The Sathya Sai Organization: Almost overnight, dissenters treated as demons!
Posted by Barry Pittard on December 12, 2009
Circa 2000 was a watershed time. Hard questions were being raised. It was not enough for loyalists to assume, somehow, the unworthiness of those who questioned. This is the typical reaction of devout believers when faced with a rigorous process of questioning, The psychological factor of being in-denial is a knee jerk response, and the knee never seems to stop jerking. Honest questions merited honest answers. During twenty-five years of deep devotion, I underwent many wonderful experiences, but, in some respects, facing the questions was not one of them. This is not to deny the great benefits in standing forth no matter what the odds, and I may address that aspect at some other time. In the meantime, the fine Canadian singer-songwriter Ron Sexsmith can express it for me in his song ‘There’s Gold In Them Hills’ – (I prefer his version with Coldplay):
And if we’d get up off our knees
Why then we’d see the forest for the trees
And we’d see the new sun rising
Over the hills on the horizon
In common with so many former devotees and other critics around the world, as I began to hear the direct testimony, and, in other cases, from parents and close friends of those young males who, clearly, had been sexually abused, the experience was gut-wrenching. Indeed, I may add, not all of those abused were now young men, and an example of this is the account to the BBC ‘The Secret Swami’ team of Mark Roche.
The BBC 2 This World presenter, Tanya Datta, interviewed Mark Roche for ‘The Secret Swami’, which was first screened, Thursday 17, 2004, and subsequently seen in over 100 countries. The effects on the Sathya Sai Organization were huge. Apart from exits from the organization, other organizations, including those with which the SS Org. would have liked to have had dealings (e.g., the interfaith movement and various service organizations), were now alerted. See my article: Sathya Sai Baba: ‘Considerable Concern’ In Wider Hindu Community. See also list of links below, under The BBC’s ‘The Secret Swami’
Indeed one of the ways in which the scandal that is Puttaparthi has become ever more widely known is because, quite often, those who have left it have sought spiritual guidance from other religious organizations of various kinds.
There was a feeling of truthfulness in the written accounts of the authors, and I contacted them – for example, Terry Gallagher (who had resigned as head of the Sathya Sai Organization after rigorously investigating), Hans de Kraker (Australia, who for a number of years ran the Western Canteen at Puttaparthi), Jens Sethi (Germany), David Bailey (UK), Hari Sampath (India), Britt Marie (Bi-ma) Andén (Sweden), Glen Meloy , Shirley Pike (psychologist), Elena Hartgering (psychotherapist), Ella Evers, Richard and Terry Nelson, Rick Raines, Al Rahm, Timothy Conway Ph.D., and many others from the USA, and eventually others in many countries. See my: Sai Baba. Some Dissenting Themes and Resources
As my intensive investigation unfolded, I spoke to males with first-hand accounts – or in some instances their parents: terrible were the anguished testimonies of Sathya Sai Baba’s sexual abuse of boys and young men. A common factor in many accounts was Sai Baba’s demands for oral sex to be performed on himself. Other factors were the use of bribes and threats. In case after case, the individuals involved were often regarded by those who knew them as unusually good-looking.
I also spoke to others, including prominent leaders of the Sathya Sai Organization in various countries who, like Terry Gallagher, had resigned on a matter of principle as a result of their own investigations. I contacted the Rahm family. Al and Marisa Rahm and their son were, in 2004, to appear in the BBC’s ‘The Secret Swami’. I should add that many others had discussed their experiences with BBC researchers such as Eamon Hardy, Iris Asic, David Saville and Tanya Datta. The Assistant Producer David Saville told me that there were over 80 hours of filmed testimony, and that the BBC had uncovered compelling accounts from others who did not appear on our international lists.
I contacted a number of former devotee sexual abuse professionals who knew of various cases at first hand. As I listened to, or read the written accounts. I was acutely aware that many of those giving the accounts did not even know each other.
Once it was known I was investigating Sathya Sai Baba’s matters, I went on to discover compelling accounts from sources well apart from Sathya Sai Baba circles. Having studied Epistemology, Logic and Methodology in my university honors Philosophy course, I was all the more acutely aware that the criterion of non-collusion was being repeatedly satisfied. That is to say, clearly many of those testifying had no knowledge of other compelling accounts which I and other trusted former devotee researchers had private access to. Nor did the evidence point at all to the sort of issues involved in the witch hunts in three counties of late 17th century colonial Massachusetts, so brilliantly portrayed in Arthur Miller‘s great play ‘The Crucible’.
I could not escape the conclusion that – whatever else he may be – Sathya Sai Baba was a serial sexual molester, on an appalling scale, of minors and young men from his educational institutions and from around the world. The finding sat with great difficulty with the many positive experiences I had received in my 25 years of devotion to Sathya Sai Baba, not a few of them beyond the ability of science to explain, though I expect elucidations will one day be within its grasp. However, not to act on the allegations was out of the question. What the case if citizens should fail to report crimes and abuses just because they think their leader is divine? This point is the very locus of the problem with the Sathya Sai Organization. It has failed in the most fundamental tenets of accountability and transparency.
I also felt acutely conscious that I had been, over many years, whether directly or indirectly (though certainly without proselytizing), instrumental in various people becoming devotees. Like so many others who have investigated and become former devotees, my then partner’s and my hearts were heavy indeed. Typical of others who have just become former devotees, there was a clearing of the house of Sai all Baba-related artefacts. Ironically enough, when it came to exposing Sathya Sai Baba’s many inconsistencies so amply documented in decades of published discourse, some ex-followers no longer had the texts. Fortunately, major commentators such as Robert Priddy and Brian Steel had far-reaching collections.
As former devotees universally have found, dear friends, in some cases of many years standing, who remained devotees, dropped us, even though we showed no hostility towards them or Sathya Sai Baba. It was painful for many. Incredibly, devotees forget that those they have so mistakenly judged and shunned are the same individuals in whom they have long cherished qualities of truthfulness, love and service to others.
Sai Baba has said:
“… a hard-hearted person cannot be called a spark of Divinity; he is verily a demon.” p. 323, Sanathana Sarathi, November 2002
His proxy defenders on the Internet and beyond engage in the utmost slander and vilification of those many who have called for proper, third party investigation of the allegations of Sai Baba’s involvement in the massive cover up of the police killings in his bedroom on April 6, 1993, wide-scale, serial sexual molestation of boys and young men from different countries, vast misappropriation of funds from around the world, etc. In his (profoundly unChristmas-like) Christmas discourse of 2000, he thumped loudly on his lectern and – ignoring his (now) former devotees many years of great love for him and service in his name – he berated fine men and women as “demons”, “Judases”, stating that they were being paid off to lie, and so on.
Almost overnight, we had become demons!
Story of My Disqualification, and other articles by Serguei Badaev
The BBC’s ‘The Secret Swami’
Barry Pittard’s comments in regard to the Public Petition) -:
There is a Spanish version available: