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Anisha Sheth | The News Minute | October 21, 2014 | 12.48 pm IST In 2012, a student was raped and murdered in Dakshina Kannada district of Karnataka. Two years later, a controversy rages on with the Dharmadhikari of Shri Dharmasthala Manjunatha temple D Veerendra Heggade filing a case of defamation against a man who was among those who led the protests demanding justice for Sowjanya. Sowjanya was a pre-university student in Ujire, a village in Dakshina Kannada district, famous for its proximity to the Dharmasthala temple. She was reported missing on October 9, 2012. The next day, her body was found in the Nethravathi river that is considered the lifeline of the district. Post mortem revealed that Sowjanya had been raped and murdered and the police had arrested four persons in connection with the case. Her family however, said that the men arrested by the police were not the actual culprits, and alleged that people close to Heggage’s family – associates of his brother Harshendra Kumar – were responsible for her rape and murder. In the weeks followed, there were massive protests demanding justice for Sowjanya. The last ones were held on the second anniversary of the day she was reported missing. Among the groups and individuals protesting against the alleged inaction and bungling by the local police, is Mahesh Shetty Thimmarodi, who was the district president of the Hindu Jagrana Vedike in Belthangady taluk. Issues that were close to his heart until Sowjana’s death included the protection of cows, protests against alleged conversions, protection of Hindu women. Nobody remembers him protesting about any other issue in the past. Mahesh Shetty Thimmarodi (sitting, in white) with his group's volunteers. The banner reads "Public Ganesh Chathurthi" programme organized under the aegis of the Hindu Jagrana Vedike How then, did a history-sheeter get involved in the protests and end up being one of the most visible faces of the protests against Sowjanya’s rape and murder? In an interview with The News Minute, Thimmarodi spoke about his involvement with the protests through the Praja Prabhutva Vedike, and his views of Veerendra Heggade, the case filed against him by Heggade and other subjects. On October 18, the Belthangady police filed an FIR against him, booking him for defamation based on a complaint filed by Heggade. Thimmarodi had given an interview to Kannada news channel Suvarna News 24x7 some time ago in Bangalore, expressing his views on Sowjanya’s case. During this programme, he had claimed that Heggade had called up the local inspector the night that Sowjanya had disappeared and had attempted to interfere in the case and thus the case of defamation. A flyer which says that the Rashtriya Hindu Jagrana Vedike and the Prajaprabhutva Vedike are organizing a yaaga on October 10, to obtain justice for Sowjanya.  Superintendent of Police Sharanappa told The News Minute that Heggade had written to his office, alleging defamation and after taking legal opinion, the police decided to file an FIR. Asked why he had originally taken up the issue, Thimmarodi said: “When she went missing, we had protested. The next day, my boys informed me that a girl’s body had been found in the snana ghatta (bathing ghat). They asked me to come and see. I told them that unless it was found on the Ujire side of the river, I would not come. But they insisted.” He went on to talk about “all the things he had heard” that happened in Dharmasthala. Then he claimed the Heggade had tried to interfere with the police investigation. “I thought that this could happen to my children also,” Thimmarodi said. “It is not just about Sowjanya’s rape and death. But there have been so many deaths there (Ujire and Dharmasthala). Should we forget about all that?” Thimmarodi said. Asked about the defamation case against him, Thimmarodi said: “I have not blamed anybody, not Harshendra Kumar, not Veerendraa Heggade. I demanded justice. Our fault is that we asked for justice for that girl.” He went on to say that he was all alone and that there was no one on his side. “It is very sad that when the truth in before your eyes, people refuse to see it. Politicians, the law, the police, they all tried to hide the truth. There is a new country in Dharmasthala. We don’t have the right to talk, we don’t have protection from the government” Thimmarodi also said that he faced threat. “For three months I had a gunman. After they filed a 307 (attempt to murder) case against me, the police withdrew protection. This is the atmosphere I live in.” Asked why he ended his 25-year-old association with the Hindu Jagrana Vedike, Thimmarodi claimed that he had questioned the leadership and they had asked him to leave. He alleged that the organization “supported Dharmasthala” (Heggade). “I could not go along with that. Wont I lose my respect if I did that?” he says. Now that he has parted ways he says that he has formed an organization of his own, called the Rashtriya Hindu Jagrana Vedike, which will continue the work he did for the Hindu Jagrana Vedike. Thimmarodi also spoke extensively about all the things he felt were wrong with the investigation. He raised questions about the deaths of Ravi Poojary, and Varija who were related to the people accused in the case. The police had called their deaths suicides.“Why are all these people killing themselves? Wont society get a doubt?” he asks. “Sowjanya is a Shakti (power) just in a form of an innocent girl. Adharma (violation of law) is going on in a holy place like Dharmasthala. Sowjanya’s name is still alive here (in protests). I believe in Annappa’s grace,” Thimmarodi said. (Annappa is the presiding deity of Dharmasthala)

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