Officials, activists worry about girls as details of Murugha Matha sexual assault case emerge

As the girls said other children have also been sexually abused, activists are asking why they have not been questioned so far.

ByChetana Belagere

Published Sep 05, 2022 | 1:17 PM Updated Sep 05, 2022 | 8:33 PM

Murugha Matha

Fear continues to loom in the minds of 105 children — boys and girls — of the Murugha Matha hostel even after they were moved to safe places, around 10 days since two girls from the hostel accused its chief pontiff of assault, resulting in his arrest on Thursday, 1 September.

While a few girls were sent to girls’ homes in the district, the majority of them were sent to the Kogunde Morarji Desai School’s hostel, and some were sent back home after the arrest of Shivamurthy Murugha Sharanaru.

“It’s not just the two girls, but according to the victims’ statements, several girls have gone through years of sexual, physical, and mental harassment in this hostel,” said Parashuram ML from the NGO Odanadi, through which the two girls managed to reach out to the Mysuru Police to complain against the seer.

Parashuram told South First that the two girls, aged 15 and 16, came to the organisation at around 11.20 am on 25 August, accompanied by a woman.

‘Girls brought to Odanadi by a woman’

“I have submitted the name of the person who accompanied the girls to the court. However, as per the rules, I am not allowed to divulge it to the media,” said Parashuram.

The woman is said to have told Parashuram that the girls had been sexually assaulted by the chief pontiff of the matha.

Parashuram told South First that, as per the procedure, he then asked the woman to step outside as the NGO’s women counsellors needed to talk to the girls individually to rule out any kind of influence or hindrance to their
statements.

The 15-year-old girl is said to have told a counsellor that she was sexually assaulted by the pontiff for one-and-a-half years, and had been unable to bear the torture thereafter. “The girl was hesitant to talk in detail, but she did reveal the sexual assault on her for the last one-and-a-half years,” said Parashuram.

The second girl alleged that she was sexually assaulted for more than three-and-a-half years, said Parashuram.

The girls, according to him, revealed that Shivamurthy Murugha Sharanaru had sexually assaulted other girls in the hostel as well.

Serious allegations against the pontiff

Shivamurthy Murugha Sharanaru, Chief Pontiff of Jagadguru Murugharajendra Matha, Chitradurga. File Photo. (http://www.sjmmath.in/gallery1/default.htm)

Shivamurthy Murugha Sharanaru, Chief Pontiff of Jagadguru Murugharajendra Matha, Chitradurga. File Photo. (http://www.sjmmath.in/gallery1/default.htm)

The girls, in their statement to the Odanadi counsellors, are said to have made some serious allegations against the pontiff.

Confirming this, but not going into details, Parashuram said: “The duo revealed to us that the pontiff sexually assaulted other girls in the hostel as well. The girls alleged that some of the other girls had to undergo abortions,
and in one particular case, repeated abortions that eventually led to a hysterectomy.”

After collecting information from the girls, Parashuram and his counsellors, through their advocate, took them to the Child Welfare Committee (CWC) in Mysuru, where the girls recorded their statements again.

“After recording their statements, the CWC officers registered a case against the pontiff at the Nazarbad Police Station in Mysuru. A Zero FIR was registered there as per the Protection Of Children from Sexual Offenses (POCSO) Act. Since the case has to be investigated by the jurisdictional police, it was shifted to Chitradurga, where the alleged offence had occurred,” Parashuram told South First.

Based on the girls’ complaint, the police registered an FIR against Shivamurthy Murugha Sharanappa; Rashmi, the warden of the hostel Akkamahadevi Vasathi Nilaya at the Murugha Matha; a junior seer of the matha; JD(S) leader Paramarashivaiah, and advocate Gangadaraiah.

According to the FIR, a copy of which is with South First, the two victims said they were sexually assaulted by the seer, and that the others helped him.

Of those named in the FIR, Shivamurthy Murugha Sharanappa was arrested six days after the FIR was registered, and hostel warden Rashmi was arrested later and is in judicial custody.

While the junior seer was taken into custody on Sunday, 4 September, the two others are yet to be arrested.

Girls were meticulously ‘chosen’

One of the CWC officers directly involved in helping the two girls told South First on condition of anonymity that what was happening at the matha was “scary, dangerous, and needs an impartial probe”.

