Bengaluru: Shivamurthy Murugha Sharanaru, an influential Lingayat seer in Karnataka, was detained Monday after he was booked in a sexual assault case involving minors.
Protests broke out in Karnataka's Chitradurga demanding strict action against the seer even as he maintained that there is no need to fear. The protesters alleged that despite medical tests being completed last evening, the police failed to take any action.
The seer was stopped by the Chitradurga police from Bankapura in Karnataka, while he was on his way to Maharashtra, his lawyer has claimed. Later, the Mysuru city police registered an FIR against the seer after a complaint was filed on behalf of two minors. He has been booked under sections of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act.
Two girls studying at a school run by the Lingayat mutt reached out to 'Odanadi Seva Samsthe', an NGO in Mysuru working for the rescue, rehabilitation, reintegration and empowerment of trafficked and sexually exploited women and children. After they narrated their ordeal, the NGO alerted the district children's welfare committee, following which a case was registered by the police.
An FIR was subsequently registered against five people, including the warden of the mutt's hostel, based on a complaint by an officer of the District Child Protection Unit.
According to the complaint, the girls, aged 15 and 16, who were staying at the hostel under the Mutt, were sexually abused for over three-and-a-half-years.
Earlier in the day, addressing the large crowd of devotees gathered at the Mutt, Shivamurthy said he was not going to run away and expressed confidence that he was going to be cleared of all charges. “This is not the first time we have faced problems. It has been happening for the last 15 years. Earlier, all these issues were fought internally, but now this matter has been raised outside the mutt. I request people not to fall for any rumours. We are giving all cooperation and I am sure I will come out of this,” he said.
“The mutt operates within the law. We created a community of students and we look after them. There is a way to look after them. People come to us with faith and we respect the law. No one is running away, we respect the law of the land,” he said, adding, “There is a logical end to things, we must separate fact from fiction.”
Senior Karnataka leader and BJP MP Lehar Singh Siroya demanded strict action against the seer. Calling it an extremely shocking and sad development, he said, “Each time something like this happens, it shakes our confidence in our own surroundings, and in our own people. As a society, we owe it to ourselves that these allegations are probed thoroughly and impartially. The Karnataka government and all political parties have to ensure that there are no pulls, pressures, politics and interference in this case. The girls deserve nothing but justice.”
Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai told reporters that the police have complete freedom to investigate the case. The "truth will come out", he added.
However, former CM BS Yediyurappa has denied the allegations of rape against Shivamurthy claiming that they are “completely false” and that it was a conspiracy against the prominent seer.
Shivakumar is an influential spiritual leader among the Lingayat community, and with Assembly elections just eight months away, leaders have been trying to woo the community. Last month, the seer was visited by Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, on whom he conferred the ‘Ishtalinga Deekshe.’