TNM has accessed a copy of the FIR, which says that Karthik Gopinath, who did not have permission to collect funds for the govt-managed temples, was told to give the money he collected along with a list of donors, but he didn’t comply.

Karthik GopinathYoutube/Screengrab
news Controversy Wednesday, June 01, 2022 - 17:51

Rightwing YouTuber Karthik Gopinath who was arrested recently did not have the permission to collect funds in the name of a government-run temple, and he did not remit the money to the HR&CE despite multiple notices, according to the FIR registered in the case. The Tamil Nadu-based YouTuber runs a popular rightwing channel called Ilaya Bharatham, and was arrested on May 30 by the Chennai police for allegedly illegally collecting funds in the name of temples that are managed by the state government.

According to the FIR registered in this case based on a complaint by the Executive Officer of the temple T Aravindhan, the terracotta statues in the Siruvachur temple and its sub temple — Periasamy, Chelliamman Vagayara and Sengamalaiyan temple — were vandalised by a man named Nathan in October 2021. The HR&CE department had obtained a quotation and decided to restore the idols with the help of an arts and crafts company in Puducherry.

Meanwhile, Karthik Gopinath uploaded a video on his YouTube channel about the vandalism in the temple and collected funds through popular fundraising platform Milaap, and also in his personal account, according to the police. This was done in October 2021 — and Karthik did not have any permission to collect funds on behalf of a government-managed temple. In December 2021, Karthik sought permission from the temple’s then executive officer, to restore the statues “with his own money”. He had sent a letter of consent on December 29, 2021. “As per the Management Preservation and Property Rules, any temple works must be carried out with the permission of the HR&CE Commissioner, so his letter was forwarded to the commissioner, along with other documents. No permission has been granted till date,” Aravindhan said in his complaint.

Karthik had sought permission to carry out restoration work with “his own money”, but he started raising funds from the public “without the permission of HR&CE, which amounts to a crime,” the complaint said, “This is equivalent to committing fraud.”

Read: Rightwing YouTuber arrested for allegedly swindling money in the name of TN temple

The complaint alleges that apart from the Rs 33 lakh collected on Milaap, he has also received a large amount of money in his personal account in the name of the temple, and despite notices from the government, he has refused to hand over the money and the list of donors. Karthik Gopinath meanwhile has said that he has received around Rs 2 lakh in his personal bank account despite him telling people not to send him money directly; and that the bulk of the money he collected is through Milaap — most of which is still with the fundraising platform. Milaap confirmed this to be true.

While Karthik has said that he cannot retrieve the money from the Milaap account until the HR&CE gives permission, the complainant and the police say he needed to have gotten the permission to raise the money first; and that once the HR&CE sent him notices, he should have returned the money.

The Milaap fundraiser money is untouched except for Rs 1 lakh which was given to a sculptor. But Karthik also arranged for Rs 18 lakh to be paid to Padma Shri winning Terracotta artist KV Munusamy, as an advance for building idols for the government-managed temple. It is unclear where this money came from. Speaking to TNM, KV Munusamy said he cannot reveal who paid for the advance, and said, “Some Brahmin groups arranged for it to be paid through a trust.”

Aravindhan also pointed out Rule 5A of The Collection of Income and Incurring of Expenditure Rules, which states: “No person, who is not, in any way, connected with the affairs of the religious institution, shall collect any money, subscription, donation or other property for religious purpose connected with the religious institution. If it is brought to the notice of the competent authority having jurisdiction and administrative control over the religious institution, that a person or group of persons, indulged in making such collection, such authority shall direct such person or group of persons, to stop making such collection forthwith, and require such person or group of persons to deposit such collection with the religious institution concerned and to render an account of the collection made by such person or group of persons. Any person or group of persons, who fail to comply with the direction of such competent authority will be liable for prosecution under the provisions of the Indian Penal Code.”

Following the rule, on May 6, 2022, the HR&CE department had sent a legal notice to Karthik Gopinath through a lawyer, asking him to remit the amount collected by him, along with the donor details. Karthik responded through his lawyer on May 16, 2022. “While he has accepted raising the fund via Milaap, he has not yet submitted the money or the donor details,” the FIR says.

Further, on May 21, the Chennai police had sent a summons to Karthik Gopinath to appear before Avadi CCB on May 25 for an inquiry related to the case filed by activist Piyush Manush on alleged swindling of money in the name of a government-managed temple. To this notice, Karthik responded saying he will not be able to appear due to prior commitments.

Karthik Gopinath did not appear for the inquiry even after repeated notices which led to his eventual arrest on May 30, according to the FIR. He has been booked under sections 406 (breach of trust), 420 (cheating) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC); and 66(D) (punishment for cheating by personation by using computer resources) of the Information Technology (IT) Act.

What led to the vandalization of the statues?

Meanwhile, police sources tell TNM that Karthik Gopinath was also inciting religious emotions through his YouTube channel, despite the facts of the case of vandalism in the temple being completely contrary to his claims. Karthik in one of his videos had said the vandalisation of the temple statues was “done with the idea of discouraging the Hindu way of life and dampening the spirit of temple goers in the vicinity.”

Senior police officers from the central zone said that the statues were vandalised by a Brahmin man who was ‘angry with god.’ They had registered five FIRs in connection with vandalisation of temple statues in Siruvachur. “This was a very sensitive issue and certain groups tried to create communal tensions in the area in the backdrop of these incidents. We were able to crack the case in a short span of time and in this case the accused was from a Brahmin community,” a senior officer said.

On October 4, 2021, an unknown person had vandalised multiple statues in Periyasamy Selliyamman, and Sengamalaiyan temple — which is one of the sub temples of Siruvachur Mathura Kaliamman temple. Based on a complaint filed by HR&CE department clerk Govindraj, an FIR was registered by the Perambalur police and an investigation was underway. Four days later, on October 8, statues in two other sub-temples — Sithar Temple and Periyandavar temple — were vandalised, and FIRs were registered subsequently by the Perambalur police.

Sithar Temple is located on a private land that belongs to a person called Raja. In his complaint to the police, Raja said he was asleep inside the temple premises when there was a noise and he spotted a person vandalising statues. According to the FIR accessed by TNM, the complainant and his colleague hid in some bushes and waited for two hours for the accused to return to collect his bag, and nabbed him. “When asked, he told us that his name was Nathan from Chennai. We handed him over to the police,” they said.

The accused, Nathan, had also given a confession statement to the police that he was responsible for vandalising the statues at the temples located in Siruvachur. According to police sources, “The accused was upset with god and he was expressing his ire in the form of breaking statues of god.”

After Nathan created a ruckus at the police station, he was let out on bail, when he again went to the Periyasamy temple and vandalised more statues. Following this, the then executive officer of the temple, Arun Pandian, lodged a complaint with the police and the police had registered another FIR against Nathan.

More statues were vandalised on November 9, 2021, and another complaint was lodged by the HR&CE department. The Perambalur police detained Nathan, who again confessed to the crime, and a three-and-a-half feet iron rod that was used to vandalise the temple statues was recovered from him.

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