Faith and sin: Putting together a never-ending saga from Karnatakahttps://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/faith-and-sin/

Faith and sin: Putting together a never-ending saga from Karnataka

A singer accuses a seer of sexual assault. Her brother-in-law commits suicide a few days later. An RSS leader is questioned in the case. Putting together a never-ending saga from Karnataka.

The singer says Raghaveshwara Bharati asked her to “sacrifice her body” to prove her devotion to him. (Source: Express photo by Kashif Masood)
The singer says Raghaveshwara Bharati asked her to “sacrifice her body” to prove her devotion to him. (Source: Express photo by Kashif Masood)

Since August when news of allegedly murky activities involving the Ramachandrapura Mutt, a Brahmin religious centre in Shimoga, Karnataka, emerged, the story of its seer and a singer has unravelled like a potboiler.

The saga began on August 27 this year when a former lead singer in Ramakatha programmes organised by the Ramachandrapura Mutt was arrested by the police along with her husband for allegedly demanding Rs 3 crore from chief pontiff Raghaveshwara Bharati to “suppress” her charges of sexual exploitation against him. A disciple of Bharati filed the complaint, accusing the couple of blackmail. Accordingly, the couple were jailed for 21 days.

On August 28, the singer’s daughter filed a police complaint saying Bharati had sexually assaulted her mother in Jodhpur, Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, and 36 other places between October 2011 and June 2014.

In a statement to the police, the 47-year-old singer herself said Bharati, 38, had told her that she needed to “sacrifice her body” to prove her devotion to him and god. She claimed she was given a substance that made her lose control of herself, and that she was forced into silence. “The seer used to do all things in the name of Shri Ram. He used to depict himself as god. We too treated him like god,” the singer said.

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In an interview to a Kannada TV channel days after her release on bail, the singer said that it was only on June 30 this year that she managed to report her situation to her husband, who was an administrator at the mutt.

The couple also alleged receiving a threat call from an “underworld operative” called Yogish.

After the Karnataka high court on October 9 refused to quash the sexual assault case as sought by the seer, the CID questioned Bharati over five days.

Born Hareesha Sharma, Bharati is the 36th seer of the Ramachandrapura Mutt, in a lineage that is believed to have begun with the Shankaracharya.

The mutt is the main religious centre of Havayika Brahmins, a small but influential community in Karnataka, and has followers among 17 other communities in the state, besides devotees from Goa and Kerala.

Before Bharati became its head in 1999, the mutt had a low profile. During the BJP’s rule in Karnataka in 2008-13 though, it rose to prominence on account of its close association with  the RSS. In 2008, citing prevalence of drugs and sex in the beach town of Gokarna, the BJP government also gave the mutt control of the Gokarna Mahabaleshwara Temple. The move had created a political furore since a public temple was handed over to a private entity.

Then, in 2010, when a sex tape allegedly featuring Bharati surfaced, police gave him a clean chit, saying the video, shot at “a guest house in Kerala”,  had a Bharati lookalike. Ten persons are facing prosecution for the “fake video”.

Bharati headed a World Cow Convention in 2007 and, in 2009-10, took a 108-day trip around the country to “create awareness” on protection of cows. Disciples of the seer insist he is sworn to celibacy.

The singer, on the other hand, is a gold medal-winning music graduate from Mysore’s Lalithakala Academy. A singer on All India Radio, she joined the Ramkatha troupe at the Ramachandrapura Mutt around 2010.

According to the singer, one of her uncles was on the committee that picked Bharati as seer of the mutt in 1999. Another link was that her husband was the secretary of the 2007 World Cow Convention organised by the seer.

Three years later, when Bharati launched Ramkathas and invited people to participate, the singer was among those who volunteered, travelling with him around the country. It was at the site of the Ramkathas that the seer allegedly assaulted her.

Questions have been raised regarding the singer’s husband since they filed the case. Some say he had run up huge losses in his garments export business, and hence resorted to “blackmail”. But he claims he had donated Rs 10-15 lakh to the mutt in the past decade, implying he was not bankrupt.

The couple’s 26-year-old daughter, also a follower of the mutt, has also been subjected to character attacks on Facebook. On November 2, two persons were arrested for the abusive comments.

Another angle was added to the case when, on September 2, three days after the case of sexual assault was lodged, the younger brother of the singer’s husband was found dead at home in Puttur with a gunshot wound in his chest. The brother was said to have killed himself following telephone calls allegedly putting pressure on him to convince his family to withdraw the case against the seer.

Probing an abetment of suicide case, the police questioned the RSS’s Kalladka Prabhakar Bhat, who was found to have spoken to  the brother a couple of times on the day of his death. Bhat was a dominant RSS figure in coastal Karnataka when the BJP was in power. During a debate in the state Assembly on July 30, 2012, on attacks on women by Hindu groups in Mangalore, Congress MLA Vasanth Bangera had called him “the chief commander of Mangalore who is above the collector, the superintendent of police or anybody”. After the CID questioning, an unfazed Bhat denounced the “unfounded” charges against Bharati and said “no one can split Hindu society”.

On November 17, the seer was granted anticipatory bail by the sessions court in both the sexual assault and abetment of suicide cases. In another relief for him, the Karnataka High Court ordered a stay on conducting medical tests on him. Since the singer has handed over a dozen clothes to the CID as evidence, saying she was wearing them when assaulted, the tests could have provided proof against the seer. Forensic tests on some clothing items have detected traces of semen, sources said.

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While the CID has sought the stay to be lifted, the seer has questioned the “legal validity of powers granted to the police” to conduct scientific tests on him.