Eight long years after self-styled godman Nithyananda was booked in 2010 for allegedly raping his former disciple, an in-camera trial proceeding finally began on Wednesday after many legal twists and turns.
Informed sources told TNM that witness statements were recorded by the Third Additional District and Session Court Judge in Ramanagara throughout Wednesday, after framing of charges was done in June at the insistence of the apex court. The recording of witness statements will continue on August 16.
Other than recording of witness statements, an important facet of the proceedings was the Special Public Prosecutor asking for the presence of prime accused Nithyananda in court.
“The Special Public Prosecutor has taken strong exception and objected to his absence in court. He asked the court to make it mandatory for all the accused to be present from the next hearing or else he will make an appeal to the court to issue non-bailable warrants,” a source said.
The Supreme Court in December 2017 directed the trial court to dispose of the matter expeditiously.
“Therefore, in view of the directions of the Apex Court, it is incumbent upon the court to proceed with the trial. However, it is for the accused No.1 to be present by next date of hearing,” the trial court observed.
44-year-old Nithyananda has not appeared in court on Wednesdayon the pretext of religious ritual—Chathurmasa Parikrama. He had last appeared in court on the day, the charges were framed against him,
Nithyananda is accused of raping a woman disciple for close to five years during her stay in the ashram under the garb of spirituality. Nithyananda is facing 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 Bidadi Police Station in Ramanagara in early 2010 had promptly registered a first information report under the mentioned sections based on a complaint filed by a former disciple against the godman with Chennai Police.
The case was soon after transferred to the Central Investigation Department after the Bidadi Police started investigations.
Nithyananda had courted arrest twice in relation to the case but managed to delay the trial by approaching higher courts and changing his stance from time to time. He had also filed a fabricated impotency report. He had also allegedly filed false cases against the victim and witnesses. He had approached the Karnataka High Court four times regarding this case and recently.
In 2014, the Supreme Court dismissed a petition by Nithyananda seeking to quash the chargesheet against him. But in 2017, in a relief for the victim, the apex court asked the Ramanagara sessions court in Karnataka to frame charges against him and conduct a speedy trial.
However, in March 2018, Nithyananda changed his stance on his impotence at the Karnataka High Court, claiming to have had “consensual sex” with the victim – a big U-turn from earlier.
Nithyananda has been in the news for wrong reasons since then, and multiple regional channels had broadcasted a clip of the godman in a compromising position with an actor.
The other accused
Other than Nithayanada, the CID has named five of his aides as the co-accused in the case.
Gopala Reddy (A2), Shiva Vallabhaneni alias Nithya Sachidananda (A3), Danasekaran alias Nithya Sadananda (A4), Ragini alias Maa Nithya Sachidananda (A5) and Jamuna Rani alias Maa Nithyananda (A6) will also be tried in the same case.
While all the other accused have presented themselves at the time of framing of charges, Gopala Reddy (A2) has remained absconding during the whole process.
A non-bailable warrant (NBW) was issued against him for failing to appear despite repeated summons on the last date of hearing in June.
On Wednesday, Danasekaran alias Nithya Sadananda (A4) and Jamuna Rani alias Maa Nithyananda (A6) were present.
The controversial godman is also involved in other legal proceedings, including a case where he is contesting his sacking as a pontiff at Madurai Adheenam Mutt. The Madras High Court had recently warned Nithyananda that it will issue an arrest warrant if he does not rectify his “misleading” affidavits.
The police have been criticised by the Karnataka High Court for not investigating two suspicious deaths in his ashram.