A Lingayat seer, and the chief of the Murugha Mutt in Chitradurga, who has been booked under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act for allegedly abusing minor girls, was detained by the Karnataka Police on Monday, 29 August.
Earlier on Sunday, 28 August, Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai said that an investigation is underway in the case involving the seer. Bommai said that the "truth will come out" from the probe.
However, the CM declined to make further comments regarding the allegations against the seer.
The Mysuru City Police filed an FIR against the chief seer of Chitradurga’s Murugha Mutt, Shivamurthy Murugha Sharanaru, under the POCSO Act and other sections of the Indian Penal Code for the alleged sexual abuse of high school girls.
Responding to a question, the CM said, "When there is an important case – a case has been booked under the POCSO Act and there is also a kidnapping case in Chitradurga – police have registered both the cases and the investigation is on."
"In such a situation, making comments or interpreting the case is not good for the investigation," Bommai added.
Speaking to reporters, Bommai added, "The police have complete freedom, they will investigate, and the truth will come out."
Part of Long-Drawn Consipracy, Claims Seer
Meanwhile, on Monday, 28 August, Sharanaru broke his silence over the issue, claiming it is part of a long-drawn conspiracy against him, indicating an inside job, and vowed to come out clean in the case of alleged sexual abuse of high school girls. He also said that he was law-abiding and would cooperate with the investigation.
The lawyer of the mutt has claimed that he had been with the pontiff till late last night. "I stayed with Swami ji yesterday till 11:30 pm. I've no information about him moving to an unknown place. He said that a false case has been filed against him, he said that devotees were visiting the mutt. He may have gone to seek legal advice," the lawyer was quoted as saying by news agency ANI.
"There is no legal framework for this case," he added.
Yediyurappa Calls Charge 'False', Another Leader Calls for Impartial Probe
Former Chief Minister and senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader BS Yediyurappa on Sunday said that the charges against the seer were false.
“It is a false charge. There is no truth in it and after the completion of the investigation, he will come out clean,” Yediyurappa said, The Indian Express reported.
On the other hand, BJP Rajya Sabha MP Lahar Singh Siroya said that the investigation against the seer must be impartial and thorough.
"The Karnataka government and all the political parties have to ensure that there are no pulls, pressures, politics, and interference in this case. The girls deserve nothing but justice," Siroya said in a press release.
He also said that if there is even "an iota of doubt" that the interests of justice would be served better if the case is transferred out of Karnataka, then that should be considered as well.
Meanwhile, Janata Dal (Secular) leader, and former chief minister, HD Kumaraswamy said that he was not surprised by the case against the mutt’s pontiff, adding that there were several discussions around the issue from about 5-6 months ago as well.
The Indian Express, quoting Kumaraswamy, said “This issue should have been taken care of at the initial stage and should not affect the religious fraternity.”
What Is the Case Against the Pontiff?
Chitradurga's Murugha Mutt is one of the most prominent monasteries in Karnataka, which runs over 150 spiritual and educational institutions.
The FIR has been registered against five people, including the seer and the warden of the monastery’s hostel, which is based on a complaint by a district child protection unit officer.
The girls had approached the ‘Odanadi Seva Samsthe,’ a non-governmental organisation based in Mysuru, and then narrated the abuse they went through under the guise of counselling. Subsequently, the NGO approached the authorities and the case was registered by the police.
Chitradurga Murugha Mutt Advisory Committee member NB Vishwanath said that the charges against the pontiff were “far from the truth.”
He further alleged that the mutt’s administrative officer, former MLA SK Basavarajan, was behind the charge.
A sexual harassment and kidnapping case has been registered in Chitradurga against Basavarajan based on a complaint from a woman, who is said to be a staff at the mutt.
Sharanaru addressed the devotees, his followers and media persons, who had gathered at the mutt premises, amid speculations regarding his whereabouts, alleged travel to an undisclosed place, and rumours of subsequent arrest or detention mid-way.
"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 will all face the situations together with courage, patience, and intelligence, and find a solution," the seer said.This is not the first time that the pontiff is facing such a situation as such conspiracies have been going on within the mutt for the last 15 years, he claimed."The conspiracies that were going on inside all these days are going on outside now. There will be a logical end to all issues, I need your cooperation in finding that logical end," he said.
'I Respect The Law of the Land'
Stating that he is a "Mathadeesha or a Peethadeesha" (pontiff of a seminary) who respects the law of the land and will extend all kind of cooperation, the pontiff said that there will be no "escapism" on his part. "There is no need for any speculations as I am firm in my thoughts," he said and requested the devotees tonot pay heed to any rumours.
Pointing out that the Murugha Mutt had long ago even functioned as a court to those who approached it for justice, he said, an "unhealthy situation" has come up now."I'm confident about coming out clean... there is no need for anyone to be impatient," he said, amid cheering devotees chanting slogans in his praise.
Without naming anyone, apparently the alleged conspirators, he remarked, "my salute to those who have been the cause for this fountain of goodwill that I'm seeing in favour of the Murugha seer and the math."
(With inputs from The Indian Express and PTI.)