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Karnataka Lingayat Seer Arrested for Rape, But Mutts Will Retain Political Clout

Based on a complaint by NGO Odanadi Seva Samsthe, police have questioned a Lingayat seer of sexually abusing minors.

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Edited By :Ahamad Fuwad

Whenever there is a political crisis in Karnataka, mutts and seers of several religious organisations become active and often extend their support to leaders from different political parties.

In July 2021, several seers of the Lingayat community huddled together in a show of strength for their community man BS Yediyurappa who was on the verge of being dropped from the chief minister’s post.

Similarly, during Siddaramaiah’s 75th birthday celebrations, Rahul Gandhi and other senior leaders of the Congress visited the Lingayat seer of Murugha Mutt and took his blessings.

Today, when the tables have turned, with allegations of sexual harassment against Dr Shivamurthy Sharanaru, chief pontiff of Murugha Mutt, politicians of several parties in the state, have either remained silent or have extended their support to the seer, further cementing the fact that religious mutts in the state are extremely powerful, and can influence politicians and politics immensely.

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The Case Against Chief Pontiff of Murugha Mutt in Karnataka

Dr Shivamurthy Sharanaru has been arrested after being accused of sexually assaulting children, and a case has been filed under the Protection from Sexual Offences (POSCO) Act.

It is being alleged that the seer has been sexually abusing two high school girls, who were staying in the hostel which is run by the educational wing of the mutt.

As of now, an FIR has been filed in Mysore's Nazarbad Police Station, but the case has been transferred to Chitradurga, as the mutt comes under its jurisdiction.

Five people have been booked in the case – chief pontiff Shivamurthy Sharanaru, mutt follower Akkamahadevi Rashmi, hostel head Parashivaiah Basavaaditya, and lawyer Gangadharaiah.

The two alleged minor victims of Murugha mutt scandal were taken to a government hospital in Chitradurga for medical examination, which went on for more than four hours.

The police also recorded the statement of both the victims, who are accusing the seer of entering their private room under false pretext and harassing them sexually.

On 29 August, the police stopped the seer from going to Maharashtra near a highway in Karnataka's Haveri and conducted a round of questioning in the case. Hearing an anticipatory bail petition filed by Dr Shivamurthy Sharanaru, the district sessions court adjourned the matter to 1 September.

Meanwhile, seers of various religious mutts held a press conference in Chitradurga. According to a report published by ANI, one of the seers said, "Shivamurthy Murugha Swamiji will be acquitted of charges and will take the mutt to greater heights."

"Only Swami Ji (Shivamurthy Murugha Sharanaru) has the right to remove people from the Mutt, no one else can do so," added another seer.

The seers and heads of various mutts also said that they consider children equal to god and that the probe would bring out the truth.

Two days earlier, Dr Shivamurthy Sharanaru addressed his followers and devotees, where he said that there was no reason for them to worry.

Amid chants of support by the mutt's followers, he said, "With your support I will face the situation together with courage, patience and intelligence. I am confident that I will come out clean from the charges that has been framed against me."

The seer also claimed that this was not the first time that he was facing such difficulty and that such conspiracy has been making rounds in the mutt for the last 15 years.

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CM Bommai Silent, While Yediyurappa Extends Support to Accused Seer

When questioned about the case, chief minister Basavaraj Bommai declined to comment on the allegations against the seer. Instead, he said that it was not appropriate for him to speak about an ongoing case.

"A case has been booked under POCSO Act. Apart from this, there is also a kidnapping case registered in Chitradurga. The police are investigating both cases. It is not right for me to make comments or interpret the case. It is not good for the investigation. The police have full freedom and the probe is underway. Truth will come out."
Basavaraj Bommai, Chief Minister of Karnataka

Meanwhile, BS Yediyurappa, former chief minister of the state, spoke out in support of the seer, claiming he was innocent and that the charges against him were false.

Based on a complaint by NGO Odanadi Seva Samsthe, police have questioned a Lingayat seer of sexually abusing minors.

Former Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa, Home Minister Amit Shah and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi with accused Dr Shivamurthy Sharanaru, chief pontiff of Murugha Mutt in March 2018.

(Photo: Accessed by The Quint)

The veteran BJP leader and the most influential Lingayat politician in the state, Yediyurappa said, "There is no truth to this case. Let the investigation go on and the Swamiji will come out clean."

Karnataka BJP's top two leaders and their statements suggest a very indifferent response to the case. Reacting to the what the two BJP leaders said, women's rights activist Brinda Adige told The Quint, "The statements made by the two leaders clearly shows that they lack empathy and duty. Instead of backing the survivors and ensuring their safety, politicians are giving character certificates to the accused to ensure that their vote bank is intact."

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Why Are the Religious Mutts So Powerful in Karnataka?

According to several reports, it is estimated that mutts belonging to the Lingayats, Vokkaligas, Brahmins and also the Kurubas in Karnataka own assets and properties worth thousands of crores.

The seers of the mutts wield a lot of influence on their respective communities. For instance, the Lingayat community, which comprises roughly 17% of the state's population, would look at religious heads such as Dr Sharanaru, for guidance. This means that the heads of the mutts can change the way the community votes during elections.

In 2021, when the BJP's central leadership decided to make BS Yediyurappa part of the 'Margadarshak Mandal' and asked him to step down from the position of chief minister, Lingayat mutt leaders came together on a stage expressing their displeasure.

A delegation of Lingayat seers and other religious leaders, led by Sri Siddalinga Swami of Siddaganga Mutt in Tumkur, also met with Yediyurappa at his official residence then and urged him to complete his term as the chief minister.

But even as they are influential, the seers do not always come out in open support of a particular party.

Even Dr Sharanaru of Murugha Mutt, who is now being supported by Yediyurappa, did give his blessings to Rahul Gandhi as well during Siddaramiah's 75th birthday celebrations.

Rahul Gandhi was also initiated into Lingayatism and was given Lingadeeksha by the accused seer last month.

Based on a complaint by NGO Odanadi Seva Samsthe, police have questioned a Lingayat seer of sexually abusing minors.

Rahul Gandhi was initiated into the Lingayat sect by the seer of Muruga Mutt in Karnataka, during his visit to the state for Siddaramaiah's 75th birthday celebrations.

(Photo: Accessed by The Quint)

Speaking to The Quint about the role of mutts in state politics, Tyagaraj Sharma, a political analyst said, "Everybody (individuals and politicians) has to show respect to the seers of their communities. These seers also play a very major role in socio-political dynamics of the state and cannot be taken lightly. So, it becomes imperative for politicians to either remain silent or back them, until the allegations are proven to be true."

The Lingayat and Vokkaliga mutts gained influence in the mid 1980s, when the state government gave them permission, resources, and land to set up large scale educational institutions and hospitals.

"When it comes to elections, they (politicians) play the caste card and for the disciples, the words of seers is virtually the law. This is what makes the nexus between them very important. So, it is in this regard that the politicians can't afford to make an enemy of the seers," added political analyst Tyagaraj Sharma.

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Topics:  Sexual Harassment   KARNATAKA   POSCO Act 

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