Sreehari, the 54-year-old self-proclaimed godman, whose genitals were almost severed by a 23-year-old woman whom he had allegedly been sexually exploiting for years, has political ambitions and has flaunted his association with Kerala’s respected Panmana Ashram, as well as the leader of the state unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party.
Both have now disowned him. While the ashram said that it never had anything to do with Sreehari, the BJP leader said that the man had no connection with the party or the National Democratic Alliance.
Sreehari, alias Hareesh, is popularly known as Bullet Swamy in his home town of Kolenchery, 25 km west of Kochi, as he was often seen riding an Enfield Bullet while dressed in his saffron robes.
Sreehari associated himself with the Panmana Ashram, which was built in memory of the Hindu sage and social reformer Sree Chattampi Swamy. At some point, he changed his name to Gangesananda Theerthapadar, which indicated that he held an important position at the ashram. According to custom at the Panmana Ashram, holy men take on the Theerthapadar title only after being ordained by the head of the Vazhoor Theertha Pada Ashram, which was established by a disciple of Chattampi Swamy.
A Panmana Ashram official, however, clarified that Sreehari had not been conferred with the title of Theerthapadar. “He has been deceiving the people with the title which he never got,” said AR Gireesh Kumar, president of the ashram.
In 2009, Sreehari’s attempts to become a public figure got a shot in the arm when he led an agitation to build a memorial for Chattampi Swamy on a piece of land bought by the Additional Director General of Police (South Zone) B Sandhya. The agitators claimed that it was the birthplace of Chattampi Swamy. However, the Panmana Ashram had denounced the agitation at that time.
During the protest, Sreehari had assaulted a police officer, but he evaded the law thanks to his influence in the administration. He is said to have escaped action after a top official personally intervened to stop him from being produced in court.
The agitation brought Sreehari into the limelight and helped him make good contacts with the Hindu Aikya Vedi, a Sangh Parivar outfit, whose former president Kummanam Rajashekharan now heads the state unit of the Bhartiya Janata Party.
In 2013, Sreehari participated in a BJP-led agitation against the Aranmula Airport Project. He was later appointed the convenor of a meeting of a group of sanyasis that was organised as part of the protest. Rajashekharan included Sreehari in a delegation of sanyasis to request VS Achuthanandan, then the chief minister, to drop the state’s proposed plan to take charge of 104 temples in North Kerala.
After news of Sreehari’s attempted castration emerged on Saturday, Rajashekharan disowned the man. “I know Hareesh [Sreehari], but he has no connection with the BJP or NDA,” he said. Rajashekharan also demanded that strong action should be taken against Sreehari if he was found guilty of sexually abusing the young woman.
The Hindu Aikya Vedi too said that Sreehari was never a member of the outfit. “He might have participated in the agitation against the Aranmula Airport Project, but he never took a membership in our organisation,” said KN Raveendranadh, patron and former working president of the saffron outfit.
The Panmana Ashram president, AR Gireesh Kumar, said that the ashram did not ordain people and make them ascetics. “We conduct classes on the Vedas, Bhagavad Gita, and Ayurveda,” said Kumar. “Anyone can attend these sessions, but no one can become an ascetic by just attending the learning programme.”
Kumar said that he remembered Sreehari from 2002, when he used to visit the ashram regularly for a period of about two years. He said that Sreehari spent most of his time in the kitchen. “He was a good cook,” said Kumar. “He left the place as he wanted to set up a restaurant business in Kochi. I have not heard from him after that.”
Former classmate speaks
Sreehari had studied in different educational institutions in Kolenchery until his graduation. One of his classmates remembered him as a quiet person.
“I was shocked when heard about his sexual exploits,”said Congress leader NN Rajan, who is the block panchayat member from Vaduvankode in Ernakulam district. “We studied at a private college in Kolenchery for a pre-degree [equivalent to Class 12] course,” he said.
Rajan said that Sreehari joined the Central Industrial Security Force after completing his graduation from St Peter’s College in Kolenchery “We hardly met after he got a job,” he said.
Fall from grace
On Saturday, after his genitals were almost severed, Sreehari tried to evade the law when he told the police that he had done so himself, as penance. However, the woman he has allegedly been exploiting for the past eight years called out his lies.
A report in the Indian Express quoted a social activist who visited the girl as saying: “She said she did not want to be another rape victim. She wanted the rapist to suffer throughout his life.”