Who is Karnataka Lingayat leader Shivamurthy Murugha Sharanaru and what is the case against him
A massive political controversy is brewing in Karnataka with allegations of sexual assault on minor girls and accusations of a cover-up and inaction against the accused, a powerful religious leader.
Shiva Murthy Murugha Sharanaru, the present pontiff of the Jagadguru Murugarajendra Vidyapeetha Mutt in Karnataka's Chitradurga is facing charges of sexual assault on two minor girls staying at the hostel of the religious institution.
Two girls, aged 16 and 15, had told members of the state Child Welfare Committee they were sexually assaulted between January 1, 2019, and June 6, 2022, when they were students of a school that was run by the mutt in Chitradurga.
The girls said that they were drugged before the sexual assault, but, they could remember what was going on.
They have also claimed that they have videos and they will be submitted only if a judicial probe is ordered.
Though the police have booked the seer in a POCSO case, and under SC/ST Act, he has not been questioned or arrested yet.
That many allege is due to the political influence the Mutt has in the state, cutting across parties.
Sharanaru heads one of the most prominent Lingayat mutts in the state.
Both current Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai and his predecessor BS Yediyurappa are from the Lingayat community.
Earlier this year Congress MP Rahul Gandhi had also met him in the Mutt during his visit to Karnataka.
Even after the rape allegations surfaced, several politicians have paid him visits.
With Assembly elections scheduled next year, political parties fear that pushing hard for action against the seer will anger the community.
Historically, the Murugha Mutt has involved itself in cultural, social, academic and social activities for three centuries. The mutt was established in 1703 A.D., according to historical records. The mutt has guided the rulers of the Chitradurga fort.
The clout and influence of the Murugha Mutt is unquestionable, according to political analysts. Accused seer Murugha Sharanaru took lead to organise small caste groups, especially untouchables.
The accused seer, much to the chagrin of other influential Lingayat mutts and seers, helped these marginalised groups establish their own religious mutts. Under these mutts, backward and exploited castes of the state went on to become united groups.
The Mutt has so far stood firmly behind the seer who claimed that the allegations were part of a long-drawn conspiracy against him, indicated an inside job, and vowed to come out clean in the case.
Many others also said that a fight for control of the highly influential and wealthy Mutt may have been behind the allegations surfacing in public.
Meanwhile, the National Commission for Protection of Children's Rights (NCPCR) and the State Commission for Children have sought a report from Chitradurga SP Parashuram regarding action initiated against the Lingayat seer.
NCPCR has sought answers to 9 questions from the SP over the sexual assault case and asked him to submit a report within seven days. The NCPCR and State Commission for Children have taken up the suo motu case in this connection.
Detailed information has been sought on action initiated in the case, present condition of minor victims, the progress in the investigation, the statement under CrPC Section 164 by victims, how they are protected and other issues.