There is a proverb in English language “Show me your friends and I’ll tell you who you are…” It means find wise people and be in their company as much as possible. Very few know the dark side of Chief Minister C. V. Wigneswaran‘s life or they know but pretend ignorance. In a recent interview M.A. Sumanthiran alluded that Wigneswaran is a devotee of Premananda who was convicted of raping under-aged orphan girls living in his Ashram and murder of a young engineer Ravi. All the victims of Premananda’s sexual exploits were young girls from Jaffna who followed Premananda when he emigrated to Tamil Nadu following the 1983 communal riots.
Premananda was born on November 17, 1951 at Mandandawela in Matala. His real name is Premkumar Somasunderam but later took the name Premananda meaning one possessed with love and eternal bliss. Premananda’s father Somasunderam is from Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu. He married Pushpakanthi. Premkumar (his original name) attended Christ Church College in Matala until 8th standard. The house he was born is still there after undergoing renovation.
His biography reveals that as a young schoolboy Premkumar could manifest sweets or fruits out of nowhere for his friends, and he became renowned in his school for multiplying his lunch food, for holding erudite discussions on philosophical subjects and even for performing miraculous healings. Knowing that he could immediately see anyone’s problems and infallibly predict their future, the parents of his friends became the boy’s first devotees before he reached adolescence. As news of his powers spread, hundreds of people in cities and villages began to seek his blessings and healings.
At the age of 16, after Premkumar used to conduct prayers, ceremonies and interviews in his grandmother’s house. As time passed an Ashram was built to welcome the crowds of people who flocked to see him. Named the ‘Centre of Peace for All Religions’ with symbols of every major faith painted on inside walls.
In 1969 while he was addressing some 200 devotees who had gathered to listen, his body began to glow and a saffron coloured robe suddenly seemed to descend on him. A saffron coloured garb is that of an initiated Hindu monk. At the time he was only 18 years old but from then onwards he became known as Swami Premananda. He often materialised holy ash or vibhuti from thin air. It was claimed that even as a toddler he exhibited an unusual interest in spirituality. While his brothers and sisters played outside, Premananda could be found performing poojas (rituals) with his grandmother, or facing a wall in a corner absorbed in deep meditation. It is said that if he thought too much about the divine or the lives of saints, he would fall into an unconscious state of rapture.
In 1983 Premananda’s modest Ashram was destroyed during 1983 communal pogrom, so he emigrated to Tamil Nadu with some orphan children and settled down in Thiruchi. Soon his name became famous, next only to another god man Sai Bava, for materialising objects like lingam, rings, chains and even watches made in Japan. He bought 150 acres of land at Viralimalai in Pudukkoddai and set up an Ashram and an orphanage. The Ashram was officially opened in 1989 and about 100 boys and girls lived in the Ashram, most of them orphaned during 1983 riots. In the Ashram all the children are provided with food, clothing, and shelter, schooling and medical attention free of charge. Premananda’s Ashram flourished and he set up Premananda Centres and Premananda Youth Groups in many countries, including UK, Switzerland, Belgium. The aim of the Ashram, Centres and Groups is to offer spiritual guidance and help to all who come and to offer service to those in need throughout the world. It is claimed Premananda’s teachings are universal and transcend the barriers of race and religion.
Many politicians and several foreigners became his devotees. They were mesmerised by his production of vibhuti (sacred ash) by sleight of hand. He wore saffron clothes and had a kinky hairdo. When the girls reached puberty, he raped them, hoodwinking them into believing that he had divine powers. Educated fools mistook him as a god incarnation and became his followers. One of them is ex Supreme Court justice and current Chief Minister of Northern Provincial Council Wigneswaran who considers him as his Supreme Guru.
Normally god men look intensely charismatic and attract followers, especially women in their thousands. But, the stoutly built, dark-skinned and bearded Premananda possessed no such charisma, but the magical powers he claimed attracted both the educated and uneducated. They were mesmerised by his production of vibhuti (sacred ash) by sleight of hand. He wore saffron clothes and had a kinky hairdo. When the girls reached puberty, he raped them.
Wigneswaran at the commencement of his speech makes it a point to pay homage to his guru whom he considers as Guru of Gurus. “குருப்பிரமா, குரூர் விஷ்ணு, குரூர் தேவோ மகேஷ் வரஹ, குருட் ஷாட்ஷாத் பரப்பிரம தஸ்மை ஸ்ரீ குருவே நமஹா! (Homage to Gurur Brahma Gurur Vishnu Gurur Devo Maheshwaraha Guru Sakshat Parabrahma tasmai Shri Guruve Namaha.) This is a Sanskrit recital paying homage to the Trinity of Hindu Gods—Brahma, the creator; Vishnu, the protector and Maheswaran, the destroyer. “You are my preceptor,” it states, “And I revere your name.”
Premananda recites this prayer on Guru Purnima day, a day to remember the saints, sages, avatars and spiritual masters who guide followers on the spiritual path and who have been born on this earth from the time the world was created. On this day which comes once in 365 days, Premananda exhorts his flock to think about those great souls and chant, “Gurur Brahma, Gurur Vishnu, Gurur Devo Maheshwaraha” and think of the Supreme who is the Guru of Gurus. Then think of the spiritual master you have accepted as your Guru and chant his or her name nine times. Furthermore, accepting a spiritual master as your Guru may be your wish, but if that Guru, too, accepts you, it will be your great, good fortune. Guru Purnima is the day to remind us of that fortune. It goes without saying Wigneswaran’s spiritual master is serial rapist Premananda and this recital is homage to him.
