The Genesis of the BBC’s ‘The Secret Swami’ (Sai Baba)
Posted by Barry Pittard on June 9, 2007
For several months from late 2003 to mid 2004, former Sathya Sai Baba followers coordinated internationally to document our acute concerns to the BBC. This culminated in the one-hour television documentary The Secret Swami. It was unanimously praised by U.K. reviewers in leading newspapers. My views, pro and con, are found HERE.
Protection of Young Was Initial Driving Force For Most Former Sai Baba followers
Our concerns addressed to UNESCO, Interpol, U.S. State Department, other governments, institutions and leading world media – and now to the BBC - ranged far beyond the allegations of long years of wide-scale, serial sexual abuse by Sai Baba. These are itemized at the foot of my article: Serial Sex Molestation and Bedroom Killings. But Much More, HERE.
However, because of the natural and powerful desire in adults to safeguard the innocence of the young, the sexual molestation issue was the foremost driving force. We were pitted against another human drive – the will to blindness and deafness in defense of a belief system and its founder. Many had attempted to raise the allegations, some individuals (including leaders) even while they were still devotees in the worldwide Sathya Sai Organization, but its officials - as they have done to this day -remained impervious to requests to clarify the issue of sexual molestations, or indeed any of the other types of allegation facing Sai Baba. Of course, any organization that refuses to be accountable and transparent has only itself to blame when allegations persist year after year. Its perceived best bet is to turn the blame on dissentors. Thus begins a process of demonization of dissentors, well documented in the behaviour of so many cults by academic researchers affliated with a group such as The International Cult Studies Association (ICSA). Link: http://www.csj.org/
Reaching Out To Forums Of Common Sense
Obviously, only so much can be packed into a one-hour television documentary, out of massive documentation. Like other serious investigators, the BBC found the Ashram officials and other Sai Baba leaders very evasive. The team had the feeling of being on a highly guided tour, rather like Intourist in the days of a monolithic Russia. Most of our testimony, it may be noted in passing, is carefully kept away from places like the Internet, where fanatics stalk, abuse and harrass, attempting to investigate us whether in university, workplace or family. But it is ready to be shown to bona fide investigators with good track records of integrity and sensitivity. The inevitability of mistakes occurring with even the best of intentioned journalists is serious enough. What goes to the Internet, however, can be all too readily attacked and distorted mercilessly and libelously. They would do the forever unlamented Senator Joseph McCarthy proud. At least, with professional, third party investigators of the quality media, and various agencies (also at a senior level), one is ‘in’ with some sort of chance of getting one’s message out more widely to thoughtful auditors – and, at last, somehow, to forums of common sense.
Blaming The Media
Sai Baba followers have attempted to discredit various major media that have listened to us with respect and seriousness, like the BBC, DR, CBC, SBS, ABC, Azul TV, India Today, Daily Telegraph, Salon.com, Guardian, Age, Australian Financial Times, Guardian, and newspapers in Europe and Canada. Sai Baba’s defenders – who ignore his oft-given advice not to listen to the allegations (advice that, once the pressure was intense, he himself has contradicted and publically displayed anger about, beating his lectern repeatedly) typically point to a journalist’s mistake here and there. There is no pause to think that it was not in our original documentation, or that deadline pressures in a newspaper or television news report can generate absurd errors. A cult’s defenders fail chronically to see what virtually anyone not blinded by faith in their founder can see – the serious issues being presented – like the accountability and transparency issue. You may watch The Secret Swami for yourself, and make your own judgements, HERE.
Dr G. Venkataraman is Sai Baba’s deputy world chairman and head of Sai Global Harmony which, via Worldspace International Satellite Radio, strives to get Sai Baba into every corner of the globe. Has he not said that, before he dies around 2022, the whole world will have come to him – the last being the Mahomedans? He certainly has. In this piece, G.Venkataraman, in his usually terribly long-winded fashion that would surely blunt his efforts as Sai Baba’s chief of propaganda, reacts to the articles in the Times of London, by Dominic Kennedy – see: 1, 2, 3:
“When the Times article appeared, I was shocked as were many others. Here was one of the leading newspapers of the world, and it was publishing negative material without even a casual inquiry about the accuracy of the content. Some of us wrote letters to the Editor, but, contrary to the usual practice of giving some space to those with differing opinions, none of these letters were published. So much for objectivity of the Press!”
