Godmen Crimes: The Saint and The Sinner All in One
The number of godmen implicated in criminal offences is on a rapid rise. Former BJP Union Minister Swami Chinmayanand is the latest in the list of so-called godmen to attain notoriety. Like Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, Chinmayanand is a also politician and godman rolled into one. He has been accused of rape by a law student.
Being a BJP veteran, and wielding immense political clout, Chinmayanand evaded arrest for very long even though the victim had clearly mentioned his name in her complaint. Moreover, a few explicit videos of (a naked) Chinmayanand getting massages from the girl are doing the rounds on social media.
When he was finally arrested a few days ago, rape was not invoked in the FIR against him. After being sent to 14 days in judicial custody, Chinmayanand is currently getting VIP treatment for “cardiac problems” in one of Lucknow’s top hospitals. The BJP veteran filed a counter case for extortion against the 23-year-old law student in response and she was arrested on September 25 from UP’s Shahjahanpur.
Drunk on power, wielding immense political and financial clout, many godmen like Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, head of the Dera Sacha Sauda and Asaram Bapu indulged in crimes and exploited the very disciples that reposed faith and trust in them. They both are languishing behind bars now. While Asaram was convicted for raping a 16-year old, Ram Rahim had several charges of murder and rape against him. The several ashrams and matts in Ayodhya too are teeming with such criminal and fraudulent godmen.
Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, despite having several charges of murder, rape and conspiracy against him, continued to live unscathed in his ashram in Sirsa, with politicians of all hues paying him regular visits, till he was finally convicted in August 2017. This led to violent protests and the Union Territory of Chandigarh and Haryana were literally held to ransom with roads blocked by his followers.
A special CBI court in Panchkula held Ram Rahim guilty in rape cases dating back to 2002, when a female inmate at the Dera wrote an anonymous letter to then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee saying she was raped by the Dera chief. She also accused the godman of raping several other female followers on the Dera campus.
Taking suomotu cognizance of the sadhvi’s letter, the Punjab and Haryana High Court directed the CBI to register a sexual exploitation case against the Dera chief in 2002. Ironically, Ram Rahim enjoyed VVIP status and Z security provided by Haryana Police.
Asaram Bapu, the 78-year-old self-styled godman, is languishing in a Jodhpur jail, serving a life sentence. He was arrested for raping a 16-year old girl in 2013. In August 2018, he was sentenced to life until death. Asaram has been in jail ever since.
The so-called Kabir Panthi (followers of the teachings of Kabir ) ‘Sant’ Rampal , who had set up base in Haryana’s Rohtak, is another godman languishing behind bars. Convicted for the 2014 murder of four women and a child in 2018, Rampal is expected to spend the rest of his life in jail. The court ordained that what it is giving him is not just life sentence in the technical sense, which may end after 14 to 20 years, but the rest of his life. His supporters built a human wall around him leading to clashes and the deaths following the verdict. The former junior engineer in Haryana’s irrigation department had acquired quick riches through his brand of spirituality.
The criminal godmen phenomenon is not confined to North India. The case of Swami Nithyananda, who reportedly hails from Tamil Nadu but has set up base on the outskirts of Bangalore, is a case in point. The self-styled godman was in the eye of a storm in 2010 when Sun TV telecast a sex tape of him and his celebrity follower, actress Ranjitha. Both Nithyananda and Ranjitha asserted that the video was fake, but the Forensic Sciences Laboratory (FSL) in Bengaluru confirmed that it was indeed the duo.
Later, Nithyananda’s ex-driver Lenin Karuppan owned up to filming his ‘guru’ and Ranjitha clandestinely. Karuppan, who was a close aide of Nithyananda for many years, took the “extreme step” after he witnessed “many flings” of his guru, who he said was literally sleeping around with many women.
Following all these revelations, one of his followers accused Nithyananda of repeatedly raping her and threatening her with dire consequences if she approached anyone for help. On searching his ashram in Bengaluru, police found condoms and ganja from the compound. There were also allegations that some of his followers were forced into signing non-disclosure agreements to experiment with ‘tantric sex’. The legal proceedings in all these cases are proceeding at a snail’s pace. Trials have started after a hiatus of eight years in August 2018.
In the meantime, the Swami is back in business with pravachans (holy discourses). His pravachans have a special kind of notoriety on account of the pseudoscientific claims that form a regular feature. In one of his pravachans, Nithyananda had even gone to the extent of claiming that he would soon make cows, bulls, lions, tigers and monkeys speak in Tamil and Sanskrit. On another occasion, Nityananda said that Albert Einstein’s famous relativity formula, E=mc2, was false and instead gave a new explanation for it, which had nothing to do with energy and mass.This had led to widespread trolling of his explanation on the internet and social media. He had also claimed that he stopped the sun from rising for 40 minutes.“I asked the sun not to come out till I finish flag hoisting.” Hundreds including techies from India and abroad flock to these pravachans and lot many of them lustily cheer his pseudo-scientific outbursts. But more importantly, Nithyananda’s experience once again reiterates that rape charges and court cases are no bar for godmen to trade their wares .
The temple town of Ayodhya abounds with sadhus indulging in crimes of rape, murder and extortion. But owing to their spiritual garb, these godmen manage to go scot free. Such criminal activities have been going on in Ayodhya for decades and the police is privy to such activities. Police records of Faizabad district, of which Ayodhya is a part, show that nearly 350 sadhus (declared spiritual persons) have been booked for crimes like murder, rape, land-grabbing and dacoity over the past few years.
The records also show that a large number of the nearly 7,000 temples, ashrams and matts have become centres of crime. Sheetla Singh, editor of Janmorcha, the popular Hindi daily with its headquarters in Faizabad, told the Frontline that such was the clout of these criminal sant-mahants that the charges against them did not get framed in formal legal parameters. Thus there was no meaningful investigation in most cases and the cases did not reach the courts.