May 24, 2014

Indian guru's frozen body now in legal limbo

Ritu Sharma, Delhi
May 23, 2014

Man who claims to be his son fights for his $250 million estate

The body of an Indian guru, sitting in a freezer since January, is entangled in a new controversy after a man claiming to be his son appeared this week alleging murder and seeking to cremate the body.

Close associates of Ashutosh Maharaj, 72, a religious leader based in Nur Mahal in India's Punjab state, have kept their guru's body in a freezer, despite doctors declaring him clinically dead on January 29. They claim the guru is only meditating and will come back to life.

"It is all part of a conspiracy," Dalip Jha, who says he is Maharaj's son, told on Thursday. Jah claims that Maharaj's close associates, who lived with him in his ashram are attempting to take over his estate.

"This is all being done for the property of my father. He is dead," Jha said.

The guru's followers are disrespecting him "by not [giving] him a respectable funeral,” he said.

Maharaj, leader of the Divya Jyoti Jagrati Sansthan (Vigilant Followers of Divine Light), a religious sect based in Punjab, has thousands of followers across the world. The sect has 110 centers in India and abroad, with property estimated at more than US$250 million.

Jha said his father told followers that he was living an unmarried life; he was killed when his associates came to know about the existence of a potential legal heir.

"They feared my father would put all his property in my name,” he said.

Jha said he and his mother live in Madhubani district of eastern Indian Bihar state and his father had not publically accepted him as his son, or his mother as his wife.

“He left us when I was just one month old. My mother stays with me, but is mentally unstable,” he said.

Jha last week filed a petition in the Punjab and Haryana High Court to claim the body. He said that he is prepared to undergo a DNA test to prove his blood link to the guru. “I don’t have anything to hide. He was my father and as a son I want to give him a dignified funeral.”

The court posted the next hearing in the case for May 28.

Jha said he could not reveal his identity earlier for fear of his life. He said he has been trying from Bihar to retrieve the body of his father.

Jha, now in Punjab, said he still fears for his life as his death will free up the properties from legal claims.

Ashram officials refused to comment on the allegations.