The space of religion comprising controversial acts, remotely sexual or absolutely so, has existed since time immemorial. While churches have been long accused of perpetrating child abuse, in India, self-styled godmen have been put behind bars for committing sexual abuse.
Updated: 16 Apr 2023 2:39 pm
Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama has been at the centre of controversy following his recent video of kissing a child and asking him to “suck” his tongue. The video, which went viral, has triggered a lot of criticism worldwide.
The Dalai Lama asked the boy to kiss him on the lips and stuck out his tongue. “And suck my tongue,” the Dalai Lama can be heard saying as the boy sticks out his own tongue and leans in, prompting laughter from the audience. A statement posted on his official website said the 87-year-old leader regretted the incident and wished to “apologize to the boy and his family, as well as his many friends across the world, for the hurt his words may have caused”.
However, this has also not been the first time when Dalai Lama has come under fire over certain controversial acts and statements. The space of religion comprising controversial acts, remotely sexual or absolutely so, has existed since time immemorial. While churches have been long accused of perpetrating child abuse, in India, self-styled godmen have been put behind bars for committing sexual abuse.
Here’s looking at a few incidents in India where religious leaders have been accused of sexual abuse:
In January 2023, a court in Gandhinagar sentenced self-styled godman Asaram Bapu, convicted in a rape case filed by a former woman disciple in 2013, to life imprisonment. The 81-year-old is currently lodged in a Jodhpur jail, where he is serving life sentence in another case of raping a minor girl at his ashram in Rajasthan in 2013.
The court convicted Asaram in a case registered in 2013 for raping a woman disciple, who hailed from Surat, on several occasions from 2001 to 2006 when she was living at his ashram at Motera near Ahmedabad. Asaram was convicted under Indian Penal Code Sections 376 2 (C) (rape), 377 (unnatural offences), 342 (wrongful detention), 354 (assault or criminal force to woman with intent to outrage her modesty), 357 (assault) and 506 (criminal intimidation), in the case lodged by his former woman disciple in 2013.
On February 2013, the Panchayati Mahanirvani Akhara conferred the title of ‘Mahamandaleshwar’ to Paramahamsa Nithyananda. The 40-year-old godman is believed to be an avatar by his disciples. He repeatedly went into hiding when allegations against him of sexual assault surfaced. In 2010, Nithyananda landed in trouble following the telecast of a video of him engaging in sleazy acts with a South Indian actor following which the Chennai Police registered a case of rape and cheating against him. The ‘Swami’ has ashrams in Chennai, Bidadi (Karnataka) and Las Vegas, United States.
Gurmeet Ram Rahim
The self-styled godman and Dera Sacha Sauda Chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh is currently serving a 20-year jail term for raping two of his disciples. In 2019, a CBI court held Ram Rahim Singh and three others guilty of murdering journalist Ram Chander Chhatrapati in 2002. Chhatrapati was shot in October 2002 outside his house after his newspaper ‘Poora Sach’ published an anonymous letter narrating how women were being sexually exploited by Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh at the Dera headquarters in Sirsa.
Ichchadhari Sant Swami Bhimanand
In 2010, Shiv Murat Dwivedi alias Ichchadhari Sant Swami Bhimanand Ji Maharaj Chitrakoot Wale, who had set up a temple in south Delhi’s Khanpur, was arrested along with a man and six women, including two air hostesses, on charges of prostitution. The Delhi police invoked provisions under stringent MCOCA (Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act) against a self-styled Godman recently arrested on charges of running a multi-crore prostitution racket in the national capital.
Half a dozen diaries were recovered from Dwivedi’s possession which listed several names, including that of some politicians, police claimed. Police believe that Dwivedi was in close association with some notorious pimps, including Sonu Punjaban and two others who were arrested in November 2008, and was running the racket along with them.
Swami Premanada was a controversial godman who established his ashrams in Trichy. He amassed a huge number of followers and, subsequently, wealth in Tamil Nadu. He was given two consecutive life sentences for raping 13 girls in 1997. By the time he was convicted, his ashram had branches in UK, Belgium, Switzerland and many other countries. He died on February 21, 2011 in Cuddalore Central Prison.