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What Chinmayanand Rape Case Did to Shahjahanpur – And its People

Former BJP leader and ex-Union Minister Swami Chinmayanand has been acquitted in a sexual harassment case

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(This report was first published on 19 November 2019. It has been republished from The Quint’s archives after former BJP leader and ex-Union Minister Swami Chinmayanand was acquitted in a sexual harassment case.)

Last year, Swami Chinmayanand – a powerful swami and political leader – was accused of rape and intimidation. What followed was an endless power play with counter-allegations of extortion and blackmail.

But, at the heart of the controversy was a small town in Uttar Pradesh located between Lucknow and Bareilly – Shahjahanpur.

As the 23-year-old law student, who had accused the former Union Minister and BJP leader, turned hostile on Tuesday, 13 October, the following podcast has been reposted from The Quint’s archives, wherein the people told us what the case did to Shahjahanpur.

The Alleged Sexual Assault Case Involving Chinmayanand

The sexual assault case involving former Union minister and BJP leader Swami Chinmayanand grabbed headlines in August 2019 after the 23-year-old law student who had levelled the accusation went missing. The girl had come forward by posting a video on Facebook, alleging that a ‘sant samaj’ leader was threatening to kill her and that he has ruined the lives of many girls.

The complainant, eventually, was found in Rajasthan. And as the investigation progressed, she was arrested in a case of extortion five days after Chinmayanand’s arrest in September. What happened next made the case even murkier – the girl who accused Chinmayanand of rape was housed in the same jail as him.

Ironically, as the case garnered more and more national attention, Shahjahanpur, Chinmayanand’s stronghold, became quieter. And the eventual progress of this case left the town unable to decide whose side they were on, who they thought were in the right – the girl or Chinmayanand.

The Quint visited Shahjahanpur with the aim to understand the impact this case on the townsfolk, especially on its women. Most people we spoke to seemed to be gripped with fear, so much so that they hesitated to voice their opinions. The ones who spoke off the record, especially the young boys and girls, seemed to have a very clear idea of what ‘goes on inside’ Swami Chinmayanand’s Mumukshu Ashram. One even mentioned a racket which operates in the ashram. Most of the others dismissed the credibility of ‘such babas’.

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On 10 September, the case took another turn. Two videos went viral – one of a girl massaging Chinmayanand, and the other of three boys and a girl discussing, why it was “too soon to ask for money”. The boys were soon identified as Sanjay and Vikram from Shahjahanpur and Sachin from Ghaziabad. Sanjay and Vikram were studying in the same college as the complainant.

More questions were raised about the girl after the release of these videos – some alleging that the massage in the video “looked consensual”. Meanwhile, some wondered why she had waited a year before exposing Swami.

As per the special investigation team (SIT) formed after the Supreme Court’s order, Chinmayanand admitted to being present in the video where he is seen taking massage from the complainant. The complainant, on the other hand, admitted to being present in the alleged extortion video and planning to extort money from Chinmayanand with the three boys.

As of now, Chinmayanand, the complainant and the three boys in the viral video — Sachin, Vikram and Sanjay — are housed in the same jail in Shahjahanpur. The citizen of this small town, meanwhile, are left to wonder the looming questions...

Who is supposed to check the amount of power one person wields over a place? How does one ensure the power isn't misused? And, if it is, how does one speak out without fear of dire consequences?

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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