Shivamurthy Sharanaru, the chief of the Muruga Math in Karnataka's Chitradurga and an influential Lingayat community leader, was arrested on Thursday, six days after an FIR was registered against him under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act. The News Minute reported that the police made the arrest late on Thursday, around 10 pm.
On Friday, Shivamurthy Sharanaru was brought to the Chitradurga district court in an ambulance and went into the court premises in a wheelchair. ANI reported that he was sent to four days in police custody.
Two girls who studied in a school run by the math have accused him of sexually assaulting them for years.
Here's what you need to know about the case:
Who is Shivamurthy Sharanaru?
He is the present chief or pontiff of the math. According to the website of the math, he was appointed as the chief in 1991 and was the successor of Mallikarjuna Murugharajendra. He was born in Karnataka's Godabanahal in 1958, and studied in the University of Mysore. His brother MG Doreswamy has also been accused in a sexual assault case in Karnataka.
According to the math website, 150 institutions run under the guidance of Shivamurthy Sharanaru.
What has he been accused of?
Two girls who studied in one of the institutions run by the math ran away from there and approached an NGO, accusing the religious leader of sexual assault. The News Minute report said that in statements recorded in front of a judicial magistrate court on August 30, the girls who are 15 and 16, said that Shivamurthy assaulted one them for over three years and one of them for over one year. Both of them were resident students of the institution.
The girls have also said that others in the hostel of the Murugha Math also knew about and abetted the crimes. PTI reported that the police registered an FIR against five people, one of whom was the warden of the hostel.
The New Indian Express reported that they have now been moved to the Morarji Desai Residential School and Government Girls Home Chitradurga to ensure their education was not hampered.
After the case was registered under POCSO, the seer had approached a court for anticipatory bail. Since one of the survivor belongs to the Dalit community, Shivamurthy was also charged under the SC/ST act.
In the aftermath of the FIR, he made public statements claiming that he was not guilty. "I'm confident about coming out clean... there is no need for anyone to be impatient," he was quoted by PTI as saying. He claimed that there were conspiracies against him and assured his followers that they had nothing to worry about.
"Many of you feel Murugha math's pain as yours and I am here for you with courage, there is no situation for any of you to worry. We all will face the situation together with courage, patience and intelligence, and find a solution," he was quoted as saying.
Protests for his arrest
While Shivamurthy claimed innocence, there were protests held in Karnataka, demanding his arrest. Dalit organisations in the state accused the police of inaction since he had not been arrested even after case was registered.
PTI quoted Ravi, district president of the 'Dalita Horata Sameeti', as saying, "If some common man is accused in a rape case, police wouldn't have let him out even for a single day, but because this swamiji is influential, he has still not been arrested. He should have been arrested immediately. No action is being taken against him, he is not even being questioned."
The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), meanwhile, took suo motu cognisance of the issue and wrote to the district superintendent of police asking for a report.
The Times of India reported that the child rights body has sought answers to nine questions and certain documents as well.
What political influence does the Lingayat community have?
The Lingayat community, to which Shivamurthy belongs, hold considerable political influence in the state. Several political leaders including chief minister Basavaraj Bommai and former chief minister BS Yediyurappa hail from the Lingayat community.
The community is said to be 17% of Karnataka's vote back. Multiple reports suggest that most political leaders have restrained from commenting on the issue. No criticism or condemnation came from the chief minister either. He said, "When there is an important case -- a case has been booked under POCSO Act and there is also a kidnapping case in Chitradurga—police have registered both the cases and investigation is on. In such a situation, making comments or interpreting the case is not good for investigation."
Yediyurappa even backed Shivamurthy claiming the allegations were false. The Indian Express quoted him as saying, "It is a false charge. There is no truth in it and after the completion of the investigation, he will come out clean."
The Congress too refrained from criticising him. According to India Today, state Congress president DK Sivakumar said, "Shivamurthy's public service earlier could not be discounted."
Rahul Gandhi had visited the Sri Jagadguru Murugharajendra Vidyapeetha earlier in August and received "deekshe" from the seer. DK Sivakumar was one of the people who had accompanied Gandhi.
Journalist was arrested for reporting on his brother
In 2021, a journalist was booked for reporting on a sexual assault case against the seer's brother MG Doreswamy. The News Minute in 2021 had reported that the journalist, G Mahantesh's, report had relevant documents to back it. But the cybercrime police registered an FIR against him on a complaint from the math.
Doreswamy is the CEO of the Sri Murugarajendra Mahavidyapeetha. He was accused by a 32-year-old woman lecturer of rape. Bangalore Mirror reported that Doreswamy's legal adviser N Gangadhar, secretary AJ Paramashivaiah, and the president of a local society, Jangamma, MT Mallikarjunaswamy were booked for criminal intimidation of the woman.
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