Dec 11, 2022

Tories invited UK representative of fugitive Hindu guru to party at House of Lordsfy

The delegate for the controversial ‘godman’ Nithyananda, who fled India in 2019, was invited to the Diwali party by two senior Conservatives

Kiran Stacey
The Guardian
December 11, 2022

The UK representative of a fugitive Hindu guru attended a glamorous Diwali party at the House of Lords earlier this year, after being invited by two senior Conservatives, the Observer has learned.

Atmadaya, the British representative for the controversial guru known as Nithyananda, was invited to the function by the MP Bob Blackman and the peer Rami Ranger. Nithyananda’s organisation also took out a full-page advertisement in an accompanying brochure which was handed out to attendees.

Some attendees were upset at the profile given to the organisation, given that Nithyananda fled India in 2019 while facing multiple charges of abducting children and one of raping a follower. He has since claimed to have set up his own sovereign island state known as the “Republic of Kailaasa”.

Poonam Joshi, a freelance journalist who has investigated the organisation and also attended the event, told the Observer: “It is shocking to see the Hindu Forum of Britain [which helped organise the event] found it appropriate to invite representatives of a man accused of such heinous crimes to parliament.

“It lends legitimacy to an organisation that craves it because of the actions of the fake ‘godman’ at its helm, who remains a fugitive from Indian justice.”

Nithyananda has built up a huge following in India, where he ran more than a dozen temples and ashrams. He made extravagant claims about his supernatural abilities, including being able to delay the sunrise, see through walls, cure children of blindness and make cows talk.

But former followers have also made serious allegations about sexual exploitation and coercive behaviour.

One of his former disciples told the Observer she had been pressurised into having a sexual relationship with Nithyananda, and that followers were threatened with forced labour if they did not comply with his wishes.

She said: “We knew that we would be shunned by the whole community if we didn’t do what he wanted, or that worse, we would be made to do hard labour in the hot desert outside Bangalore.”

Nithyananda was charged in 2010 with raping a devotee. But when his case finally came to trial eight years later, he failed to attend. A year later, police in the Indian state of Gujarat raided one of his ashrams and arrested two people, having alleged that children were being kidnapped and locked up there.

The former disciple said she had also been told by children that they were being beaten in the organisation’s homes.

Nithyananda has denied the accusations against him. Richard Rogers, Nithyananda’s UK-based lawyer, told the Observer: “The available evidence suggests that the (known) pending criminal allegations against the applicant in India are part of a broader campaign of religious persecution targeting the applicant, which is rooted in religious intolerance and based (in whole or large part) on falsified evidence.”

Rogers would not comment on the specific allegations made by Landry. But he added: “The allegations of alleged misconduct that I have looked into (in any depth), turned out to be based on evidence that is unreliable at best, and in some cases clearly manipulated or falsified.”

This is not the first time Blackman, whose constituency includes a large Hindu community, has come under fire for the people he has invited into parliament. In 2017 he was criticised for inviting Tapan Ghosh, a Hindu nationalist who defended the genocide of Muslims in Burma, to a parliamentary event called “Tolerating the Intolerant”.

Blackman did not respond to requests for comment.

Asked about Atmadaya’s attendance at the Diwali event, Lord Ranger said he had no knowledge of Nithyananda or his organisation. “I do not know Kailaasa or this person,” he said. “If I had known I would never have attended an event where such unsavoury characters were being promoted.”

The Hindu Forum of Britain however stood by the invitation. Trupti Patel, the group’s president, said: “We do not discriminate; each entity has their own following. Social media/internet hype and unsubstantiated allegations against UK-registered charities cannot stop any two organisations working together.”

Atmadaya issued a statement in which she said the allegations against Nithyananda “are false and part of a campaign of religious persecution by anti-Hindu extremist elements of the government in India”.

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