Mutt and the mud

In a spot In a spot: Sri Raghaveshwara Swami at the Kollur Mookambika Temple in Karnataka | Nikhilraj

Rape charges against swami divide the Havyaka Brahmin community in Karnataka

  • "He repeatedly assaulted me by creating fear in me. He would tell me I was the chosen one..." - Premalatha Divakar Shastri, Singer, who alleged that she was raped by the swami

Sri Raghaveshwara Swami shot to fame with his ‘save the cattle’ campaign, but who will save him now is the big question. Once the darling of the sangh parivar, the 39-year-old head of the Ramachandrapura Mutt in Hosanagara, Shimoga district, Karnataka, stands accused of raping two devotees.

He was chargesheeted by the Criminal Investigation Department on September 26 for allegedly raping 47-year-old singer Premalatha Divakar Shastri. A second complaint of similar nature was filed at the Girinagar police station last month by a 25-year-old yakshagana artiste, who alleged that she was raped by the swami in 2006, when she was an inmate of a hostel run by the mutt. In both the cases, the swami has been granted anticipatory bail, though the CID claimed that he did not submit himself to the three mandatory medicals tests done in rape cases.

The chargesheet comes more than a year after Premalatha’s daughter Anshumathi filed a rape complaint against him at the Banashankari police station in Bengaluru, after her parents were arrested by the Honnavara police in connection with a blackmail case filed by the swami on August 17, 2014. The swami had alleged that couple had threatened him with a rape case and demanded Rs.3 crore.

The CID, apparently, was under pressure to file a closure report and the slow progress of the case pointed to political pressure. After a lower court granted him bail, the case moved to the High Court, where five judges recused themselves from hearing the case.

With the sangh parivar distancing itself from the swami, the scandal is turning to be a huge embarrassment to the five-lakh-strong Havyaka Brahmin community, the followers of the mutt. Community insiders told THE WEEK that the swami had the backing of some senior Congress leaders who were eyeing the Havyaka votes, which is decisive in 14 assembly constituencies in the coastal districts. One of them, Haliyal in Uttara Kannada, is represented by Industries Minister R.V. Deshpande.

The swami, who succeeded Raghavendra Swamiji as head of the mutt in 1999, became popular after he led a nine-day Vishwa Gau Sammelan (World Cow Conference) in April 2007. The 108-day-long ‘Vishwa Mangala Gau Grama Yatra’ in 2009-10 from Kurukshetra to Nagpur, gathered eight crore signatures to demand protection of the cow, new laws to preserve Indian breeds of cows and to declare the cow as national animal. After the yatra, he was accompanied by Baba Ramdev, Sri Sri Ravishankar, the Shankaracharyas and the seer of Pejawar Mutt, when he led an 18-member delegation to meet the president of India. His ‘Mushti Bhikshe Yojana’, where devotees donate a fistful of rice daily to the mutt to feed the poor, and the monthly Ramakatha (a blend of discourse, music and dance) programmes made him popular among the masses.

However, the swami courted controversy. In 2008, he drew flak for taking over Gokarna’s Mahabaleshwara temple, which was transferred to his private trust by chief minister B.S. Yeddyurappa. More than once, the swami faced blackmailing threats over alleged sex scandals, and the people behind them were later arrested by the police.

The Havyaka community finds itself divided over the issue. One faction supports the swami claiming that the charges were part of the “larger conspiracy” against him and the community, while the other, an elder’s forum called Samana Manaska Havyaka Vedike, is rallying behind the victim’s family, which has strong ties with the RSS. The swami’s supporters suspect that the three visits of National Commission for Women chief Lalitha Kumaramangalam to the state in the last one year to “follow up” was at the behest of the sangh parivar.

In its 1,341-page report submitted to the first additional chief metropolitan magistrate’s court in Bengaluru, the CID has charged the swami under Section 376 (2) (f) of the IPC for raping a woman towards whom he was in a “position of authority, trust and a teacher”and Section 376(2) (n) for “repeatedly raping a woman” and Section 508 “for an act caused by inducing a person to believe that he will be rendered an object of the divine displeasure”.

According to the chargesheet, the victim, a Ramakatha singer, was part of the team that accompanied the swami on his tours. She was sexually abused several times, at more than ten different locations including his mutts in Karnataka, Mumbai, Jodhpur, Rishikesh and Kolkata, during 2011-2014. The first sexual assault was in Jodhpur in 2011 and the last one at the Girinagar branch of the mutt on June 27, 2014, says the chargesheet.

The victim’s statement made before a magistrate under Section 164 of the Criminal Procedure code, the forensic and DNA test reports of the accused and the victim (following traces of semen being found on the victim’s undergarments) and the mobile tower location details have provided corroborative evidence. The CID officers also considered the suicide case of Shyamprasad Shastri (Divakar Shastri’s brother), who, according to the family, shot himself in Puttur unable to bear mental torture by the swami’s aides in August 2014.

“The swami is influential and we fear for our lives,” Premalatha told THE WEEK. “He repeatedly assaulted me by creating fear in me. He would tell me I was the chosen one and should serve the gurupeetha and that if I disobeyed him, I would attract divine wrath.”

She admitted that as a mother of two grown-up daughters, she lived with the guilt of having betrayed her husband and family till the day she gathered the courage to speak out in July 2014. “One day, my sister-in-law who saw me suffer told me of Karma Siddhantha—that there is either good or bad, and nothing in between,” she said. “I decided to reveal everything to my family.”

A booklet brought out by the elders’ forum has it that the swami had agreed to step down after they held confidential meetings with him following Premalatha’s revelations. He had apparently agreed to relocate to the Himalayas. But on August 26, 2014, the Honnavara police picked up the Shastri couple for interrogation and they spent 23 days in custody. The daughter’s complaint on August 27, 2014, shocked the community, while the elders fighting to protect the reputation and sanctity of the mutt were left distraught.

The community is now hotly debating the various controversial rituals practised in the mutt, such as ‘Ekaantha Seve’ (private meetings with women) and ‘Kanya Sanskar’ (baptising young girls). The members are divided over the support to the swami. But there is no two opinion on the credibility damage.

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