Let my reader imagine that the following is a note of mine to an Indian media person seeking me out to assist in the development of a news story. It may take no prizes for diplomacy, but it is not far, I think, from the mood of both our former devotee network members from both India and other countries.
First, Sai Baba and his key servitors on the Sai Central Trust and the international Sathya Sai Organization profoundly deceived and betrayd. From circa 2000, owing to both organized and informal activity of former devotees, a great deal of critical exposure of Sai Baba and his cult occurred. In some parts of the world, Sai Centers emptied, while, in general, many left, including many well-respected leaders.
Next, allied with Sai Baba and his cult’s officials, corrupt local, state and national governments in India consolidated the evils done by their complicity in the cover up of the outrages – wide-scale sexual abuse by Sai Baba and some around him of boys and young men, Police executions in his bedroom on June 6, 1993, unaccountable scams in regard to water projects, apartments in Prashanthi Nilayam, unadressed brutality by Sai Baba’s security detail, and much else.
It has been one of spiritual history’s sorriest examples of perverted religion and spirituality. Even many who admit his wrongdoings, attempt to pass over the evil deeds by saying how much good he has done. Their highly-flawed logic is that if someone does good they should not be held accountable for the wrongdoings.
Dear X (a high-profile media exective)
Thank you for our phone conversations and email exchanges, and speaking with one of our Indian members.
I appreciate your undertaking of security provisions for the safety of our personnel who live in India and security arrangements. As you and I know, many Indian media will e.g., unscrupulously record and quote without permission what, ostensibly, were the words of an interviewee. That your organization can deal with us with the same integrity that we received from Aroon Purie and his team at India today would engender our confidence in you. Our former devotee workers have put vast amounts of time and sacrifice, without payment of cash or kind so as to get their accounts out to the world.
Having lived some years in India, I know how keenly many Indian citizens, with whom I have dwelt and worked alongside, despise the disrepute that her corrupt institutions bring. It always struck me that these wonderfully kind and decent people do not in the least deserve the horribly corrupt elites that for so long have managed to cling on in the top roles.
There is agreement that, yes, hard evidence is important. But the BBC and many other investigative teams who took on the Sai Baba issue were no less aware of this than you are. Does not media have a proper role in eliciting peoples’ experiences whether or not individuals are able to back up their experiences with empirical evidence at every turning.
The fact is that, except for India Today, which did a terrific job, Indian media might were deaf to our worldwide submissions on the Sai cult. Here was a wide cross-section of those who had resigned – in some cases exceptionally important figures in the Sathya Sai Organization. They were treated to the same high-handedness and deceit that the whole of India has now been able to see because of the revelations.
The Indian media had a chance to expose the massive cover up regarding the police killings in Sai Baba’s bedroom. With almost no exception, it failed. Lawyers, police, politicians, and so on all know this. Failure is the correct word. If you are prepared to be proactive, we will certainly consider assisting you with witnesses, including those who have not previously spoken out, and who may not be so easy to ignore, as a small number who have fought without ceasing for 10 gruelling years.
But why should many of our witnesses risk their personal and family safety and jobs and so forth if they are not to be listened to by senior journalists who have – with true professionalism – done their homework, just as was the case of journalists outside India.
You say that there have been, over the years, articles critical of Sathya Sai Baba and his cult in the Indian media. We shall have to compare notes – I challenge you to provide a list of any hard-hitting examples. Whatever examples you may be able to cite, they are more than contradicted by the many the rebuffs we got. Virtually day in and day out, I was close to the action, and stand witness to say that Sai Baba former devotees made many attempts to engage wide sections of the Indian media. In marked contrast, UNESCO, Interpol, the FBI, etc., and various non-Indian governments treated our workers’ reports, and sworn testimony from various countries, with the utmost seriousness.
I agree with your point about the pitfalls of hearsay evidence. Your point that Indian media did not have sworn testimony is an entire mistake. Where were you and your journalistic colleagues when we made it very clear that not only did we have a number but were in unique position – far better than journalists! – to bring still other sworn testimony, provided that there was a chance of any section of the Indian media doing a good job. Aroon Purie and his team DID not behave like the rest of you.
