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

Karthik Gopinath ran a Milaap fundraiser to raise funds for restoration of a temple under the TN government’s HR&CE department. A temple official has accused him of fraud.
YouTuber Karthik Gopinath
YouTuber Karthik Gopinath

A Tamil Nadu-based YouTuber, Karthik Gopinath, was arrested on May 30 (Monday) by the Chennai police for allegedly illegally collecting funds in the name of temples that are managed by the state government. Karthik Gopinath runs a popular rightwing YouTube channel called Ilaya Bharatham. According to the police, Karthik collected money on the popular fundraising platform Milaap for the Siruvachur Mathura Kaliamman temple without permission from the Hindu Religious & Charitable Endowments department of the government, which is in-charge of managing the temple. He also collected money in his personal account for the same, according to the police. The money has not been given to the temple so far; according to Milaap, most of the amount collected is still in their accounts and has not been released to Karthik. 

According to a press release by the CCB of Avadi Police Commissionerate, the executive officer of Mathura Kaliamman Temple in Siruvachur of Perambulur, T Aravindhan, filed a complaint stating that Karthik Gopinath (32) had asked the public to give money via the Milaap fundraiser site, and claimed that the money would be used for “renovation of the statues” in the temple; the complainant also alleged that Karthik had collected money in his personal account as well for the temple. However, he did not get any permission from the HR&CE department, which manages the said temple. The complainant also stated that Karthik had wrongfully used the money for personal purposes. Karthik has been booked based on this complaint, 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 resource) of the Information Technology (IT) Act. An investigation is underway. Another complaint has been filed against Karthik by activist Piyush Manush, who has alleged that Karthik also collected money in his personal account.

The money timeline

On October 10, 2021, Karthik Gopinath put out a video on his popular YouTube channel Ilaya Bharatham, showing vandalised temple statues from Siruvachur Mathura Kaliamman temple (HR&CE run) and another privately-run temple in the village of Siruvachur. He linked a fundraiser on Milaap to this YouTube video for rebuilding statues for these temples; the fundraiser was titled ‘SIRUVACHUR temple resurrection’ and collected Rs 33 lakh against an ask of Rs 10 lakh. 

The fundraiser post on Milaap does not mention the names of the temples that Karthik claimed to be collecting money for. It has a collage of two images — broken statues at the private temple on the left, and a broken statue from the Siruvachur Mathura Kaliamman temple on the right. The 74-word post said, “Siruvachur temple idols have been vandalized by miscreants. This is done with the idea of discouraging the Hindu way of life and dampening the spirit of temple goers in the vicinity. One of the temples vandalized was newly refurbished with a cost of 10 lakh rupees (just 25 days back). Let us help replace the idols, rebuild the temples and rejuvenate the theist spirit of the local community. Let's join hands for our dharma.” The fundraiser collected Rs 33 lakh.

While closing the fundraiser, Karthik posted an update: “Thank you all for your love and support. Overwhelmed by the support. Closing in early because right now our main focus is to build the temples. Now my focus would be to efficiently use the funds for the said purpose. We shall keep you updated via the Ilaya Bharatham channel. Thanks again for your generous contributions.”

On October 30 the same year, Karthik posted another YouTube video, this time with images of more vandalised statues from Siruvachur. According to him, BJP’s lone councillor from Chennai, Uma Anandan, and president of the Temple Worshippers’ Society TR Ramesh accompanied him on his trip to Siruvachur to witness the vandalised statues. This video, like most other videos on the channel, contains Karthik's personal bank account details in the description. 

After this, there are no updates on the YouTube channel or the fundraiser page about the temples or the money collected for them, until April 3, 2022. 

On April 3, Karthik posted a YouTube video where he said that the money collected through Milaap had not yet been withdrawn; that he had received a quotation for building the vandalised statues from Padma Shri winning terracotta artist VK Munusamy for Rs 36 lakh, of which Rs 18 lakh has been paid; and that there is a delay from the HR&CE department in giving permission to him to donate the money collected on Milaap for the restoration work. 

Here, Karthik posts a letter written by him to the HR&CE department seeking permission to donate money for restoration of the HR&CE controlled temples in Siruvachur. This letter is dated December 29, 2021 — over two and a half months after he collected the funds on Milaap.

On May 1, 2022, Karthik posted an update to the fundraiser on Milaap: “The funds will be utilised to reconstruct/rebuild idols belonging to the Periyandavar temple which is a private temple and idols belonging to Sri Periyasamy Hills Temple, Sri Madurakaliamman temple which is under the supervision and control of HRCE. As regards the private temple, a quote from sculptor, Shri.G. Ramanathan, to the tune of Rs.3,49,000 was received and approved by the persons managing the affairs of the temple. After visiting the temple and holding detailed discussions and with the consent of local people, it has been decided that the funds will be transferred to the sculptor in a phased manner – an upfront advance of Rs.100,000/- and the balance in installments, after completion of 40%, 80% and 100% of the work. A funds withdrawal request will be raised on the Milaap platform by uploading all necessary documents necessary for due diligence.”

