Thursday, August 21 1997

Premananda gets life sentence


MADURAI, AUG 20: Controversial Swami Premananda of Premananda Ashram in Viralimalai near Pudukottai was today convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment and a fine of Rs 67.30 lakh imposed for various criminal offences including rape and murder.

The much awaited judgement was delivered by Pudukottai District and Sessions Judge Banumathi in a packed courtroom.

Premananda alias Premkumar alias Ravi was charged of raping 13 inmates, molesting two and murdering Ravi, an engineer, in the ashram. The judge also found six others guilty of the conspiracy to commit the rapes and destroy evidences and awarded life imprisonment to five of them. Premananda appeared unfazed when the judge delivered the verdict and even smiled. He posed for photographs and greeted cameramen while proceeding to the van. ``Truth will ultimately triumph,'' he told mediapersons.

The judge who had conducted 50 hearings said that if Premananda defaulted in paying the fine, he would have to undergo an additional imprisonment for 32 years and nine months. She also sentenced him to one year rigorous imprisonment for cheating innocent inmates of the ashram.

The judge observed that any remission of sentence or amnesty by the Central or state governments would not bind against Premananda and six others as they were convicted for grave offences against women.

Eminent lawyer Ram Jethmalani represented Premananda among the battery of advocates.

Copyright © 1997 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.

DECCAN HERALD Thursday, August 21, 1997
Double life sentence for Premananda DH News Service Chennai Aug 20

In a sensational judgment, controversial godman Premananda was today convicted of rape and murder and awarded double life imprisonment and a cumulative fine of Rs.66.4 lakh.
Pudukottai District and Sessions Judge R Banumathi also ruled that the 46-year-old godman should undergo the life sentences consecutively. He should undergo rigorous imprisonment for a further period of 32 years and nine months if he failed to pay the fine, the judge added.
Premananda, a Kandyan Tamil from Sri Lanka who set up an 'ashram` near Tiruchi in the mid-`80s, was found guilty of raping 13 inmates of his ashram and murdering a disciple, Ravi.
The victims were all Sri Lankan Tamils.
Along with Premananda, his chief disciple Kamalananda was also awarded life imprisonment and a fine of Rs.12,500 for abetting the crimes and tampering with evidence. The judge said Kamalananda should undergo a further three years` RI if he failed to pay the fine.
Kamalananda`s wife, Dr Chandradevi, was found guilty of performing abortions on the rape victims and was sentenced to imprisonment for two years and seven months. But, as she had already spent that period as an undertrial, the judge ordered that she be set free upon paying a fine of Rs.30,000.
The judge also awarded life sentence to four other co-accused, all disciples of Premananda. They were - Balendran, Mayilvahanan, Nandakumar and Satish.
While Balendran was fined Rs.10,000, others were ordered to pay Rs.12,000 each. The judge said the fines collected should be used to pay compensation of Rs.5 lakh each to the 13 rape victims.
The judge said the convicted prisoners would not be entitled to any remission considering the heinous nature of the crimes committed.
The judge delivered the verdict in a packed courthall where the godman and other accused were produced. Activists of some women`s organisations raised slogans against the godman when he was brought to the court.
As many as 49 prosecution witnesses and 64 defence witnesses were examined in the case which came to light after one of the victims, Sureshkumari,
escaped from the ashram and exposed the sex scandal in early 1994.
Prominent among the prosecution witnesses was forensic expert Jayaprakash who established the identity of murder victim Ravi from a skull recovered from the ashram.
The prosecution also roped in as witnesses several doctors in Tiruchi and Pudukottai who had attended on the girls raped by Premananda. One of the victims, Aruljothi, became pregnant and a DNA test done in Hyderabad established that Premananda was the culprit.
Noted criminal lawyer Ram Jethmalani appeared for Premananda who was arrested along with eight others in November 1994. Two of the accused later turned approvers.
Premananda later told newsmen that he would appeal against the judgment.
Divyadevi, one of the principal disciples of Premananda, escaped immediatelyafter the scandal came to light and her properties worth Rs.80 lakh wereattached to the court. She is still untraced.

PTI adds:

The godman was in a defiantly jovial mood after the judgment, as he smiled at photographers while being taken back to prison, and said: ''Truth will ultimately triumph.`
'Swami` Premananda`s sordid story unfolded in the middle of November 1994, when the girls he had raped came out with startling revelatory interviews to a leading English daily.
The girls had sought shelter with the help of some women activists at 'Udavum Karangal`, a charitable organisation in Chennai.
The interviews created a sensation, and the then AIADMK government, already plagued by a whisper campaign that the disgraced 'hermit` was close to some of the ministers, swung into action within days.
The Crime Branch-CID of the state police raided Premananda`s ashram at Viralimalai near Tiruchirappalli and arrested Premananda and others.
But Divya, a mysterious associate of Premananda, who was known to the ashramites as Divya Mataji, managed to give the slip to the police as she was abroad when the scandal broke out.
Premananda, whose real name was Ravi, settled down in India in the early 1980s after fleeing Sri Lanka as a refugee. With the help of some close friends, he set up the ashram in sylvan environs. Nothing in the ashram`s external appearance suggested the sordid goings-on inside.

DECCAN HERALD Friday, August 22, 1997 Punishment to Premananda must act as deterrent, says judge CHENNAI, Aug 21

Pudukottai District and Sessions Judge R Banumathi, who delivered a trend-setting verdict yesterday by awarding double life imprisonment to fake godman Premananda, convicted for rape and murder, said in her 460- page judgement that she had given the maximum punishment prescribed by the law so that it will act as a deterrent to other such fake swamis.

The judge said the activities of Premananda, who has been found guilty of having raped 13 ashram girls and murdered engineering student Ravi, has shocked judicial conscience. Along with Premananda, six other accused have been found guilty of having abetted the rapes and murder and awarded life imprisonment.

According to details of the judgement now available, the judge has cited the evidence of rationalist Marudhamuthu who had demonstrated in court that ''miracles`` like bringing out lingams from one`s mouth and producing ash were mere tricks. She said the self-styled godman of Sri Lankan origin had secured a large following, including some judges and lawyers in Sri Lanka, besides Westerners by performing such so- called miracles.

The judge has cited the love letters recovered from the ashram near Tiruchi as evidence of the prosecution charge that Premananda was a charlatan and that ashram head Divyadevi, who is absconding, had sexual relations with him as well as with the second accused Kamalananda.

Justifying the imposition of a hefty fine of Rs.66 lakh on Premananda, the judge said that the prosecution has proved that the godman and Divyadevi had deposited Rs.80 lakh in various banks and that the Income-Tax department had served notice for recovery of tax amounting to Rs.1.5 lakh.

Citing a Supreme Court judgment, the judge said that hefty fines were imposed on Premananda and six other accused so that the victims, all young girls who had suffered physical and mental trauma, could be compensated. The judge has ordered that each of the victim should be paid Rs 5 lakh as compensation from the fines.

Meanwhile, Kamalananda`s wife, Chandradevi, who has been ordered to be released upon payment of a fine of Rs.30,000 as she has already served as an undertrial the sentence of two years and seven months awarded for terminating the pregnancies of affected girls, today paid the fine and got discharged.


See also Indian Government - CBI files on Premnananda