Nithyananda case: Two Ashram managers arrested; two minors freed

The premises of Nithyananda ashram in Hirapur village in Ahmedabad rural. (Express Photo)

Two managers of an ashram owned by self-styled guru Swami Nithyananda were arrested on Wednesday, a day after the police raided the premises on allegations of kidnapping, confining and torturing children.

According to the police, two other minor girls were freed from the ashram after they claimed that they no longer wanted to stay.

Police said Ma Pranpriya and Ma Priyatattva, two managers of the Yogini Sarvajnapeetham Ashram situated in Hirapur village, almost 50 kilometres from Ahmedabad, were arrested on Wednesday morning. The accused, who are followers of Swami Nithyananda, have been booked under Indian Penal Code (IPC) Sections 364, 344, 323, 504, 506 (2) which pertain to abducting, confining, causing hurt, intentionally insulting and criminally intimidating respectively, along with sections of the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act.

"After a Special Investigative Team (SIT) reached the premises of the ashram, statements of the accused and children were recorded. Two girls, both 13-years-old, stated their desire to leave. We have moved them out and handed them to their parents. As per our investigation, two accused Pranpriya and Tattvapriya have been arrested," said RV Asari, Superintendent of Police, Ahmedabad Rural.

The police action comes after a Tamil Nadu-based man, Janardan Sharma, who enrolled his four children in Swami Nithyananda's ashram in Bengaluru, alleged that three of them — a 13-year-old boy and two girls aged 15 and 19 — were brought to Ahmedabad without his permission and illegally confined for nearly eight months.

Last Saturday, after the complainant approached the Gujarat State Commission for Protection of Child Rights, police entered the ashram and rescued the 13-year-old boy and 15-year-old girl and handed them over to the complainant.

The 19-year-old, Nanditha Sharma, was not found in the ashram. Later, an FIR was lodged against Swami Nithyananda and two managers of the ashram on Sunday night at Vivekananda Nagar Police Station in Ahmedabad Rural. An SIT was constituted to probe the matter by Gujarat Police.

The police later said they contacted Nanditha via skype video-calling. Nanditha claimed she had gone "outside" on her own and will return once her "work is over". Police are now tracing the location of Nanditha.

Meanwhile, the eldest daughter of Sharma, 21-year-old Lopamudra Sharma, who is also a disciple of Swami Nithyananda, released a video on Facebook on Monday night claiming she was in Trinidad. She claimed her younger sister Nanditha was with her, and that she had not been kidnapped by the ashram. Police are yet to cross-check these claims.

The ashram is situated on the premises of Delhi Public School (DPS), Ahmedabad East, and presently, 24 children living in it are enrolled in the school.

Following the outrage, the District Education Officer of Ahmedabad Rural issued notice to DPS asking it to reply within seven days stating its affiliation with the ashram and with details of all the children enrolled in the school.