The Lingayat Pontiff of Karnataka Mutt at the Centre of Child Abuse Scandal

Shivamurthy Murugha Sharanaru, the chief pontiff of the influential Lingayat mutt in Chitradurga district and a politically influential person from Karnataka, was on Thursday night arrested in alleged connection with a sexual assault case. He was booked under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO) for the alleged sexual abuse of two high school girls.

The pontiff was additionally charged under the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act on Tuesday as one of the two victims was from the SC community.

There were protests demanding his immediate arrest. Police have made elaborate security arrangements in the Chitradurga district.

Who is Shivamurthy Sharanaru?

Sharanaru was coronated as the pontiff of the Math on January 31, 1991, as successor of Mallikarjuna Murugharajendra Swamiji. Born on April 11, 1958 in village called Godabanahal near Chitradurga, Sharanaru did his education in Chitradurga and completed his graduation from the University of Mysore.

According to the website of Anatha Sevashrama Trust, Sharanaru’s “sober, sincere and spiritual attitudes” attracted the attention of Murugharajendra, who declared him as his successor.

About the case

Apart from him, a total of five people, including the warden of the monastery’s hostel, are accused in the case. It is alleged that the two girls, aged 15 and 16, studying in a school run by the math and residing in a hostel, also run by the monastery, were sexually abused between January 2019 and June 2022.

Apart from the POCSO and the Prevention of Atrocities Act, cases have also been booked under various sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) against the pontiff.

The FIR was registered based on the complaint by an officer of the District Child Protection Unit. Two girls had approached a NGO in Mysuru and narrated the alleged abuse, following which it approached the authorities and the case was registered by the police. The case was subsequently shifted to Chitradurga, as it was the place of occurrence of the alleged crime.

According to a top police officer, Sharanaru was trying to flee to Dubai via Hubli two days ago. He was stopped at Haveri and forced to return to the Chitradurga district. He was carrying passport and other documents.

What He Has to Say?

On Monday, he broke his silence on the sexual assault matter against him and claimed that it was part of a long-drawn conspiracy against him. Indicating an “inside job”, he vowed to come out clean in the case. Sharanaru also said he was law-abiding and would cooperate with the investigation.

“The conspiracies that were going on inside all these days are going on outside now. There will be a logical end to all issues, I need your cooperation in finding that logical end…I am confident about coming out clean… there is no need for anyone to be impatient,” he had told his followers.

Political Reactions

Meanwhile, political parties in the poll-bound Karnataka tread carefully on the charges against Sharanaru. he is politically influential person in the state. Both incumbent Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai and his predecessor BS Yediyurappa are from the Lingayat community. Last month, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi had also met Sharanaru in the Mutt during his visit to the state.

Speaking to CNN-News18, BJP MP Lahar Singh said, “An impartial probe important whether it is court monitored probe or moving to other state. It is for the state government to take a call on this. I only demand an impartial probe.”

On Sunday, Bommai said investigation is on in a case involving the chief pontiff and the truth will come out from the probe.

“When there is an important case — a case has been booked under POCSO Act and there is also a kidnap case in Chitradurga — police have registered both the cases and investigation is on. In such a situation, making comments or interpreting the case is not good for investigation,” Bommai had said in response to a question. Speaking to reporters, he had said, “The police have complete freedom, they will investigate and the truth will come out.”

(with inputs from PTI)

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