Bengaluru: Is the long arm of the law finally within clasping reach of self-proclaimed godman Nithyananda after the Karnataka High Court cancelled his bail last week?
It would seem so, considering that the high court has been rather caustic in how he has made a mockery of the criminal justice system. But the order also doesn't mean that he would immediately appear before the courts, considering the trial in the case against him has been stayed by another bench of the high court. That bench is hearing a petition to get his trial transferred from Bangalore rural to Bangalore City citing inordinate and unwarranted delays in the trial proceedings.
Both petitions - the one to cancel his bail and the one to transfer the trial - have been filed by the original complainant Lenin Karuppan.
The good news though, is that the second petition is also nearing conclusion, as all arguments have been completed and it is reserved for a verdict.
Whatever the outcome, whether to transfer the trial or not, Nithyananda aka A Rajashekaran, who is suspected to have fled the country by foul means, will have to appear before the trial court once it resumes. And if he doesn’t, it would lead to a non-bailable warrant and subsequently a Red Corner notice to bring him back from whichever part of the world he is in.
Nithyananda is facing trial in rape charges against him since 2010. Though the trial began only in 2018. He has been charged under IPC sections 376 (Rape), 377 (Unnatural offences), 120 B (criminal conspiracy), 295 A (Deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs), 420 (Cheating) among others.
More recently, two months back, he also faced charges of kidnapping in Ahmedabad.
In his judgement, Justice John Michael Cunha, states, "The purpose of the bail is to ensure that the accused person will return for trial if he is released after arrest. If this purpose is defeated by the accused by keeping himself away from the court with impunity and disdain and his whereabouts are not known and the prosecution is unable to reach the accused, it would be a sheer mockery of criminal justice system to allow the accused to be at large with the hope that he would one day return to face trial."
The judge further states, "I do not think that the courts are so helpless and the arms of law is so weak that it has to sacrifice the interest of justice so as to secure the liberty of an undeserving under trial."
The strongly worded order reads,"The accused has successfully hoodwinked and misled the court to believe that he was engaged in propagation of Hindu religion, but the fact that he is unavailable in India and his whereabouts not known shows that he has misused the liberties granted to him and has run away to a foreign country to escape trial."
Thus, cancelling the bail granted, the court also forfeited the bail bonds that were executed.
After spending 52 days in the central prison, Nithyananda had approached the Karnataka High Court appealing for bail, which was granted on certain conditions. However, for the past 50-odd hearings, the self-styled godman submitted exemptions from appearing personally in the court and was last seen at the trail court on June 5, 2018.
While the prosecution submitted to the court that it wasn't necessary that Nithyananda personally appeares in court at this stage of the trial, police sources say that a trial without the presence of the accused is 'quite impossible'.
A lot will now depend on the pending order in the transfer case as it will give an indication of whether the trial will continue in the lower court that granted exemptions to Nithyananda in the first place. Whenever the trial resumes, fresh warrants to arrest the godman will come into effect.
One can assume that anytime between the next 15 days to a month, Nithyanada would be expected to appear in court. However, on failing to do so, the investigating agency can request Interpol for a Red Corner Notice against Nithyananda.
On January 22, based on the request of Gujarat Police, which is overseeing another case of kidnap and criminal intimidation against Nithyananda, an Interpol Blue Corner notice was issued. According to CBI, a Blue Corner notice is an "enquiry notice and may be issued in order to have someone’s identity verified. It can be used to locate someone who is missing or is an identified or unidentified international criminal".
It was in early December last year that reports of the godman having bought an island around Ecuador surfaced. The island name 'Kailaasa' already has a flag, passports, emblem and a national animal. The Ecuadorian government, however, denied that it had granted asylum to Nithyananda and also denied his request for international personal protection (refuge) sought by him. It is believed that Nithyananda then travelled to one of the two Caribbean countries - Belize or Haiti.
Responding to the latest summons that were issued on January 31, one of his aides, Kumari Achalanada, told the police that Nithyananda wasn’t present at his ashram - the Nithyananda Peetham in Bidadi - and that his whereabouts were unknown. The prosecution in its affidavit to the court said that they were given to believe that the fugitive godman was on a ‘spiritual tour’.