Abuse
While Gurmeet Ram Rahim gave ‘maafi’ to devotees, Nityananda followers were allegedly made to sign a contract where they agreed to ‘sexual enlightenment’.
Image source: http://www.nithyananda.org

Self-proclaimed godman Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh has been sentenced to 20 years in prison for the rape of two saadhvis at the Dera Sacha Sauda ashram. But the crime this rapist has been convicted for, is merely the tip of an iceberg shrouded in a dark web of lies and deceit practiced by the 'Guru'.

More horrors in his premises allegedly took place with the consent of followers - castration of male devotees, being the most gruesome of them.

From 2000, over 400 followers were reportedly brought under the scalpel in Dera Sacha Sauda hospital for bringing them closer to God.

But it isn’t just Gurmeet Singh who extracted sexual favours under ‘divine’ pretexts, cloaking them in secrecy. The survivors of sexual assaults in 'Swami' Nithyananda's ashram have spoken out about non-disclosure agreements and sex contracts. The chargesheet of the rape case against Nithyananda reveals that sexual exploitation was masked in the guise of a 'Learning from the Master' programme.

The mental conditioning

The chargesheet filed by the police in the Ramanagara court in November 2010 on a case of rape allegedly committed by Nityananda, speaks of five non-disclosure agreements signed by various victims.

In 2009, a 'special' group of men and women gathered in a room at the Nithyananda Dhyanapeetam, which is led by the 'godman' in Bidadi.

They were not just the regular followers of 'swamiji'. In fact they were a chosen few, who would take care of him and help in the running of his foundation.

On that particular day, they were given two sets of "non-disclosure agreement" contracts to sign in the presence of their leader.

Signing these would make them eligible for the "Learning from the Master" programme. Such was their blind trust in the self-proclaimed godman that most of them signed the papers without even reading the clauses, says the chargesheet.

The 'Sex Contract'

The most appalling section of the 10 page contract included in the chargesheet reads -

"Volunteer understands that the Program may involve the learning and practice of ancient tantric secrets associated with male and female ecstasy, including the use of sexual energy for increased intimacy/spiritual connection, pleasure, harmony, and freedom. Volunteer understands that these activities could be physically and mentally challenging, and may involve nudity, access to visual images, graphic visual depictions, and descriptions of nudity and sexual activity, close physical proximity and intimacy, verbal and written descriptions and audio sounds of a sexually oriented, and erotic nature, etc."

The contract further functioned as a gag order, threatening devotees with consequences if they were to reveal to outsiders.

"By reading and signing this addendum, Volunteer irrevocably. acknowledges that he/she is voluntarily giving his unconditional acceptance of such activities and discharges the Leader and the Foundation, and anyone else not specifically mentioned here but directly or indirectly involved in the organization, management, or conduct of any such programs from any liability, direct or indirect, arising from such activities," read the document.

One such agreement copy signed by the devotee had the date September 3, 2005. The document accessed by TNM clearly carries the name and address of the devotee and of an ashram trustee as well. So, did these followers willingly agree to sexual exploitation under the garb of a 'learning' programme?

"No, we did not," says a survivor, who signed one such document, to TNM.

Speaking to TNM, the survivor says that at the time of signing the documents they were unaware of what it said.

"We were given two copies. One had to be signed along with the date on the that day and the other had to be backdated to the day when we had first met him. So he was pretty much covered legally from the day we met him to any point in the future. Because the contract states that the agreement does not end even if the relationship does. It is like a perpetual binding agreement," the former devotee says.

The survivor further alleges that they were not given time to read the clauses and were told that it was "regular, routine stuff to do with confidentiality".

A few who tried to read the document were accused of wavering devotion. They were asked, "Don't you trust swamiji?"

“We had extreme trust in him and looked at him as someone who was beyond being an ordinary human being. We never even doubted that there could be anything in these documents that could have these kinds of implications,” a survivor said.

Those who tried to question the 'Swami' or his decisions were allegedly dealt with force, threat or intimidation.

Image source: www.nithyananda.org

Raped for enlightenment?

A chargesheet filed by the Bidadi police in November 2010, narrates how Nityananda 'convinced' one such devotee into having sexual relations with him. The survivor, named Amala* in the chargesheet, was a housewife and pregnant when he first decided to satisfy his 'illicit sexual desire' by using her.

She was brought to his room under the pretext of cleaning it and was asked to massage Nityananda's legs. This was when he allegedly embraced and kissed her on the lips. When she withdrew shocked, he told her that the act was for her enlightenment.

Amala argued that a physical relationship with a saint was wrong but Nityananda allegedly claimed that 'feeling love was a path to enlightenment' and that 'he was God'. The only way to attain spiritual enlightenment was to 'listen and obey his words'.

'Thus he attacked her mind and took control of it and made her go into a state of total surrender' says the chargesheet. It further claims that Amala lost her ability to think clearly and was overcome by blind faith. Following this she was raped multiple times in various hotels and the Bidadi Ashram.

According to the chargesheet, between February and March 2009, the victim "was made to sign, along with others, non-disclosure agreement documents".

The conditioning continues?

Now, with media attention back on self-proclaimed godmen and the exploitation they met out to devotees, several have come out to question the case pending against Nithyanandha.

What is shocking is that despite testimonies of the 'godman' forcing women into sexual activities being made public, a large number of people continue to root for him. When social activist and environmentalist Piyush Manush took to social media to ask about what action has been taken, he was at the receiving end of severe abuse.

Most of the abuse (unsurprisingly) was directed at Piyush’s mother, wife and daughter.

The case now

The case against Nithyananda is currently pending for trial at the Ramanagara sessions court, the trial has not even started. The accused has filed a discharge petition, where they have claimed that there is no prima facie case. Nityananda's counsel has requested that he be discharged without the hardship of trial. The Court's order on the petition is still awaited.

The judge can either order a discharge in which case the self-proclaimed godman will be acquitted without trial or he can order a trial saying there is enough material.

The Supreme Court, meanwhile, has stayed the trial court proceedings based on yet another petition filed by him in 2014 to consider his self-generated medical reports of impotency. Next hearing in the Apex court is scheduled for September 2017.

Nithyananda had earlier sought to be discharged as he was 'impotent' and had test results from an examination conducted in a private hospital to prove the same. However, tests ordered by the Supreme Court proved that the excuse was yet another lie.

In yet another attempt to allegedly evade the law, Nityananda claimed that statement recorded by the CID from 32 witnesses at his ashram must be included in the chargesheet. These were reportedly generic statements glorifying 'swamiji'. While the trial court rejected them as defense documents, the High Court of Karnataka ruled in favour of the 'godman'.

Affidavits and counter affidavits have been filed to delay the case. Though the complaint of rape was registered in 2009, the victim has been pushed from pillar to post, with justice delayed for eight long years. The only hope is that, at least now, justice is not denied.

Also read: Trapped in a religious cult: One woman’s story of sexual exploitation at the hands of a 'guru'