The Karnataka Police on Sunday began their probe into allegations of sexual abuse against Shivamurthy Murugha Sharanaru, the chief pontiff of the Jagadguru Murugarajendra Vidyapeetha Mutt in Chitradurga city, The Hindu reported.

Sharanaru was booked under sections of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act on Saturday after two school girls alleged that the seer sexually abused them for years during their stay at the mutt’s hostel.

In their complaints, the girls told the police that Sharanaru would allegedly call them to his chambers on some pretext and sexually assault them, according to The News Minute. They alleged the seer has been doing so to one of them for over the past three-and-a-half years and the other for the past one-and-a-half years.

The incident came to light after the girls fled the hostel and approached a non-governmental organisation in Mysuru on Friday, which subsequently told the police and filed a complaint on their behalf on the next day, The Hindu reported.

Besides the seer, the complainants have also named Rashmi, a warden of the mutt’s residential wing, Basavaditya, a junior priest at the mutt, lawyer Gangadharayya, and leader Paramashivayya in the first information report.

Parashuram ML, who founded the NGO Odanadi Seva Samsthe, said that the girls preferred to lodge a complaint in Mysuru as they felt authorities in Chitradurga were under the influence of the seer and the mutt.

The Jagadguru Murugarajendra Vidyapeetha Mutt is a prominent Lingayat seminary and is often visited by state and national political leaders.

On Saturday, the case, however, was transferred to Chitradurga city.

Mysuru Deputy Commissioner of Police Pradeep Gulati told The Hindu that this was done on the order of a court.

On Sunday, investigating officers in Chitradurga said that one of the complainants is a Dalit.

“This fact came to light on Sunday,” an unidentified police officer said, according to The New Indian Express. “Provisions of the Prevention of Atrocities Act against SC/STs are [also] likely to be invoked against the seer.”

Protests were also held by two groups in the city. While one group, consisting of seers and politicians, claimed that the allegations were false and baseless, the other group demanded a judicial probe into the issue, saying they had no faith in the local police, The Hindu reported.

Accused seer claims ‘big conspiracy’

Shivamurthy Murugha Sharanaru said that the charges against him were part of a big conspiracy against him.

In a purported audio clip of him, the seer reportedly said that he was ready for a conciliation or a trial. He said suspected that some adversaries from inside the mutt had conspired against him, according to The Hindu.

“Some people tend to believe that roll call and blackmail are the methods to gain power. Such people are behind this,’’ the seer said. “Time will decide everything. Even great personalities like Gandhi and Basavanna have faced serious challenges.”

Meanwhile, Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai said that making comments or interpreting an ongoing case is not good for the investigation.

“The police have complete freedom, they will investigate and the truth will come out,” Bommai said, according to PTI.