I am Krishna and you are my Gopika," sounds like an appalling pickup line, but if the Karnataka police are to be believed, it was frequently employed by 33-year-old Swami Nithyananda or Paramahamsa Nithyananda of the Nithyananda Dhyanapeetam at Bidadi, Karnataka, to seduce his female devotees.
The 430-page chargesheet filed by the Karnataka CID on November 27 against Nithyananda was prompted by the complaint of a young lady (whose name and identity has been withheld by the CID as part of the witness protection programme) accusing the swami of sexual abuse at the Bidadi Ashram, 37 km from Bangalore, and in other locations. Her complaint says Nithyananda insisted on "seeking moksha through sexual union" with several female devotees by claiming to be incarnations of various gods. The swami made them sign non-disclosure agreements (NDA) forbidding them to reveal sexual details. The signed NDA (in the possession of INDIA TODAY) states that "the volunteer understands that the programme may involve the learning and practice of ancient tantric secrets associated with male and female ecstasy, including the use of sexual energy for increased intimacy/spiritual connection, pleasure, harmony and freedom. Volunteer understands that these activities could be physically and mentally challenging and may involve nudity, access to visual images, graphic visual depictions and descriptions of nudity and sexual activity, close proximity and intimacy, verbal and written descriptions and audio sounds of a sexually oriented and erotic nature."
The agreement also absolves the ashram of any wrongdoing with an additional clause in the NDA: "By reading and signing this document, volunteer irrevocably acknowledges that he/she is voluntarily giving unconditional acceptance of such activities and discharges the leader and the foundation, and anyone else not specifically mentioned here but directly or indirectly involved in the organisation, management or conduct of any such programmes from any liability, direct or indirect, arising from such activities." A further sentence states that the "volunteer also affirms that he/she does not find sexual or adult-oriented material associated with the practice of any tantric rituals or any other adult material to be offensive or objectionable."
DIG Charan Reddy of the CID says no court would admit an agreement like this, "full of illegalities, but we are quite sure that by the time the victims signed it, they had already been exploited or brainwashed with not much of a chance to protest." The cops claim to have snagged video clips showing the godman in compromising positions with at least five women-a charge the ashram scoffs at. "It's difficult to put a number to his victims, but I would guess not less than 15," says Reddy. After the chargesheet was filed, summons on the case number 204/2010 in Ramanagaram court were issued to Nithyananda, his aides Sachitananda and Sadhananda aka Ayya, the man in charge of the ashram's Tamil Nadu operations. Summons have been also issued to Ma Sachidhanantha aka Ragini who runs the Hyderabad branch of the ashram.
The police have seized documents, videos and other incriminating objects from the Bidadi ashram to be produced as evidence in court. The Dhyanapeetam, however, insists that investigating officers have only taken hard drives pertaining to the ashram's publications department, which contain no incriminating evidence.
The sex sanyasi gained instant notoriety in March 2010 when Sun TV aired a tape of him allegedly cavorting with Tamil starlet Ranjitha. His ashram was set on fire by protesters and the godman, accompanied by Sachitananda and Bhaktananda, fled to Solan, Himachal Pradesh. They were arrested in April and granted bail after three months for lack of evidence proving that the sex video was authentic; even if it was, it showed consensual sex between adults. Dhyanapeetam ashramites allege that the present chargesheet is another attempt to discredit the swami after the sleaze tape charges failed to stick. "There is no technology in the world that can verify the recording as authentic, I challenge you," says Swami Sachitananda with a perceptible American accent.
