commissioner of police Pradeep Gunti said that after obtaining remission from a competent court, the case was transferred to their counterpart in Chitradurga for a thorough and detailed investigation.
A senior police officer close to the investigation told News18 on Sunday the ‘survivors’ have reached Chitradurga and their statements will once again be recorded in the presence of members of the CWC.
“Medical examinations will be conducted on Sunday. After considering the evidence, a decision to arrest the accused will be taken. As one of the survivors is a Dalit, we will also invoke provisions under the Prevention of Atrocities against SC/STs against the seer,” the officer said.
FIR SAYS GIRLS WERE ABUSED FOR OVER TWO YEARS
According to the FIR, it is alleged that the girls were sexually harassed between January 2019 and June 2022. One of the victims, in her statement to the CWC, said that she had to undergo the harassment for close to three years. Recounting their horrific experience, the girls after several rounds of counseling revealed that they would be asked to consume fruits or chocolates laced with medication before they were assaulted.
“We were directed towards the victims by an auto driver who knew about our work,” said Odanadi’s founder director Parashuram M L. “Hearing their agonizing story, we decided to produce them before the CWC,” he said.
Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai said that the “truth will come out in the probe”. He said that it was an important case and the allegations were serious.
“The police have complete freedom, they will investigate and the truth will come out. Making comments or interpreting the case is not good for investigation,” Bommai said.
THE PONTIFF’s VERSION
N B Vishwanath, legal counsel for Murugha Mutt and advisory committee member, said the accusations were baseless and it was being done by a few elements who were against the mutt. “Those people have brainwashed the girls and forced them to make this statement,” he said.