Gujarat police on Wednesday, 20 November, registered an FIR against self-styled Godman Nithyananda and arrested two of his followers, Sadhvi Pran Priyananda and Priyatatva Riddhi Kiran, after four minors were rescued from a flat in Ahmedabad. The kids alleged that they had been confined, tortured and forced into labour.
The rescue comes days after two minor children of a Bengaluru-based couple were rescued from a Ahmedabad flat after they accused Nithyananda and his followers of kidnapping and detaining their four children.
The couple has accused Nithyananda and two of his followers of kidnapping and wrongfully confining their four children – two minors, an 18-year-old and a 20-year-old.
On Thursday, 21 November, Central Board of Secondary Education wrote to the State Education Department seeking clarity on DPS Maninagar, Hirapur leasing out land to Nithyananda’s ashram in Ahmedabad. Ministry of External Affairs also said that they had received no information from Gujarat Police or MHA, like location and nationality details, in order to extradite him, if at all he is abroad.
Parents Fighting For Custody
The father and former disciple of Nithyananda Janardan Ramkrishna Sharma claims that his children were verbally and physically abused and received death threats at the ashram if they tried to contact their parents. The parents sought the children’s custody by moving a habeas corpus plea in the Gujarat High Court, following which the court issued a notice to the police and the ashram.
However, their two elder children, Ma Nithyananditha (Nanditha) and Ma Nithya Tattvapriya Ananda (Lopamudra) have uploaded a number of videos on social media, claiming that she and her siblings were being harassed by their parents, and that they had no desire to leave the Ahmedabad ashram and return to their parents’ home in Bengaluru. Police have registered a missing person case for Nanditha.
In a video, the eldest daughter Ma Nithya Tattvapriya Ananda, who claims to be in Trinidad and Tobago, said that her father had started blackmailing the organisation after it became allegedly known that he had been embezzling funds from it.
Speaking to The Quint, Janardan Sharma has said that his daughters’ testimonies were ‘fabricated’ and said that he was not willing to ‘divert’ the issue of his daughter’s rescue and indulge in this “cheap level of discussions”.
“How can anybody stop me from meeting? For 1.5 years I have not spoken to my elder daughter. All the calls and videos have started coming up only once I filed the case. They are suffering, they don’t want to be there. They are putting make up and pretending to be sanyasis.”Janardan Sharma
The father said that he had first enrolled his four children at the Nithyananda Gurukul in Bidadi in 2013 for which the annual fees was Rs 55,000 per student which was then increased to Rs 1 lakh per year.
“In 2016, on Nithyananda’s suggestion, I quit my job and joined the ashram as a volunteer. My entire family moved to the ashram and the kids were living in the students’ dorm. One year ago, the entire gurukul was shifted to Ahmedabad. Initially I was not aware. The students would travel frequently for ‘enriching activities’, which is to spread the word of the good work of the organisation and induct new members. Shouldn’t the parents be told that their kids are being moved across cities?” said the former vice president of a corporate firm.
Jagruti Pandya, Chairperson, Gujarat State Commission for Protection of Child Rights, where a complaint has been filed, said that investigation is underway and that “the children continue to stay at the ashram.”
‘Worst Organisation in the World’
Janardan said that he is no longer associated with the organisation.
“I came out because many things came to my knowledge, they said they will soil my character. Every month, 10-15 people are leaving. Why so many people are leaving?” he asked.
Janardan also claimed that had been in touch with Ma Nithyananditha over the last 3-4 months, and that she had begged her father to rescue her from the ashram.
“I have lost faith, trust in him (Nithyananda). The children have been brainwashed, but I came out. They are still brainwashed.”Janardan Sharma
What Do the Daughters Say?
Introducing herself as “princess and daughter of my cosmic father Swami Nithyanand”, 18-year-old Ma Nithyananditha claims that Nithyanand had provided spiritual and other kinds of support to her parents, funding several “open-heart surgeries” and bailing her father out when he was in financial distress. She also said that the person her mother was having an affair with had misbehaved with her, to which her parents had turned a deaf ear.
“This is something personal to me that I had not shared with anyone. Both my mum and Jagadish are in a relationship and that man once misbehaved with me. I told my parents about this and they turned a deaf ear and they ignored it. That’s when I started getting angry with their response,” she has said in her video testimonial.
She also said that while her father acknowledges the incident with said Jagadish in phone conversations; in writing, he feigns shock and ignorance of the issue.
“For the past six years, I should offer my complete gratitude, want to thank Swami Nithyananda and everyone else to bring me up to the person I am. Even when all this is happening, I am able to handle it ... without getting disturbed. I will continue doing this for my cosmic father, Swami ji,” she says in one of the videos shared on her page.
Her elder sister, Ma Nithya Tattvapriya Ananda, who is 20-years-old who and allegedly in Trinidad and Tobago, said that as adults, she and her sister legally have the right to choose to live how they wish. “I am mature enough to make decisions. I don’t need anybody else to dictate what I need to do. Indian Constitution is very clear that what the rights of a major are. Media and police trying to destroy the organisation. There is no logic behind this, there is no dharma,” she said.
Former Disciple Speaks Out
A former yogi and now ‘whistleblower’ Sarah Landry described how Nithyananda would torture the ashram’s inmates, in particular, children.
In a YouTube video, Landry describes how she first found out about young kids faking ‘power manifestation’ where they would display ‘miraculous powers’.
“A little girl told me that they were faking these powers. At first, I found it hard to believe. I was experiencing something that cult psychologists refer to as cognitive dissonance. That’s when we are given a piece of information so contradictory to the world view that we've been brainwashed to believe, we cant even process it, we feel like it is impossible to believe,” she said online.