Uneasiness, heartache, and an eye infection. Former Union minister Chinmayanand couldn’t be more sick to hold on to a hospital bed, rather than ruminating in his inhospitable cell at Shahjahanpur district jail in Uttar Pradesh. There’s no information, though, if his skin ailment has flared up again—well, the one that the 72-year-old BJP leader was getting treated allegedly with a young woman’s oil massages.
The woman, a law student at a college that he runs, alleged that he had raped her through a year. He was arrested, and during the hearing on his bail application on September 30 it was alleged that he tore off the woman’s clothes because he enjoyed a naked rubdown. His bail was rejected. Still, the massage is seen as a diversionary tactic to open the escape hatch for the suspect to escape by the skin of his teeth. “Swami Chinmayanandji has a skin problem. So, he takes an oil massage with a homeopathic medicine regularly. Is there anything wrong with that?” his lawyer Om Singh asks. “Swamiji said he was ashamed of the act.”
A massage—even a coerced one in the nude—isn’t as big a crime as rape, which attracts far more stringent punishment as per amended laws protecting women against sexual abuses in India. The defence counsel can exploit this aspect, unless there’s foolproof evidence that proves the woman’s charges. The most serious charge against Chinmayanand is “sexual intercourse by a person in authority”, which is legally not as grave an offence as rape.
The case has been recording sharp turns since the law student posted a video on her Facebook page on August 24 in which she pleaded to the Prime Minister and chief minister of UP to protect her from a sanyasi who has spoiled many women’s lives. Soon after, the woman disappeared and her father lodged a complaint of abduction and sexual harassment against Chinmayanand. That very day, Chinmayanand lawyer Singh filed a complaint, accusing her of extorting money from the political leader. In the meantime, the case reached the Supreme Court, and UP Police traced the girl to Dausa, Rajasthan. The top court asked the UP government to ensure her safety and to set up a special investigation team (SIT). Also, Allahabad high court was directed to constitute a bench to monitor the case.
But the defence has turned the heat on the law student, with an extortion allegation following which she was arrested on September 25. Lawyer Singh asks “why will someone make 50-odd video clips for over a year to prove rape”, if the actual intent wasn’t to blackmail his client for money.
Chinmayanand is allegedly enjoying a long rope from the SIT, which has yet to press rape charges against him, though the women had filed a written complaint at Lodhi Road police station in Delhi and repeated the allegations before a judicial magistrate. SIT chief Naveen Arora declined to respond to any allegation, saying “it will hamper the investigation”. For his part, the woman’s lawyer, Anup Trivedi, alleged that the SIT has arrested her wrongly, but won’t comment on the sessions court’s refusal to grant her bail.
Women’s rights activists and legal experts fear that the case might go cold. “If the girl has recorded her statement before the magistrate and also mentioned in her complaint in writing to the SIT that she was raped, I think rape charges should have been pressed against Chinmayanand,” Rakesh Dwivedi, a senior lawyer in the Supreme Court, says.
According to Ranjana Kumari, a women’s rights campaigner, the allegation that the girl has tried to extort money from Chinmayanand is a devious counter-ploy to divert attention. “It is a message to every girl that if you complain against the high and mighty, you will be punished instead of the culprit. It is really discouraging girls from coming out and complaining,” she says.