On Sunday, a fraud godman who goes by the name Hampaiah Swamy, also the president of Mruthyunjaya Seva Trust, in Jangamanara Kalgudi village in North Karnataka was arrested for being involved in the trade of wild animal skins and products.
Balrame Gowda, Deputy Superintendent Of Police CID Forest Cell, Karnataka said after the Sanjaynagar police station had apprehended some people for possessing three live red sand boas, deerskin and horns four days back, on Sunday the team arrested four people including the fraud godman from Gangavathi with live turtles from his possession.
When the police raided his ashram premises they found one leopard skin, two black buck skin and horns, one deerskin and horns, and four soft-shelled turtles.
In their business, they had code words so that the whole operation would stay undercover. Wild animals and its products were given names like two-wheelers (Owl), four-wheeler (turtle), double engine (red sand boa), mat (skin), Lilliput (Slender Loris) and Gaja Muttu ( elephant tusk).
Among his other shady dealings, the Hampaiah Swamy used to propagate the use of these wild animals, skins and their parts to gullible buyers. He marketed them to people as items they needed to bring them fortune, cure ailments or even for conducting black magic.
Referring to the arrests made, the police official said, "The turtles are called as four wheelers as it has four legs and it is said to bring luck. There is a belief that by having a turtle, one can expect to increase his/her lifespan as turtles are known to live for over 75 years. Similarly, red sand boas are also smuggled and traded for wealth. This trick is used by many smugglers who are in touch with godmans and babas who say the snake can identify a prized element like iridium which is used in satellite communication. Due to this belief, the red sand boa is now covered under wildlife protection act of 1972 as it becoming an endangered species."
Interestingly, Bengaluru is the hotspot for such trade as there is demand from educated people in the search for fortune and luck.
People are told that having Gaja Muttu (elephant tusk) can boost virility. Similarly, having a double-headed snake or the red sand boa, called double engine by smugglers, would bring good luck and double their incomes.
"These false godmen, in many cases, are the driving force behind such smuggling. Their wrong suggestions result in poaching of many wild animals. For example, the Slender Loris which often found in Bengaluru outskirts are caught using traps, its body hair shaved off and is smuggled by dressing it up in baby's clothes. The smugglers call it Lilliput and it is used in black magic," said Sharath Babu, a senior Environmentalist and wildlife activist.
He also mentioned how these smugglers duped customers by saying that the skin of animals also helps in strengthening the mind if one were to meditate by sitting on a deer, tiger or leopard skin.
He explained how the demand for such animals and its products are not just limited to villages or remote places, but is more from Bengaluru where from the autorickshaw drivers to even educated engineers and officials fall prey to such sales.
Lashing out at these fake and controversial babas, renowned astrologer Dr SK Jain expressed shock over such incidents. He said, the owl's large eyes are similar to the wheels of a motorcycle (hence two-wheeler), is considered a bad omen among Hindus and smugglers in collusion with such controversial people misguide public. Similarly, people may also be approached by these individuals who offer them turtles saying it is an 'avatar' of Bhagwan Vishnu and it can bring prosperity.
"All this is nonsense. No animal should be persecuted or held captive as it is against nature and scriptures, he added.