The officer explained that the girls staying in the hostel were mainly from economically poor backgrounds.

“There are a few orphans, too, and some of them are what I call semi-orphans: with only one parent. While no locals are living there, most of these are children from Ballari, Kalaburagi, Davangere, etc,” said the officer.

He said the two girls were visibly shaken and worried that their future would be at stake. They were also concerned for their hostel friends, some of whom were even younger than these two girls.

“The victims were picked and chosen. The majority of the girls — according to what the children said — who were assaulted were orphans or ‘semi-orphans’,” said the officer, narrating what the girls had told him and other
officials.

The girls purportedly told the officials in their statement that Rashmi, the hostel warden, would make a list of girls and they would be presented before the seer to make his “choice”. Rashmi even made a detailed list of their menstrual cycles, the girls are said to have told the counsellors.

Why are other girls not being examined?

Parashuram ML from the NGO Odanadi.

Parashuram ML from the NGO Odanadi. (South First)

Parashuram and the Chitradurga district’s Dalit Sangharsh Samiti member Basavaraj have demanded that the CWC ensure the safety and counselling of other children in the hostel.

Parashuram told South First, “It’s been more than a week since the girls recorded their statement, revealing details about other children as well. Why hasn’t there been any step toward the medical examination of other victims? Have they been given counselling?”

Meanwhile, Basavaraj said, “We are only concerned about the girls’ safety. Are they safe? Have the authorities provided them with mental health assistance? They must be in shock as well.”

Unfortunate that children’s motives being questioned

While several followers of the matha argued that this was a conspiracy against the pontiff for political and personal benefit, and that the children were being used for it, CWC officers and child rights activists expressed concern over people’s disbelief towards the girls’ statements.

Parashuram asked: “If the matha authorities knew the girls were missing for the last month, why wasn’t a missing-person complaint registered with the local police station? The matha is part of the Child Care Institute. So why
weren’t CWC members of the district informed about it? Is it so easy to convince two young girls to make false allegations of ‘sexual assault’ against them?”

Calling the situation unfortunate, a child rights activist, who too did not want to be identified by name, told South First: “The truth has to come out, and it will come out if there is a proper investigation. Unless corroborative evidence was found, the police would not have arrested a seer of that stature. Also, our priority should be the safety and future of the girls.”

She explained, “The kind of attention this case is getting can cause irreparable damage to the children’s future. The media, the police, and the public should be careful before making any kind of allegations against the children, who have been bold enough to come forward and report a crime.”

Officials tight-lipped

Given that this is a high-profile POCSO Act case and the matter is a sensitive one, no official from either the CWC or the police department wanted to go on record with any information.

When South First spoke to a senior police officer in Mysuru, he didn’t refute the information, but said that the Mysuru Police, as per the POCSO Act rules, had shifted the case to the district jurisdiction.

Meanwhile, Alok Kumar, Additional Director General of Police (ADGP) for Law and Order in Karnataka, claimed ignorance of the details of the statement by the girls, but told South First: “The seer is now in police custody. We are just trying to find out more about the allegations made by the girls. The due procedure of investigation will be followed.”

Seer remanded in custody till 14 September

Meanwhile, the Additional District and Sessions Judge at Karnataka’s Chitradurga sent the seer to judicial custody till 14 September.

On Sunday morning, the police took the seer to the Murugha Matha for mahazar — which is expected to help investigators understand the crime scene better and later present it more comprehensively in court.

A day earlier, the seer’s medical tests were conducted, and sources said that he was deemed capable of begetting a child.

According to a forensic doctor who did not want to be quoted, an examination of the genitals is done in any sexual assault case where the alleged crime took place days earlier. This is beside the recording of the person’s height, weight, and other characteristics.

“In such cases, the development of the secondary sexual characters is observed. This is to find out if he is capable of begetting a child. Also, we check for any injuries on the body, as well as any kind of sexually transmitted infections. These were done to check for corroborative pieces of evidence from the girls, and see if there were infections in them as well,” the doctor said.

Meanwhile, the police said that the seer, during interrogation, denied all the allegations made by the girls and called it a conspiracy against him.