Raghaveshwara Bharati Swami is not the first religious leader in Karnataka to be accused of rape, but he appears to be allowed questionable liberties and lax treatment that is lawfully denied to other rape-accused.
The other religious leader was Nityananda, who hails from Tamil Nadu but has an ashram on the outskirts of Bengaluru. Nityananda never stood a chance because he never wielded the clout that the seer does.
Raghaveshwara Bharati is the head of the Ramachandrapura Mutt of Hosanagara (Shivamogga district), which belongs to the Havyaka Brahmins. Two women have accused him of raping them multiple times on the pretext of ‘Rama’s will’ and threatened divine wrath if they revealed it to anyone. The complainants have alleged that alleged that the seer is protected and that they are being threatened by the seer and his supporters. Nityananda has been accused of sexually assaulting several of his devotees including a man.
Nityananda Swami and Raghaveshwara Bharathi are both accused of raping women, but the similarities end there.
Nityananda may be a godman, but he is not a religious leader whose following is comparable to Raghaveshwara Bharati’s.
While Nityananda has a large following – some of it brainwashed – in two states, these people are disparate and do not constitute a community.
Raghaveshwara Bharathi on the other hand, is one of the most powerful religious leaders of a community – Havyaka Brahmins – whose members occupy some of the most senior positions in the state’s judiciary, bureaucracy, police, government and equally importantly, the media.
While both men have been accused of sexual assault, rape allegations against Nityananda were preceded by the video of a “sex scandal” by around a year during which media coverage shaped public opinion of him.
Right from the word go, a section of the English media referred to Nityananda as “sex swami” while some of the Kannada media described him as “kamuka” (roughly translated as lascivious), which influenced the public opinion about him. When the video involving actress Ranjitha became public, it appeared to be a consensual act between two adults.
Nityananda Swami is known for his flamboyance. When the sex scandal video became public, this image also shaped public opinion
In contrast, Raghaveshwara Bharati is always referred to as “swami-galu” or “shri-galu” the plural form of the words “swami” or “shri”, which are not just respectful, but reverent.
Last year, five judges of the Karnataka High Court appeared to be suffering from recusivitis: they all recused themselves from various aspects of the case either after explaining their reasons or without doing so.
On a day that his bail petition came up in court, the seer wrote to the CID saying that he would not undergo a medical test. That very day, the local court granted him bail in the second rape case against him.
The Karnataka government too has been playing it safe, and treating the seer with kid gloves, fearing a backlash from his supporters and followers. It also risks the tag of being called “anti-Hindu” if the case does not hold up in court.
Two years after the allegations against Nityananda Swami were first leveled in public, laws dealing with sexual assault were made more stringent following an amendment to the law in 2013. All of this appears to have bypassed Raghaveshwara Bharati entirely, whereas in June 2012, the then chief minister D V Sadananda Gowda ordered Nityananda’s arrest after his supporters assaulted the journalist of a television channel which had telecast a programme in which former disciples leveled allegations of rape and sexual assault against the godman.
Recently at a press conference Uttara Kannada district in-charge minister TV Deshpande, who is influential with the Congress high command, was asked whether he was protecting the seer. Deshpande denied the allegations.
Nityananda’s disciples were possibly the only ones who backed him, but supporters of the Raghaveshwara Bharati have cast aspersions on Premalatha’s integrity.
A member of the state women’s commission – a practicing lawyer for 25 years who is also a government-appointed mediator – publicly stated that it was impossible for a woman to have been raped for a prolonged period, indirectly referring to the second complainant, the woman from Uttara Kannada.