The law seems to be finally catching up with self-styled godman Nithyananda, who is likely to face the same fate as that of godmen Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh and Asaram Bapu, who are languishing in jail on charges of rape and sexual assault.
The Third Additional District and Session Court in Ramanagara on Tuesday framed charges against 44-year-old Nithyananda and others, in a case that has seen several twists and turns over eight years.
During the course of trial, Nithyananda first said that he was impotent and later changed his stance to claim that he had consensual sex with the survivor who was his disciple.
He is accused of raping the disciple for close to five years during her stay in the ashram under the garb of spirituality.
Nithyananda will now face trial under Sections 376 (rape), 377 (unnatural sex), 420 (cheating), 114 (criminal abetment), 201 (disappearance of evidence, giving false information), 120B (criminal conspiracy) and other charges under the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
The other accused are: Shiva Vallabhaneni alias Nithya Sachidananda (A3); Danasekaran alias Nithya Sadananda (A4); Ragini alias Maa Nithya Sachidananda (A5); and Jamuna Rani alias Maa Nithyananda (A6).
All the accused including Nithyananda who were present in the court on Tuesday pleaded not guilty.
Incidentally, the second accused Gopala Sheelam Reddy alias Nithya Bhakthananda (A2) did not appear in court citing health reasons.
The Sessions Court Judge on Tuesday also issued a non-bailable warrant against Reddy after noting his plea as â€śnon acceptableâ€ť. The prosecution argued that his health condition was â€śbeyond complicatedâ€ť.
â€śIt is highly impossible to accept the contention of the second accused that he is physically not fit to attend the court proceedings. Thus, it is held that the health grounds urged by the second accused is not acceptable one,â€ť the trial court noted.
It further stated, â€śThis court is of the opinion that accused No 2 with an intention to drag the proceedings is not appearing before the court.â€ť
Sources told TNM that Reddy runs a real estate business in Florida, United States.
The next date of hearing has been fixed on June 14.
Till date, Nithyananda has been arrested twice and got bail from higher courts and successfully delayed the start and proceedings of trial.
Nithyananda has been in the centre of controversy since 2010, when multiple regional channels had broadcasted a clip of the godman in a compromising position with an actor.
Lenin Karuppan, a former disciple, had exposed the controversial figure and registered a complaint with Chennai police in 2010.
A case under Sections 295 A (insulting religious belief), 420 (cheating), 376 (rape), 377 (unnatural sex), 506 (i) (criminal Intimidation) and 120 B (criminal conspiracy) of the IPC was registered against Nithyananda in 2010 by Ramanagara police, after the case was transferred to them.
Nithyananda is also mired in other controversies in India and abroad.
The Madras High Court had warned Nithyananda of compromising with the truth in his affidavit, in a case involving his removal as the pontiff at the Madurai Adheenam Mutt.
Recently, towards the end of May, the Karnataka High Court had pulled up the local police for not probing a suspicious death in his ashram on the outskirts of Bengaluru. The victimâ€™s mother had accused Nithyananda and his aides of assaulting her daughter.
Besides this, there were two other suspicious deaths in his ashram.