New Delhi: Recent years have brought to light many self-styled godmen who are less known for their spiritual compassion and humanitarism and more for their basal instincts, greed and exploitation of gullible masses. More and more Indian godmen, with worldwide followers running into millions, are now being accused of rape, sexual exploitation and immoral acts under the garb of religious practices.

1) Asaram Bapu: Most recently, Asaram Bapu, with a following of millions across the globe, has landed in a controversy, with a 16-year-old girl student of his gurukul (residential school) alleging that he sexually assaulted her at his Jodhpur ashram in Rajasthan earlier this month. The godman had purportedly threatened to eliminate the victim’s parents if she revealed the incident to anyone.

In 2007, a former member of the Asaram ashram, Raju Chandak, had claimed in an affidavit filed with the police that tantric (black magic) rituals were being performed in the ashrams of Asaram, and that he had personally been witness to Asaram Bapu sexually exploiting women. In December 2009, Raju Chandak was attacked by two unknown persons with guns in the city of Sabarmati in Gujarat. The Gujarat police filed an attempt to murder case against Asaram Bapu and two others.

In 2008, a Commission was set up to probe the mysterious death of two children, whose bodies were found on the Sabarmati riverbed after they went missing the same year. Dipesh Vaghela, 10, and Abhishek Vaghela, 11, were cousins studying at Ashram’s Gurukul at Motera in Gujarat. Following a public outcry, the case was handed over to the Crime Investigation Department (CID), which, after a year of probing, filed a complaint of culpable homicide and booked seven sadhaks (religious practitioners) of the ashram. Praful Vaghela, the father of one of the children, believes that the children were killed as a consequence of a tantric ritual.

2) Chandraswami: Another famous godmen of India is Chandraswami alias Nemi Chand Jain. Chandraswami first gained fame through his skill as an astrologer but his rise to national prominence came as a result of his association with former Indian Prime Minister Narasimha Rao. Chandraswami was said to have been his spiritual adviser. Soon after Rao became Prime Minister in 1991, Chandraswami built an ashram known as Vishwa Dharmayatan Sanathan in Delhi’s Qutub Institutional Area.

Chandraswami has been accused, repeatedly, of financial irregularities. In 1996, he was arrested on charges of defrauding a London-based businessman of $100,000. He has faced charges for repeated violation of India’s Foreign Exchange Regulation Act (FERA).

3) Paramahamsa Nithyananda: also known as Swami Nithyananda, he attracted national attention when his sex romp video surfaced on many television channels in 2010. Nithyananda is the founder of Nithyananda Dhyanapeetam, a worldwide movement for meditation headquartered in Bengaluru.

4) Santosh Madhavan, from Kerala, became popular as Amritha Chaithanya. After founding Shantitheeram Trust in the name of his parents, he was arrested near Cochin on May 18, 2008 on charges of fraud. He has been charged with pedophilia and making videos of sexual misdemeanours with underage girls. On May 20, 2009, he was sentenced to 16 years in prison for molesting two underage girls.