It has been a habit with Girish Chandra Varma to ring in the new year by observing maun vrat for the first three days, apparently to purify himself and enhance spiritual awareness. This New Year’s Eve, too, he was preparing to retreat to his sprawling ashram-cum-residence on the outskirts of Bhopal with his family and attendants. He did not, however, get to keep his annual tryst with spirituality and silence there. The police took him away on the charge of repeatedly raping a teacher in his employ.
Varma, 53, who sports a flowing beard and white robes, is a nephew of late Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, controls an empire, and commands a large following. He heads a chain of 145 schools called Maharishi Vidya Mandir, management and IT colleges and a Vedic university each in Jabalpur and Bilaspur. This is part of the legacy of the maharishi, founder of the Transcendental Meditation programme. After the maharishi’s death in 2008, his vast empire of educational and other institutions in India and abroad was shared among various members of the family.
Varma and his followers insist he is celibate but the teacher’s husband says it is a sham. “Even the maun vrat was a sham for the consumption of the outside world. Inside the ashram he would talk to us,” says the husband, who too worked with Varma and who alleges the latter sexually exploited him, too.
While he was in police custody, however, Varma did refuse to speak because of the maun vrat. Whenever he needed something, he would write the demand on a piece of paper, police sources say. He is now in judicial custody.
Now 41, the woman who has accused him of exploitation was first employed as a teacher a decade ago in a school in Arera Colony before being transferred to a school in Ratanpur. She has alleged that Varma forced her into sex through the decade. She says she had kept quiet because he had filmed her in the nude at a group institution in Noida. The police, however, are yet to find any video footage or photographs.
Her husband, 49, spent 27 years with the group’s institutions in various capacities, including that of Varma’s personal assistant. “My father had taught him music in a Jabalpur college and he was a family friend,” the husband says.
He alleges Varma sexually exploited him on a trip to the Netherlands in 1992, but he won’t press the charge because the case is old and he has no evidence. Varma, he alleges, would insist on taking his wife along and once took her by a chartered flight to Varanasi from Noida.
The couple have two daughters, aged 16 and seven.
The woman had approached the state commission for women in March last year but what led to Varma’s arrest last week was her threat to immolate herself.
Varma’s followers and employees call him brahmachari (celibate) or bhaiyyaji. They accuse the couple of trying to blackmail the group because they were thrown out of service. The husband lost his job in 2012 and the wife lost hers after filing the complaint.
“The group’s institutions employ nearly 5,000 women but no one else has levelled such allegations,” says V R Khare, a retired principal chief conservator of forests who has recently joined the group.
“I am celibate. God is watching,” Varma said in court. “The woman is working at someone’s behest. My enemies are backing her. Allegations were levelled against me in the past too but like always I will emerge unscathed.”
A judge refused him bail on the ground that he was likely to influence the probe. The clout he enjoys was on display during his time in police custody, when he was allowed various facilities.
The husband alleges the police made him and his wife give statements on several occasions, hoping to find some inconsistencies that would eventually weaken the case against Varma.
Nearly one lakh students study in schools under the group, besides 12,000 students who are imparted free training in Vedic rituals in gurukuls. There are thousands of teachers and employees. The value of the properties owned by the group runs into hundreds of crores.
Varma, who had joined his uncle about two decades ago, spent several years abroad. He moved to Bhopal when the group shifted its headquarters from Noida. The couple who have made the allegations had come to Bhopal before that.
Initially, land measuring 5.5 acres was purchased for Varma’s house in Chaand village on Bhojpur Road. Later, an adjacent five acres was added to the complex, which has an office, and space for havan and meditation. His supporters now perform havan every day for his release.
The police last week seized an Audi after the woman alleged she was forced into having sex inside it. Varma’s minders insist he rarely travelled in it, let alone commit a crime in it.