‘Abduction’ of women: Gujarat HC notices to Nithyananda, police; ashram managers held

Self-styled godman Nithyananda. (File)

The Gujarat High Court on Wednesday issued notices to self-styled godman Nithyananda and the state government on a habeas corpus petition filed by the father of two women allegedly abduc-ted and kept in illegal confinement at his Ahmedabad ashram even as police arrested two managers of the ashram and “freed” two minor girls from its premises.

A division bench of justices SR Brahmbhatt and VP Patel issued notices to the respondents, including the state government, DGP, police officers concerned, child welfare committee chairman as well as Nithyananda and Maa Pranpriya, the co-ordinator of Ahmedabad-based ashram. The notices are returnable by November 26.

The petitioner, Janardhana Sharma, 48, alleged that officials of the ashram — Yogini Sarvagyapeetham — were not allowing him and his wife to meet their two daughters staying there. He said his four children were enrolled with the ‘Nithyananda Dhyanpeetham’ in Bengaluru in 2013, “expecting that the children will have better and spiritual upliftment” but he later found that the children were shifted to Yogini Sarvagyapeetham, situated on the premises of Delhi Public School in Ahmedabad.

On November 1, Sharma and his wife asked authorities of the institution to let them meet their children, which they were denied, following which he filed a complaint with local police.

On November 16, after the complainant approached the Gujarat State Commission for Protection of Child Rights, police entered the ashram and rescued the younger children, a 13-year-old boy and 15-year-old girl, and handed them over to the compla-inant. Police then told the petitio-ner that other two major daughters don’t want to meet or talk to them, according to his petition.

His elder daughters — Lopamudra (21) and Nandhitha (18) — continue to be at the Ahmedabad ashram run from the premises of Delhi Public School, Hirapur, Sharma’s petition said. However, Nandhitha Sharma was not found in the ashram. On November 17 night, an FIR was lodged against Nithyananda and two managers of the ashram at Vivekananda Nagar police station in Ahmedabad rural. An SIT was constituted to probe the matter by Gujarat Police.

Police later said that they contacted Nandhitha via Skype video calling and the woman claimed that she has gone “outside” on her own and will return once her “work is over”. Police are now tracing the location of Nandhitha who contacted them via Skype.

On November 17, the petitioner got an FIR lodged at the Hathijan police station, Ahmeda- bad (Rural). Lopamudra, however, posted a video on her Facebook account on Tuesday, stating she was in Trinidad on her own will.

The division bench asked the petitioner’s legal representative, Pritesh Shah, “Who are you to ask for the girls custody?” The question was on the fact that Lopamudra and Nandhitha were stated as “adults” in the petition.

However, Shah contended that the ashram authorities along with other supporters have “abducted the petitioner’s children from the place (ashram) and shif- ted them to Apartment: 107, Pus-hpak Society... and illegally confined them there for more than 2 weeks...,” as said in the petition.

A notice was issued to all the respondents, including the Director General of Police of Gujarat, the Superintendent of Police of Ahmedabad (Rural) district, police inspector in charge of Vivekananda police station at Hathijan, Nithyananda and Nirbheda alias Maa Pranpriya, the chief coordinator of the Ahmedabad branch of Nithyananda Dhyanpeetham.

Meanwhile, police on Wednesday morning arrested two managers of the ashram and “freed” two minor girls after they told police that they no longer wanted to stay there.

Ma Pranpriya and Ma Priyatattva are the arrested managers-cum-caretakers of the Yogini Sarvajnapeetham, situated in Hirapur village. They have been booked under Indian Penal Code sections 364, 344, 323, 504, 506 (2) for abducting, confining, causing hurt, intentionally insulting and criminally intimidating respectively along with sections of Child Labour (prohibition and regulation) Act. A local magisterial court sent them to police remand for five days.

“After a special investigative team (SIT) reached the premises of the ashram, statements of the accused and children living there were recorded. While recording statements, two girls, both 13 years old, expressed their desire to leave the ashram. We moved them out and made them meet their parents. As per our investigation, two accused Pranpriya and Tattvapriya have been arrested and we have received five day remand period,” said RV Asari, superintendent of police, Ahmedabad rural.

Reacting to the notice by the HC, RV Asari said, “We haven’t received the notice yet and the police are trying to trace the missing woman, Nandhitha Sharma.”

At present, 24 children live in the ashram in Ahmedabad East. Following the outrage, the district education officer of Ahmedabad rural issued a notice to DPS asking them to reply within seven days.