The tape was reportedly leaked to the TV station by Nithyananda's disgruntled driver Dharmanandha or Lenin Karuppan who filed the complaint against the swami on March 4 with Commissioner of Police T. Rajendran in Chennai. The case was transferred to Bidadi police station on March 14 and on to the CID on March 18. The Nithyananda Dhyanapeetam is fighting back with counter cases and by allegedly releasing information that is meant to discredit opponents. In another police complaint filed by Lenin, Nithyananda is accused of sodomising a former devotee from the US, Vimalananda. Vimalananda has not filed a formal complaint but the CID's hope that he would depose at Nithyananda's trial was dashed when Vimalananda was charged for child molestation in the US last week. Lenin insists that the ashram conspired to have Vimalananda arrested, while the Dhyanapeetam mocks the CID for being short-sighted in trusting a paedophile. "Nithyananda's is an organised cult. They have filed 53 cases of conspiracy against me saying that I had released the video. But I didn't do it," says Lenin. Apart from rape, Nithyananda also faces charges of land grabbing, gold smuggling, violating the Wildlife Protection Act and foreign exchange regulations, all of which the ashram has refuted. "Our accounts are perfectly in order, and can be inspected by anyone," says Bhaktananda. "This is not the 1980s when gold smuggling was lucrative. Now, there is no price difference, so it wouldn't make business sense for anyone to smuggle gold. Why should we do it?"
The police say that a probe will be initiated into the wealth of Nithyananda and the ashram. The swami is alleged to have amassed Rs 140 crore in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. He loves to sit on a 24k gold-plated throne wearing heavy gold chains. The ostentation and scandals have turned many disciples against him. Once a Nithyananda acolyte, US-based businessman Maheshwara, disillusioned with the sex video, wants the swami to pay back the $2.5 million he spent on a land mortgage for the Nithyananda Foundation in the US. "Donations are not meant to be returned," says Bhaktananda. "In any case, Maheshwara has been sending feelers about wanting to come back. All are welcome here, even those who have fallen out." Nithyananda, born Rajasekaran to poor parents in Tiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu, made it big as the 'child swami' in less than eight years. His younger brother Gopi aka Nithyeshwar, 30, manages the swami's finances and of the ashrams abroad. He also runs an import-export business named Nithyananda Import Export, registered at the Bidadi address. Nithyananda's usp is speaking English well and dressing up like Swami Vivekananda while swearing he's an reincarnation.
Q: What is your reaction on the formal complaint against Nithyananda by a former female devotee who has accused him of rape?
A: The way I understand the law, an incident has to occur, then there is a complaint, then an FIR is filed, after which the investigation takes place, which culminates in a chargesheet, followed by court proceedings and then there is a trial and a verdict. In this case, however, everything starts with not a complaint but an FIR. But what we have here is a complaint cloaked in secrecy. A witness whose identity will not be revealed and who will "come to the court, if and when required".
Q: There is the question of protecting the woman in question because the cops think you might intimidate or influence her to turn hostile or threaten her into withdrawing her complaint.
A: In the original complaint there is no word called 'rape', it has come as a creative invention of the officer in question. On July 23, we were told that Section 376 and 420 had been dropped. The CID has stated that the woman came on August 16 and 17 to lodge her complaint. The CID had several opportunities to inform the court of this development, which they did not. When the judge said he would quash the proceedings, the DIG decided to make the complaint public. It looks like they had something to hide and that they came up with this complainant quite mysteriously.
Q: Would you explain why a spiritual ashram would ask its devotees to sign a non-disclosure form with objectionable clauses?
A. We work all over the world. We have centres in 35 countries. We work in the US, Singapore, Malaysia and many other countries. We have many people who claim Swamiji's content, speeches and videos as their own and sell it; we wanted to protect ourselves from that. Secondly in the USA there are places where depictions of Ganesha and Devi's are considered pornographic and we do the Abhishekam. So these NDAs were created mostly to protect ourselves in the West. It might have been worded incorrectly, in fact I'm sure I've signed it but I haven't even read it. Also asking anyone to sign that document is not illegal, it is a holistic document, and we are not even lawyers, having the document is not illegal, the document is not implement able. Indulging in the activities would be illegal, but we'd like to state once and for all that never have we ever indulged in any activity that can be considered illegal or immoral in this ashram. We are simple people who only want to meditate. This is such an onslaught on our lives, but hopefully this too will pass!
- With Lakshmi Subramanian
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