Analysis: Nithyananda Case

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Self-proclaimed godman Swami Nithyananda, booked in a criminal case identified with his ashram, has fled the nation, with the Gujarat police attempting to assemble solid proof against him in the wake of taking two of his pupils in remand.

An FIR was registered against the controversial guru on the charges of kidnapping and wrong confinement of children to make them collect donations from followers to run his ashram here, Yogini Sarvagyapeetham.

Two of Nithyananda’s devotees – distinguished as Pranpriyanand and Riddhi Kiran – were arrested on charges of assault, kidnapping, and unlawful confinement. A court in Ahmedabad sent them to five days in police custody.

Background of the case:

The Gujarat police said that they have moved to the immigration office with passport details of a teenager and her 21-year-old sister after their parents affirmed that the two were kept in “wrongful confinement” at so called godman Nithyananda’s ashram, authorities said.

Police authorities said they are attempting to find the sisters, Lopamudra Sharma, 21 and Nandhitha Janardhana, 18, daughters of Janardhana Sharma, a previous disciple of Nithyananda, so they could be produced under the watchful eye of the Gujarat High Court according to its request on a ”habeas corpus” petition.

It is told that parents were denied the permission to meet their daughters after the girls were shifted to Yogini Sarvagyapeetham in Ahmedabad from Bangalore, without the parent’s consent. While the parents were successful in freeing two of their four daughters enrolled in the Ashram, with the help of local police; they filed the ‘Habeas Corpus’ petition to save the other two.

The request has been recorded by the guardians who asserted their daughters were being illegally detained. A Division Bench of Justices S.R. Brahmbhatt and A.P. Thaker directed the police to consult Interpol and the Ministry of External Affairs, as well as other agencies, to find the two women, ensure their protection from any threat, and assure them that their independent will and choice would be respected by the judiciary.

Allegations against him:

Apart from the case of two missing women, another case of torture and wrongful confinement is being investigated after two of his disciples were arrested following a complaint by two children enrolled in his ashram. The children made a complaint that they were assaulted, confined and made to work illegally.

Acting on the complaint so filed, the police has arrested two of Nithyananda’s disciples, Pranpriya and Priyatatva, who are currently being questioned by the police. A complaint containing similar allegations has been filed by the parents of two other children who were previously rescued from the ashram.

Apart from the complaints of kidnapping and wrongful confinement, allegations of sexual assaults are nothing new for the Godman. While a video showing him in a compromising position with a Tamilian actress got viral in March, 2010, he was also accused of sexual assault by a previous follower in 2012, who claimed to have been raped multiple times between 2004 and 2009.

Legal Principles involved:

Nithyananda and his two devotees, have been booked under various sections of the Indian Penal Code along with Section 14 (forced labour) of the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986.

They have been have been booked under sections 365 (kidnapping or abducting with intent to secretly and wrongfully confine a person), 344 (wrongful confinement for ten or more days), 323 (voluntarily causing hurt), 504 (intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of peace), and 502 (sale of printed or engraved substance containing defamatory matter) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

Cardinal principle of criminal jurisprudence: Presumption of innocence

Presumption of innocence implies that a man must be considered innocent until proven guilty. While the case has been registered, the police is still finding it to hard to gather concrete evidence against the accused in this case. Also, as Nithyananda has fled the country and has not appeared for hearings in the Court, he shall be considered innocent till the time the charges against him are proven.

RV Ansari, SP Ahmedabad (Rural), has said that, “If required, we will go through proper channel to seek his custody from abroad. We will definitely arrest him if he comes back to India.”

Similar Instances in the Past:

Criminal case against self-proclaimed God-men like Nithyananda doesn’t comes as a surprise. History is replete with such examples; Criminal cases against Asaram Bapu is still fresh in our minds. He had cases ranging from land grabbing to murder filed against him.

He was awarded a life imprisonment sentence after he was proven to have raped a minor girl of around 16 years of age. He was also investigated in the case of death of two boys whose bodies were found near his ashram.

Next in line is Dera Sacha Sauda chief, Gurmeet Ram Rahim, who was held guilty in a rape case by a Special Court. He was accused to have raped the victim multiple times inside the Dera Campus in Haryana. Apart from the rape charges against him, he was also accused of being responsible for two different murders, in 2001 and 2002 respectively.

Another prominent name in the list is that of Sant Rampal, who was convicted of murder and awarded life imprisonment in two different murder cases, one in 2006 and the other in 2014. While these are few of the well-known names, the list of god-men turned criminals seems to be never ending.

Conclusion: A probable way forward

The self-styled God-men, use the shortcomings or issues existing in the different social establishments like marriage, family, religion, and so on; to their advantage, by saying that they’ll have the option to give prompt cures or perform supernatural occurrences to take care of the problems. The issue with the Indian society is that the greatest populace comes up short on a logical viewpoint and rational which makes them a simple prey to such problematic god men.

The best way to manage this issue is by creating awareness among the individuals on the most proficient method to separate between logical remedies and these shallow, superstitious cures. Likewise, it is critical to teach them about the genuine significance of spirituality and guide them to look for modern solutions for their issues.

–This article is brought to you in collaboration with Satvik Mishra from Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law, Patiala.

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