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Police blow in Hindu cleric case

BBC, UK
Nov. 22, 2004
news.bbc.co.uk

ReligionNewsBlog.com • Tuesday November 23, 2004

Indian police have failed in a quest to win more time to question a Hindu cleric facing murder charges.

A court in southern India has rejected a plea by the police requesting an extension of Jayendra Saraswathi’s police custody.

On Friday, Mr Saraswathi was handed over to police for three days of questioning after spending several days in judicial custody.

Mr Saraswathi denies killing a worker at a temple in Tamil Nadu state.

The police said they needed more time with the cleric because they had been unable to examine the finances of the Kanchi Shankara Mutt, an influential religious establishment headed by Mr Saraswathi, because the banks were shut over the weekend.

But the court in the town of Kanchipuram in Tamil Nadu rejected their petition.

Mr Saraswathi will now be sent back to judicial custody, where the police have limited access to him.

Suicide

On Friday, while handing over Mr Saraswathi to the police, the court had ruled that the cleric could not be questioned against his will and must be allowed to continue his meditation.

The court also accepted the defence’s request for a lawyer to be present during questioning and that a doctor examine the cleric, who is a diabetic, every evening.

In a related development, the Hindu nationalist Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council) has said that one man has committed suicide in Tamil Nadu in protest against Mr Saraswathi’s arrest.

The man, described as a 45-year-old low-caste Hindu, is said to have consumed poison.

The VHP is leading a general strike in protest against Mr Saraswathi’s arrest.

The strike has been mainly peaceful and has received a mixed response, according to reports.

Nearly 500 hardline Hindus were detained by police across India after they threw stones and smashed bus windows to protest against the arrest, the Press Trust of India quoted police as saying.

“Our religious leader is innocent. We will continue to protest until he is set free,” a senior leader of the hardline World Hindu Council or VHP said.

Mr Saraswathi heads one of five seats of Hinduism and his arrest has sparked great anger.

‘Deeply concerned’

Leaders of the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party have been taking turns to stage one-day fasts in protest at the arrest, with former prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee joining a hunger strike on Monday.

Party President LK Advani said the party was “deeply concerned with the manner in which he has been arrested”.

Mr Saraswathi is accused of killing a former accountant at his temple in Kanchipuram on 3 September.

The dead former employee, Sankararaman, was a strong critic of the religious leader.

Mr Saraswathi says he has been falsely implicated in the case and is innocent.

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