THE MURDER CASE

Swami Premananda was convicted for murdering a young Sri Lankan man called Ravi Sithambaranathan in April 1991. The prosecution charges that Ravi was a normal man living in the Ashram who discovered that Swamiji was molesting girls in his care. They say that he attempted to expose this and therefore Swamiji and some other Ashram residents murdered Ravi.

The following is the true story by Ella

My name is Ella. I am a physiotherapist from Europe. During my studies I also worked with psychiatric patients. I have worked in the medical field since 1981. I first met Swami Premananda in April 1987. Thereafter I came to India frequently to spend time in Sri Premananda Ashram.

In February 1990 I came to stay in the Ashram for a longer period to give my service to the Ashram. I was living in a small semi-circular kudil (thatched hut) next to an American lady, Lora Marsh, on the Ashram main road. Together, Lora and I took care of a young Sri Lankan, Kadjan, who was mentally disturbed and who had been brought to the Ashram by his father, hoping that he would be healed. Likewise, the mentally ill Ravi Sithambaranathan was brought to the Ashram by his family in mid 1990.

He had been suffering from schizophrenia for fifteen years since his teenage. He had just been discharged from Angoda State Mental Hospital in Sri Lanka. The hospital medical records were produced in Court showing his severely lunatic behavior. They also clearly recorded the fact that he was on very heavy medication called “Haldol”, which is a medicine for the mentally disturbed.

As a medical professional, it was obvious to me that he was on medicaments to keep him calm. When the medicines that the family had left him were finished, Ravi became very aggressive, causing constant problems to the Ashram residents and visitors. Because he was so disturbed we felt sorry for Ravi but it was impossible to help him. He was constantly shouting, demanding things obsessively, not cleaning himself, ripping his clothes apart and throwing them away or even scratching his back against the rocks until the skin was open and bleeding.

The prosecution tried to establish that Ravi was sane, but everyone knows that he was severely mentally disturbed as proved by the Sri Lankan government mental hospital dossier, which was produced in Court. The prosecution also stated that Ravi was moved to a half-round kudil only two weeks before he died. This is completely untrue. Ravi moved there many months before his death. And does the prosecution really believe that the hundreds of Ashram residents who were honest and sincere spiritual seekers (including many foreigners) would all keep quiet if a man had been beaten and left to die right in the middle of the Ashram? What the prosecution suggested is, frankly, ridiculous.

In fact, when Ravi came to live opposite me, both Lora and I started to care for him. I took over responsibility for his cleanliness. I made him bathe, I washed his clothes and brought water to clean his room. I spent a lot of time cleaning his self-inflicted open wounds. He made a nasty gash on his arm, which was constantly badly infected. I used to clean it and give him antibiotics but he spit them out. He used to put his faeces into the newly cleaned wound. I felt sorry for him that he had been abandoned by his family and I was trying to help him.

A long time before his death the Ashram Secretary wrote to Kadjan’s and Ravi’s parents asking them to take their sons back to Sri Lanka as we were not in position to care for them because they were extremely mentally disturbed. Kadjan’s father came and took him some months later but Ravi’s family did not. I left for Europe in March 1991. A short while later I received a letter from the Ashram informing me of Ravi’s death. Then Ravi’s sister, Jaya, wrote to me about him and I replied, telling her how difficult it was to help him because he refused any kind of service.

Lora stayed on in the Ashram and she was present when he died, as were many others who have given evidence on Swamiji’s behalf. No one witnessed Ravi being beaten and locked away to die – an incident, which was said, happened in broad daylight. This is a total falsehood. Moreover, it is a far-fetched and ridiculous tale that they secretly buried him as put forward by the prosecution. I met many people from India, Sri Lanka and abroad who were present for his burial and who paid their last respects to his body on the day of his death.

Even the wife of the approver Ambikananthan who had turned against Swami and who gave evidence against him, has given testimony against her own husband saying that he is lying. She herself cooked and sent food for Ravi. It was she who found his body on the morning of 17th April 1991.

As Lora Marsh wrote in her affidavit sent from the USA, dated 10th June 1995, which was filed in Court:

“When I saw Ravi’s body he was lying on his back in a sleeping posture which seemed to indicate that he had died quietly and alone, perhaps while at rest. I did not notice any bloodstains and his body showed no signs of having been beaten. I was one of the first to see Ravi’s body.”

Local village heads, devotees from India, Sri Lanka and foreign countries and local labourers came forward as witnesses for Swamiji. Important witnesses who had been present during Swamiji’s arrest (and whose statements were not taken by the police for reasons known only to them) came and spoke the truth.

I myself was subjected to two days fierce cross-examination by the Public Prosecutor. When questioned by Mr. Jethmalani, our lawyer, the approver Ambikananthan pretended he did not know who I was and said my account of my care of Ravi was a lie. He knew me very well indeed – he even used to bring my shopping from Trichy every week and he helped me with Ravi sometimes when he was difficult.

Likewise, we have all been insulted by the Court and branded as a large group of liars who have conspired to protect Swamiji. This would imply that I have given a wrong statement, but I have sworn on oath that I would tell the truth. So this would imply they would have to accuse me and imprison me for that! The judge was not interested in the truth and not at all in what I had to say. She would dictate to the person who would type my answers and either cut it short or leave things out that were not in favour of the prosecution.

The witnesses for Swamiji are not fools, nor partial witnesses, nor are they “wishful thinkers” as stated by the Honourable Judge when describing Senior Sri Lankan Judge Mr. C.V. Wigneswaran and former Attorney–at-Law and Bank of Ceylon Director, Mr. S.K. Ponnambalan, because they stated that they believed in Swami.

We are intelligent, logical and caring human beings who would not be prepared to support a murderer and a rapist in a mass conspiracy to set him free. Swami Premananda has been the victim of a clever yet sinister plan. Those who support this are cheating the public and committing serious misdeeds. I want to tell the public that a great error and miscarriage of justice has been made in judging Swami Premananda and the others as guilty of murder.

Yet, in spite of all this, I have the firm belief that truth will be victorious and that one day the truth about this case will be exposed.

Ella