You overplay the hearsay issue. The matter is not an either/or situation. Both types of evidence, in their varying stages, are important. I think you err too far in the direction of wanting proof, or close to it. Proof often follows, rather than preceeds, proper investigation of allegations, clues, evidentiary contexts, study of credentials of witnesses, and so forth.The BBC not only followed up on our list but actually ventured out and got (I was assured by assistant producer of ‘The Secret Swami’, David Saville) and found still further apparently strong cases, such that the individuals and the various families DID NOT appear on our lists, he said. Why has not the Indian media, almost without exception, thus ventured out.
The last two months of daily Indian media reports are a great irony for us. At last, in India, there is wide discussion of the contradictions, cover ups, contradictions, lack of proper organizational.
I am glad that, in our phone conversation, you very strongly reacted to the disclosure right at that time of the Rs 35.5 lakhs from twelve devotees (yet another Srinivasan tale now exploded by the police). You, like I, disdained the manner in which prime matters are being overly focused on, and essentials being forgotten. It will be great to see media as a formidable force in educating a national and international public in how laws are, or may be being, broken, and the model qualities of due diligence, accountability and transparency which those laws expect of organizations, including those said to be ‘spiritual’.
As I look across the Indian media’s handling of the Sathya Sai and his Sai Trust scandals, I see failure – not particularly in the basic reporting but in the sheer lack of qualitative analysis.
I note a lot of Indian media rely on government and police releases, important though these are in their own place. Yes, juicy for certain readers. BUT too often there lacks focus on essentials, and the acute need to keep the trajectory of main developments in the minds of readers/viewers as further news breaks.
I see news-management-by-Release, rather than by proactive, savvy news and analysis writers and editors who can help contextualize historic background, and intellectual and moral/spiritual issues.
Will your group provide regular overviews, so that the serious tendency for salient factors to be badly eclipsed can, in some measure be overcome. Happily, I have seen three leading Indian television broadcaster shooting hard-hitting questions in some depth and breadth. There was intellectual engagement.See: ‘Face the Nation’ Audience Poll, India – 87% Hostile to Gurus Like Sathya Sai Baba
But so often, one sees Sai Trust spokespersons getting away with the same ducking and weaving which we have exposed since circa 2000. Surveying a cross-section of Indian media performances, I scribbled the note: please guys, lay on some really trenchant questioning! Is there anything litigious about asking: E.g.,:
a) How the treasure hoarding and dispositions could have occurred at all – what? Without a moment’s suspicion by ANY Trust personnel? Or knowledge of any of the male students (‘form boys’) whom, for sexual reasons, Sai Baba has long been known to allow to sleep in his room? He himself has acknowledged that certain boys are permitted to sleep in his room. This is recorded in official Sai literature, as WE have accurately documented, along with so much else. Are any of you in the Indian media asking considerable Sai Baba experts like Brian Steel, Robert Priddy and Kevin Shepherd etc., to assist with ‘chapter and verse? You and other Indian media show few signs of having done so.
Were Satyajit and Sai Baba the only two who knew of Sai Baba’s vast hoard? Did it somehow materialize? What? No bearers to transport it? No carriers sworn to dread secrecy on pain of some dire threat and/or some handsome reward? No plan for usage of the currency and valuables? No recipients? No presence of smuggling or money laundering? No gifts to Sai Baba from any major criminal or any Croesus-rich potentate (E.g., the Saudi King, one report has it, showering diamonds). No Swiss bank involvements?
b) How a Trust – charged with due diligence! – could, first, dismiss all suggestions that a unaccounted treasure could lie hidden, and issue emphatic statements that all-is-above board – with only cheques from, and receipts issued to, donors – and, YET, later, only after repeated contraindicating detections, come up with another explanation altogether. If they were let loose on the Sai Baba and Sai Trust saga, Indian newspaper cartoonists would have a field day, ….! You potentially have a great story. But will you and your Team dare to go for it, X? Where are all the editorials? The serious Ed.Op pieces? Where is there a persistent raising of vital questions – e.g., about the circumstances leading up to Sai Baba’s death/ the death certificate circumstances/ the ordering of his golden casket from a source in Bangalore well before his death / his body weight at the time of his hospital admission / the reported concern of Sai Baba’s team of highly senior doctors about lack of information on any medications being given to him prior to his emergency admission to their care / or about the lack of statements from doctors and nurses and, above all, Dr Safaya at the Sathya Sai hospital who resigned en masse / or about Satyajit (about whom there is so much silence, and yet so much noise – indeed bluster! from V. Srinivasan and R.J. Ratnakar)?/ What of the on-again, off-again resignations of Ex-Chief Justice Bhagwati? And of the former world Sathya Sai Organization head, Indulal Shah? And so on ……..