Till 1993 Premananda’s fame and name rivalled that of only Sai Bava of Puddaparthi in terms of wealth and number of followers, including foreigners! As usual, it was claimed Premananda was a reincarnation of a great and very learned scholar, spiritualist and sage Vivekanda. Some of his devotees called Premananda Thiruchi Sai Bava.
With the AIADMK coming to power in 1991, the Ashram gained enormous political clout. Apart from various Ministers, Jayalalithaa’s foster sister, Sasikala Nadarajan (now a convict and in jail for corruption) and her family were regular visitors here. However, few knew about the goings-on in the Ashram —seduction, molestation, rape and debauchery—till November 1994. Two women residents of the Ashram, Sureshkumari and Latha, escaped and came to Chennai in November 1994, and spoke to the press about the activities in the Ashram. The All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA), affiliated to the Communist Party of India (Marxist), took up their cause.
On the morning of 19th November, 1994 the stillness of the Ashram was shattered when a battalion of police officers with machine guns raided the Ashram in armoured vehicles. Premananda was arrested and remanded to judicial custody the next day. His associate Kamalananda and his wife Dr Chandra Devi were also lodged in the Thiruchi Central Jail for abetting sex-related crimes and for performing crude medical termination of pregnancies of their victims.
Subsequent investigations revealed the murder of engineer Ravi, who had opposed the un-holy activities at the Ashram. He was tortured for a few days before being killed and buried. The police exhumed his remains on November 24, 1994 and on the same day, police also seized documents, fixed deposit receipts worth Rs 75 lakhs and details of other investments. They found that Premananda was among the top tax defaulters with arrears of Rs 1.5 crores.
Even as the police started its investigation, the Ashram witnessed a steady exodus of the foreigners. Divya Mathaji, Premananda’s girl friend and the inmate in charge, fled the country to Germany and later to France. Assets worth Rs 80 lakhs in her name was frozen. During the early stages of the investigation, Premananda was confident that his friends in the ruling AIADMK would save him from the long arm of the law. Indeed, the police was asked to go slow in the case. However, with the change of government, the investigations were resumed in right earnest.
The First Information Report, which is the primary stage of complaint by an alleged victim that a criminal offence has taken place was submitted after the story had leaked to the press. The first newspaper article appeared on 5th November 1994, but Suresh Kumari only filed the complaint with the police on 17th November, 1994 accusing I Premananda of raping her 8 years previously.
On 19th and 20th November many people were taken away from the Ashram by the police for investigation and inquiries. In total 20 girls and young women (aged between 14 and 35) were taken away for interrogation.
In January 1995, a medical examination ordered by the court confirmed the rape of 13 girls and one of them Aruljothi was pregnant at that time. She sought court permission to abort the foetus. To prove medically that Premananda was raping the girls, a foetus aborted from Aruljothi, in January 1995 was examined by a forensic scientist for the prosecution, Dr. Lalji Singh. The prosecution stated that his DNA findings showed that Premananda was the father of the foetus.
The Defence called a DNA expert from the United Kingdom, Dr. Wilson J. Wall a specialist in genetics. The results of his test, done according to international DNA standards gave a contradictory opinion and stated Premananda had not fathered the foetus. However, the court rejected Dr. Wall’s test results and the scientific explanations given by him.
The charge against Premananda was that behind smokescreen of dispensing Bhakti in his Ashram near Thiruchi in Tamil Nadu, he raped women devotees and forced those who became pregnant into abortion. He also murdered an engineer, Ravi, who stood up to his venal activities. Premananda, a Tamil of Indian origin, hails from Matala in Sri Lanka, where he ran an Ashram. In the wake of the anti-Tamil pogrom by the Sinhalese on the island in July 1983, he came to Tamil Nadu as a refugee with some Tamil girls and women. He started an Ashram near Viralimalai in Pudukoddai district, which had modern buildings, air-conditioned cottages and an orphanage.
To cut the story short, on 20th August, 1997 after a lengthy trial the Pudukoddai District sessions judge, R. Bhanumathi (currently Justice of the Supreme Court of India) in a landmark judgement, sentenced self-styled god man Premananda to life imprisonment for two consecutive terms (32 years) and fined Rs 67.30 lakhs for 13 counts of rape, molestations of two girls and a murder. Failure to pay the fine was to carry an additional term of 32 years and 9 months. He was also convicted of cheating the residents of his Ashram which carried another one-year sentence. Six others (all from Jaffna) were also found guilty of conspiracy to commit rapes and destroying evidence. Five were given life sentences. In view of the severity of the crimes, the judge denied them any future remission of their sentences or amnesty by any state or central government.
Premananda’s appeal to the Madras High Court proved futile. The High Court on December 12 confirmed District Court order sentencing fake sanyasi Swami Premananda and his secretary Kamalananda to double consecutive life imprisonment. Justices P. Shanmugam and M. Chockalingam of the High Court said: “The proceedings are unique and have shown the vulnerability of the orphans, especially the girls, and the need for their protection. They have revealed to what extent persons professing to be spiritual gurus could screen their true profiles.”
Two women residents of the Ashram, Suresh Kumari and Latha, escaped and came to Chennai in November 1994, and spoke to the press about the clandestine activities in the Ashram. The All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA), affiliated to the Communist Party of India (Marxist), took up their cause. The police filed a case against Premananda and others. Tamil newspapers published the sordid tales of torture, rape and so forth in the Ashram under the veneer of poojas and bhajans. On August 20, 1997, Pudukkoddai Sessions Judge R. Bhanumathi convicted and sentenced Premananda to two consecutive life terms and slapped on him a fine of Rs.66.40 lakhs for multiple rape and murder. He and the other accused filed an appeal in the Madras High Court (Frontline, September 19, 1997 and December 16, 1994).
To be continued….