Hearing the habeas corpus petition moved by a Bengaluru-based couple who claim their daughters are being ‘illegally confined’ by Nithyananda’s acolytes in his ashram, the Gujarat High Court on Tuesday, 26 Novembe, ordered the women, believed to be abroad, to appear in court by 10 December.
It also noted, following a request by the lawyers representing the Ashram, that they could also depose before Indian authorities abroad, but only after seeking approval from the HC.
Janardan Sharma, the father, moved a habeas corpus petition on 18 November, claiming that his daughters had been “abducted and kept in illegal confinement and deprived of sleep” by self-styled godman Nithyananda and his followers.
His two daughters, Nanditha, 18, and Lopamudra, 20, have both taken to social media to claim that they are a part of Nithyananda’s ashram of their own free will. However, the Bench observed that “Facebook videos would not hold” and asked police to ensure that they are able to safely depose.
Investigating Officer KT Kamaria said that the younger daughter, Nanditha, fled to Nepal by road on 5 November, but that they were unaware of her exact whereabouts.
"“Today, we are requesting the police to give the girls assurance of their safety. Their travel can be arranged to a country where our embassy is located and depose before Indian authorities but only after the relevant applications are filed in this court. As per the petition, they must be brought to court.”" - High Court Bench
The matter was heard by a Bench headed by Justices SR Brahmbhatt and AP Thakker. The Bench observed that both daughters would have to come and depose of their own volition, and that it was suspicious that both had traveled to a country where the Indian law doesn’t hold.
‘Both Sisters Have Left the Country’: Public Prosecutor
A public prosecutor representing the Gujarat police told the court that both daughters of Sharma had left the country - Nandita as recently as 5 November.
“It has been over 1.5 years that the elder daughter Lopamudra left the country. Nanditha left for Nepal on 5 November. We believe that they have reached Trinidad and Tobago via Nepal. We are tracking the IP and VPN of the girls’ Internet use,” the lawyer said.
Officer Kamaria said that the court order on 10 December will finalise whether the girls can come to an embassy for a Skype meeting or should the cops bring them to the court.
"We told the court that Nanditha had escaped by road to Nepal we don’t know which country she is in right now. On 1 Nov, the parents and police had gone together to meet her but at that time, the girl had refused to meet her parents. We are in touch with them through Skype and video-conferencing and we are trying to make the girls understand that they have been summoned by court and they need to abide by this order,” he told mediapersons.
'No Question of Illegal Detention’: Ashram’s Lawyer
Yogesh Lakhani, appearing on behalf of the Ashram and representing two of Nithyananda’s managers arrested last week, said that there was no question of illegal detention since the girls are openly claiming they are safe which the Bench refused to consider.
"“India has enough mechanisms to ensure that both girls are assured of their safety, no matter in which country they are, they should be brought to court. All the videos on social media, that cannot be considered at this stage. It cannot be determined from that alone that the girls are not under pressure.This writ will be alive till they appear in court. The cops have been instructed to ensure that the girls are able to depose safely.“ " - Pritesh Shah, parents’ lawyer
Sharma had earlier sought a direction to the authorities to produce his two elder daughters, Lopamudra and Nanditha Sharma before the court as stated in his habeas corpus petition, claimed that Ashram authorities were not letting him meet them. The police have also registered a missing person case about Nanditha.
On Thursday, 21 November, Central Board of Secondary Education wrote to the State Education Department seeking clarity on DPS Maninagar, Hirapur leasing out land to Nithyananda’s ashram in Ahmedabad.
Speaking to The Quint, Janardan Sharma had said that his daughters’ online testimonies were ‘fabricated’ and said that he was not willing to ‘divert’ the issue of his daughter’s rescue and indulge in this “cheap level of discussions”
(With inputs from PTI)
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