I have looked almost in vain in the Indian media for sustained critical responses (except now and then in Readers Comments’ sections in some newspapers) to, among a host of issues, the absurd and contradictory of statements by Trust Officials. For example, the explanation of V.Srinivasan regarding the police van and bus seizures of treasure. Indians traveling India, and travelers visiting her, and foreign government’s with their Travel Advisories regarding India testify to the perils of travel. Yet, Srinivasan and other Sai Trust members constantly skip round matters of grave substance, and a passive media may be their best bet of getting away with it. Of this I have blogged, indeed harped, feeling it a great pity that foreigners like Robert Priddy and me should have to lead with so many of the probing questions and issues while the Indian media do little but report and move on to the next revelation in the Sai Baba and Sai Trust saga, failing to gather up the strands and show continuities and interweaving relationship. I had the image of the Indian media, by and large, vacuuming up police and government reports and reverse blowing them out to a long-suffering Indian public. Why should Indian editors (and I am tired, frankly, of hearing it from them in our private conversations) speaking about their litigation concerns. What is litigious about pointed questioning? About going hard at contradictions and discrepancies in the stories of those such as Srinivasan, Ratnakar, Bhagwani, et al. In regard to the Sai Trust rapidly changing statements about the cash secretly moved out of Puttaparthi, I wrote (and wondered why the Indian media aren’t far more vigilant here):
“Where, too, has gone any semblance of the Sathya Sai Central Trust’s duty of care for the safety of life and limb of its workers on a money transportation assignment fraught with danger? This, in an area with trained eyes not only of individual criminals, criminal gangs, and private armies of feudal landlords but of ubiquitous, highly organized, armed political struggle groups such as the Naxalites (with countless splinter groups), the so-called Peoples’ War Group or PWG, etc. Many police and security authorities complain of the emasculation by Andhra Pradesh state politicians of state security and police cadres capable of action, and the pipe dream of thinking that negotiation and accommodation are going to work. Why the earlier Trust assertions that donations are dealt with by cheque? Why such vast amounts of loose cash? Where is the accountability and transparency in all this? Can we trust a Trust that doesn’t know about vast funds being transported in the dead of night, or carted in a passenger bus in gunny sacks of cash as if it were mere chaff or ragi? When proper practice by a Trust is upheld, who will dare to hump huge fortunes around the countryside like this? Such a Trust lacks due diligence, and is incompetent. What suppose wicked chaff or ragi robbers assail the van or bus and snatch the sacks?” See:
Sathya Sai Saga: Points Lost Among Big Sathya Sai Trust Reassurances of Transparency Posted by Barry Pittard on June 30, 2011
Well, X, I am very much concerned that there is – apart from the basic reporting – a failure by India’s ramshackle Fifth Estate. Rather, one would like to see hard probing, and far better backgrounding. If the media is so slack, how can India be bulwark of democracy? For decades, most of you guys grievously failed Sai Baba’s countless victims, who live in India and around the world. If you want sworn testimony, kindly do not make guesses as to whether they were offerred to the Indian media. You offend the facts here. If we decide that your network can do a good job, I rather think that we can provide news about the real treasure that Sai Baba tried to hide away, but did not value. The treasury of victims of his various types of abuse.
True, the key perpetrator is dead, and we can’t pursue him. However, those who were complicit and had knowledge of these various types of abuses, and who extensively covered them up, are still very much alive. They are still on the Sai Central Trust and in his Sathya Sai Organization. Sometimes, great moral outrage takes time to reach the tipping point. Let us see.
Barry Pittard (Former lecturer, Sathya Sai College, Whitefield, via Bangalore)
Excerpt From Public Petition (and introduction)
Public Petition For Official Investigations of Sathya Sai Baba and His Worldwide Organization
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