Tainted godman

Controversial MP Sakshi Maharaj has a trail of rape and murder charges behind him

The BJP parliamentarian from Unnao has been accused of at least two rapes and two murders.

Sakshi Maharaj, the self-proclaimed godman and Bharatiya Janata Party politician, has been grabbing the headlines ever since he was elected to the Lok Sabha from Uttar Pradesh’s Unnao constituency.

In the eight months since the election, he has claimed that madrasas teach students terrorism and "love jihad", called Gandhi’s assassin Nathuram Godse a patriot, asked Hindu women to protect their religion by producing at least four children and declared that cow slaughter and conversion to Islam and Christianity would soon be punishable by death.

These statements may be ludicrous, but seem to pale in comparison to some of the charges laid out against him. The man who preaches hate and religious intolerance, wishes death upon people for their choice of meat and sees women as nothing but baby-making machines has, unsurprisingly, a history of rape and murder allegations trailing him.

Tainted past

Swami Sachidanand Hari, better known as Sakshi Maharaj, has a large following in Etah, UP, where he hails from. He also runs a large network of ashrams and schools across the state, and is extremely popular among his disciples.

He began his political career in the 1990s with the Bharatiya Janata Party, was elected to the Lok Sabha twice from Farrukhabad, switched allegiance to the Samajwadi Party, then joined former UP chief minister Kalyan Singh’s Rashtriya Kranti Party and finally moved back to the BJP.

In 2000, a college principal in Etah filed a police complaint accusing Maharaj and two of his nephews of gang-raping her. The woman and her male associate were allegedly assaulted by the godman when they were driving to Agra from Etah.

Maharaj had to spend a month in Tihar jail on rape charges, but was eventually let off.

Ten years ago, however, another rape complaint was filed against him in Farrukhabad, by a disciple of his ashram. “The woman is from Mainpuri and still maintains that Sakshi Maharaj had taken advantage of her and raped her in the ashram,” said Yogendra Singh Yadav, a Farrukhabad-based editor of Hindi publication Yuva Peedhi. “When the case had gone to court, however, the police filed a report saying there was no rape.”

More charges

More sensational headlines were made in 1997 when, as the sitting MP of Farrukhabad, Sakshi Maharaj was named as one of the people complicit in the killing of Brahm Dutt Dwivedi, a senior BJP leader. Maharaj’s name came up in the later stage of the investigation, but he was eventually given a clean chit for the murder.

More recently, in April 2013, Maharaj and his brother were accused of murdering Sujata Verma, a member of the UP state women’s commission. She was shot at close range by someone in the Etah ashram, which she had visited that day.

“Sujata Verma used to claim that Sakshi Maharaj had adopted her as a daughter, and there was a property dispute between them,” said Mohammed Arif Khan, a journalist based in Etah. “Verma had taken hold of a part of his ashram, and about two months later, she was killed.”

Soon after the murder, Maharaj had been on the run. Verma’s son claimed that the godman had threatened his mother in the past. Maharaj later pleaded innocent in court, and was not convicted.

Yadav claims Maharaj also has a history of booth capturing during election time. “During the Lok Sabha election ten years ago, I remember him going around Farrukhabad with a caravan of vehicles and armed guards to capture booths,” he said. “At one point, his weapons were seized and handed over to the police, but he eventually won the seat.”

Scroll made several efforts to phone Maharaj to ask him about these charges but he did not return calls.

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.