He further wrote, “As regards the temples under HRCE, with the able support of my friends, I am in the process of seeking necessary approvals from HRCE for carrying out the rebuilding/reconstruction work. All necessary documents and details have been provided to the authorities of HRCE and I am awaiting their approval. Meanwhile, since the construction of idols would require a lot of time, the idol construction activity has already commenced. Padma Shri V K Munusamy has been entrusted with this activity. Advance has been given for the said construction. However, no single rupee collected through the Milaap has been deployed to date and it will be so deployed only after HRCE approvals have been received.”

The next day, on May 2, 2022, Karthik uploaded another video on his YouTube channel. Here, he posted a letter dated April 30, 2022 — seven months after the money was collected on Milaap — reportedly signed by several people of Siruvachur, giving him permission to renovate the privately-run Periyandavar temple at a cost of Rs 3.5 lakh. For this, Rs 1 lakh had been released from the Milaap collections to a sculptor as an advance, Karthik said. 

On May 14, 2022, News 18 Tamil Nadu published a report with allegations of swindling of funds by Karthik Gopinath. A day later, on May 15, Karthik put up another YouTube video condemning News 18, and claiming he had done everything by the book, and that no part of the funds raised on Milaap had been used by him, nor that he had received any money into his account for the purpose of this temple restoration project. 

The state’s contention

According to TN government rules, no one is allowed to collect funds in the name of a government managed temple without permission from the department. Rule 5A of The Collection of Income and Incurring of Expenditure Rules, “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.”

Speaking to TNM, a top official from the HR&CE department said that Karthik had not received any permission to collect funds for the said temples, which is why action was initiated against him. 

Milaap confirms only Rs 1 lakh withdrawn

Milaap, responding to TNM’s query on the issue, said, “Karthik Gopinath had run a campaign on Milaap last year for “the purpose of reconstruction/rebuilding of Siruvachur temples where the idols were vandalized by miscreants”, as stated in the campaign story.” 

“On May 1, 2022, Karthick Gopinath further elaborated the purpose of the fundraiser through an update posted on Milaap.org for as part of our platform's protocol. The same is (available for public view under the "updates section" on the campaign page). Out of the total amount of around INR. 30 lakhs raised, only 1 lakh has been transferred to the Stapathi, an idol making vendor, after we have received a bonafide letter from the managing members against a quotation provided by the Stapathi. Till date, no withdrawals have been requested towards the public temple. We would be disbursing funds as per the provisions of all relevant state and national statutes. The remaining funds remain in the care of Milaap.org and will only be disbursed to qualifying bank accounts as per law (especially in the case of the public temple) on clearing through our verification protocols. Please note that no funds raised on the concerned campaign have been transferred into the personal bank account of Karthik Gopinath,” they said.

‘I received Rs 18 lakh 3 months ago’

TNM reached out to Padma Shri awardee VK Munusamy to confirm whether he received an advance for making sculptures for Siruvachur temples. Confirming this, Munusamy said, “Yes, I received Rs 18 lakh, about three months ago. Karthik told me about the fundraiser and that the permission from the HR&CE department was delayed. This happens a lot, so I agreed to make the sculptures for the temple.”

Munusamy added that initially he was hesitant to take up the work since he was upset about the sculptures he had earlier made for the temple being damaged. “But then some very important people convinced me, so I agreed,” he said. When asked who these people were, Munusamy said, “That I should not tell you.”

Asked about who paid the Rs 18 lakh advance, Munusamy repeated, “That I should not tell you. Some Brahmin groups paid through a trust. They said they will take the amount once the HR&CE clearance comes.”

BJP condemns arrest

Meanwhile, BJP state president K Annamalai took to Twitter to condemn the YouTuber’s arrest. He said that it was an intimidatory tactic of the DMK government and that the BJP was supporting his family. “As usual @arivalayam is resorting to intimidatory tactics when under pressure. The arrest of Shri. @karthikgnath on completely trumped charges is not only condemnable but also shows the level to which this Govt will go to silence an uncomfortable voice,” (sic) he said and added, “Spoke to his father some time back and had assured him @BJP4TamilNadu will stand behind this nationalist & our legal team will support him.”

Former MP, BJP member and president of Virat Hindustan Sangam Subramanian Swamy also said that he would be filing a complaint against the police as the arrest violates the “freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion,” provided by the Indian Constitution. 

“I am surprised that the Avadi Police Station near Chennai has started harassing our VHS youngster Karthi Gopinath because he had collected funds from the public to repair a temple. This violates Article 25 of the Constitution and hence I will file a case against the Police,” (sic) he said in a tweet.

Watch Shabbir Ahmed's Tamil show 'Yen Indra Kelvi'. This week he asks how policing can be made better in Tamil Nadu. 

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