Self-styled Godman Swami Nithyananda booked, two disciples held for 'kidnapping' kids
Ahmedabad, Nov 20: An FIR was registered against self-styled godman Swami Nithyananda on the charges of alleged kidnapping and wrongful confinement of children to make them collect donations from followers to run his ashram in Ahmedabad in Gujarat, police said on Wednesday.
Police also arrested Sadhvi Pranpriyananda and Priyatatva Riddhi Kiran, both women disciples of the controversial godman, on charges of allegedly kidnapping at least four children, keeping them in illegal confinement in a flat and using them as child labourers to promote activities of the ashram to collect donations.
Nithyananda was booked on the similar charges after police recorded statements of the four children who were rescued from a flat and the ashram, "Yogini Sarvagyapeetham", a police officer said. Sadhvi Pran Priyananda and Priyatatva Riddhi Kiran are responsible for managing the ashram, he said.
"We have arrested two disciples of Swami Nithyananda after two children in the age group of 9 and 10 years enrolled at the ashram told us that they were tortured and made to work as child labour and kept in an illegal confinement at a flat in the city for over ten days.
"Similar allegations were made by two other children rescued from the ashram on the basis of a complaint filed by their parents," Dy Superintendent of Police (Ahmedabad rural), KT Kamariya said.
The accused persons have been booked under sections 365 (kidnapping or abducting with intent to secretly and wrongfully confine a person), 344 (wrongful confinement for ten or more days), 323 (voluntarily causing hurt), 504 (intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of peace), and 502 (sale of printed or engraved substance containing defamatory matter) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). They have also been booked under section 14 of the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986, the police officer said.
"The two children (rescued from the flat) have been handed over to the child welfare committee which is questioning them and trying to locate their parents," Kamariya said. The rescued children told police that they were forced to take part in a religious ritual and were harassed, he said.
"They were being made to work for the ashram by force to collect donation from followers by sharing and uploading various ritual materials," the DYSP said. Earlier, parents of two minor sisters had accused the Ashram administration of not letting them meet their wards.
The sisters were subsequently rescued and handed over to their parents, Kamariya said. Their father Janardana Sharma had filed a petition in the Gujarat High Court on Monday claiming that his daughters were "abducted and kept in illegal confinement" for more than two weeks and were deprived of sleep.
An FIR was subsequently lodged against the ashram authorities. "Janardana Sharma also sought direction to authorities to produce his two elder daughters, Lopamudra Sharma (21) and Nandita Sharma (18) before the court," the DSP said. Sharma alleged that Sarvagyapeetham authorities were not letting him meet his two elder daughters.
Police registered a missing person case about Nandita even though she had conveyed to the police via video messages that she wanted to stay back in the ashram and will produce herself before the court when required.