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 threeyears` RI if he failed to pay
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 disciplesof 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 examinedin 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 immediately
after the scandal came to light and her properties worth Rs.80 lakh were attached
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
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.
IRREFUTABLE DNA TEST EVIDENCE AND ITS IMPLICATIONS
An epoch making 408 page judgment by judge R. Bhanumathi finally put an end
to a case of debauchery of a self proclaimed "celibate" godman,
Swami Premananda of Sri Lanka who came to Tamil Nadu as a refugee in the eighties.
A straight case of establishing paternity through a standard DNA test was
complicated by people and courts. The other crimes committed by the godman
too came out as major revelations that spanned a three-year court trial finally
culminating in a sentence of life imprisonment for two terms and a hefty fine
of Rs.66,40,000. It is said he was involved in the rape of 13 girls in his
ashram near Tiruchirapalli and for ordering the murder of a male inmate, all
Sri Lankan refugees. Cases such as these are eye-openers and throw up a lot
of issues to debate about people's gullibility, indisputable scientific evidence,
awe about expert opinion.
The unassailable evidence provided by the DNA finger printing conducted by
Dr. Lalji Singh, Deputy Director of the Center for Cellular and Molecular
Biology (CCMB), and currently, officer on special duty at the Center for DNA
Finger Printing and Diagnostics (CDFD) established the 45 - year old Swami
Premananda as the biological father of the foetus as a result of rape of 19-year-old
The DNA test evidence was presented by the prosecution based on four types
of probes of international standards such as - the multi locus, single locus,
PCR based VNTR loci and micro- satellite investigation. This was sought to
be contested by the defence by having a British expert present the DNA test
results. That there is a ban placed by the Medical Council of India on seeking
such expertise from abroad when comparable expertise is available within the
country seems to have been ignored by the Sessions court which was ordered
by the High Court to send the foetal samples sent by the Tamil Nadu police
to Dr. Lalji Singh. What is more astonishing is that the British expert whose
report was presented by the defence lawyer Ram Jethmalani was neither based
on tests conducted as per international standards (as were done by the CCMB)
nor certified and supported by photographs as was done in the case of evidence
provided by the prosecution. Further, the British geneticist's report puts
to shame British science where DNA finger printing originated and casts serious
aspersions on the British lab which conducted the actual test. It goes to
prove that the scientific expertise as is widely believed is not the exclusive
preserve of the west but as much a prized possession enjoyed by the Indian
scientific community. Dr. Woll, the British genticist admitted that the DNA
evidence provided by the Indian scientists' team to be far superior to the
only short tandem repeat (STR) test he had done at another lab goes a long
way in spreading the message across about the Indian expertise.
Even the court found the tests done at the CCMB far superior to those done
anywhere abroad. It is a great victory to science and scientists of the so
called "land of snakes and snake charmers" who, little known as
it may be, that they follow rigorous standards and procedures for their scientific
tests. Simply because a report is sought from a foreign expert, one cannot
accept the results in awe even when it is not supported with proper photographs,
documentation and due certification.
Cases such as Premananda's provide a good opportunity to take science to
such authorities for whom new technologies are relevant as well as to many
a common man by making the DNA test public knowledge. Dr. Lalji Singh gives
a lot of credit in this context to the Tamil Nadu police and commends the
timeliness of their action in taking appropriate steps of obtaining the aborted
foetal sample from Arul Joythi, and obtaining the court's permission to send
it for DNA testing.
Obtaining the foetus for providing evidence was crucial and of paramount
importance in this case. The Swami despite the rape of 13 victims could not
be brought to book until the clinching evidence of the DNA test results whereby
it was shown that the foetal DNA pattern contained 50% of the bands from its
biological father, the Swami, and 50% of the bands from its biological mother
Arul Jyothi. Refuting the defence accusations of manipulation of foetal evidences
Dr. Lalji said, "the courts must approach the scientific evidence in
a scientific way and not suspect it and dub it as connivance with the police.
It is impossible for any scientist to mix the sperm and the egg of the accused
and the victim to obtain a DNA pattern, for it is a heritable occurrence".
The courts must be urged to adopt a scientific approach to find out the validity
and the reliability of the test procedures than viewing the test results with
Had the case gone against the CCMB evidence, it would have been a point for
the multinational conglomerates to push themselves and their wares to set
up shop on Indian soil on the pretext that such expertise was not available
within our country, because DNA tests and other genetic tests are a big business
abroad. Although there are a number of scientific institutions which carry
out the DNA finger printing test including the Indian Institute of Science,(IISc)
Bangalore, Tata Institute of Fundamental research, both Bombay and Bangalore,
Madurai Kamaraj University of Life Sciences, Anna University, but none of
them do the test regularly for anyone because of the repeated court appearances
and long pendency of cases.
To standardize on the procedures and guidelines of such genetic tests whose
results are sought by courts, Dr. Lalji Singh suggests setting up of a national
committee and once the guidelines are laid down, results of such tests must
be included in the evidence act as scientific evidence. The association for
the promotion of DNA finger printing and other DNA technologies has set up
a committee with the initiative from CDFD has formulated standards, quality
assurance and guidelines for DNA finger printing. The committee has submitted
the report to the association and once the suggested changes are incorporated,
the document will be ready for finalization and printing. This document may
be considered by the Government of India as a national document in setting
up a national committee to review and make necessary changes. Currently, these
Guidelines are being followed by the CDFD. Although, the DNA test used to
be conducted at the CCMB before, since March 1996, the CDFD has been conducting
the DNA and other genetic tests.
The CDFD is an autonomous institution of the department of biotechnology
currenty housed in CCMB. It is proposed to have its own building near Himayat
Sagar close to the A.P.Police Academy.