Source: Radio Sai Listeners’ journal, enquire HERE. For Robert Priddy’s and Barry Pittard’s four-part series responding to Venkataraman’s points, HERE.
But did G. Venkatarman stop to think that many others write to the extremely limited spaces of the Times of London, and indeed most newspapers in the world? Does he really think that The Times, as a greatly respected world press leader, survives without high standards of source checking? Does he really believe that such a paper (and other respected media like the BBC) who have investigated Sai Baba would proceed “without even a casual inquiry about the accuracy”?
In any case, why should the Editor publish the Sai Baba leadership’s attempted propaganda on behalf of an highly cultic organization not willing to investigate disturbing allegations or itself check anything with honest accuracy? The Times would not retract anything, despite the initiatives of Sai Baba’s autocratic, longtime (recently retired) world and then Indian leader, Indulal Shah, and retired Indian Air Chief Marshal N. C. Suri, to personally influence this newspaper. The Times and officials of important institutions (UNESCO, the State Department, the BBC, etc) acted upon the allegations only after strenuous investigation of credentials and documentation by former devotees from many professions, trades and countries.
Some former devotees were disappointed that the almost overwhelming attention in The Secret Swami was given to just one family – that of Al (Seral) Rahm, who was a former top leader in the U.S.A of the Sathya Sai Organization, Marisa his wife, and their son Alaya. The latter had already stood courageously forth. In Seduced (2002), Alaya related that Sai Baba’s had extensively sexually abused him when a teenager. This one-hour television documentary by DR, Denmark’s national radio and television broadcaster, has been shown several times in Scandinavia and later in Australia (2004) by SBS and, despite Sathya Sai Organization threats of litigation, retitled Seduced By Sai Baba.
The Rahm family had, in a number of important initiatives, like our appeal to UNESCO, supported organized former devotee efforts to bring out the facts – for example, to the FBI and U.S. State Department – knowing that they would be attacked and vilified by many, as they already had been from virtually the moment they raised their concerns in 1999).
There were many families and individuals from several countries who have made the allegations, and who assisted the BBC researchers. The Secret Swami glancingly refers to these, and indeed the BBC had spent many months in carefully documenting and interviewing them. The sheer labours of both the BBC and organized former devotees were considerable. International coordinators – as we had been required to do by UNESCO and other institutions and media – had to provide strong evidence of credibility. A number of very credentialled sexual abuse and other professionals were in our networked group, as were parents of several families which had been stricken by Sai Baba’s alleged immoral activities, as were a number of those with accounts of Sai Baba’s sexual abuse against themselves as teenagers or young men.
As in his words about the Times articles, G. Venkataraman steers wildly off-course. In his Radio Sai journal, read by devotees around the world, he ran a piece by the author of Sri Sathya Sai Baba, A Life, Bill Aitkin, longtime resident at Sai Baba ashrams, who claims:
“The BBC is ultimately governed by the Anglican establishment, and churches in the west are losing out financially to the appeal of the Sai Baba movement”.
With a logic strange for one who was formerly a major Indian nuclear scientist, G.Venkataraman adds:
“Well, there it is – all the rebuttal of the BBC that you have always wanted, that too from an Englishman!”
Article coming soon: “After Decades of Silence, Mark Roche Speaks To BBC Of Sai Baba Sex Abuse”.
The first of my two articles on Mark Roche – BBC’s ‘Secret Swami’ Clip. Man Claims Abuse When Young – is HERE.
You may view Mark Roche’s BBC interview HERE.
A number of video clips from The Secret Swami are HERE.
Barry Pittard’s comments in regard to the Public Petition) -:
There is a Spanish version available: