My Former Association with and Current Position on Sathya Sai Baba
By: Barry Pittard
Sathya Sai Baba is India’s most famous religious leader. He proclaims himself to be the Poornavatar or God in all fullness of Divine Power come to save the whole world, essentially within his own lifetime. He says that his powers are far greater than those of Sri Rama and Sri Krishna or any previous manifestation of divinity.
However, his former devotee accusers say that whatever extraordinary abilities he possesses (or possessed), and fine social and spiritual uplift work that he has inspired others to do, many boys and young men have not been safe with him sexually. We who accuse him point out that he abuses the great trust put in him by many millions of people around the world and does so with uncannily brilliant deviousness. Our call for the accountability of a seemingly unassailable, vastly popular figure and his extremely well organized, private, undemocratic, powerful, influential and secretive apparatus is morally right.
MY FORMER ASSOCIATION WITH SAI BABA AND HIS WORK
From November 1975, I began to experience many profound and beautiful phenomena. Wherever I travelled in the world, they manifested far away from, yet were often clearly related to, his physical presence on the planet. By November 26,1977, I first caught sight of him. I had mentally prayed, telling no one else, that on my arrival in Puttaparthy, he would come right up from wherever he was and personally greet me. I had just arrived when he mounted the stage, about to speak. I sat next to a well known Sai Baba devotee and friend Nanda Kishore of Arsenal, London and other men from the Russell Square Sai Baba centre to which we belonged. Sai Baba was about to speak into the microphone. He looked across a gap of two or more hundred yards, stopped what he was doing, crossed the broad stage, looking at me most of the time, then did something I have never in hundreds of public appearances seen him do. He abandoned security, and still maintaining - unmistakably - eye to eye contact with me, walked right into the crowds of seated men and made a track right to me and stood for a long time with his hand on my head in blessing. He certainly seemed to say, ‘Hullo Barry,’ exactly as he had done in a dream in London around June 1976, but I could have been mistaken because singing was taking place.
I have had thousands of experiences that transcend scientific or intellectual explanation. Although he undoubtedly fakes miracles, plagiarizes the sayings of others, and makes many mistakes in his predictions and in his statements about history, my opinion differs from a few of my esteemed colleagues among his former followers. I have many times experienced supranormal phenomena related to him, which there is no explaining away. Unlike countless devotees and former devotees, I do not think that he DOES these phenomena as such. I think that some principle that we have not yet scientifically understood is at work, as it were THROUGH him, and, beyond, in connection with him. I also think that there needs to be unbiased enquiry into some of the implications of these powers (which relate to him whether the recipient is in or even far beyond his physical presence). Their sheer magnitude round the globe is bound to attract history’s final verdict that they are real, and do happen. (I have, by the way, found many rationalists and sceptics just as biased as many religionists). The world may have a degree of trouble on its hands. That powers of such profound beauty and outreach can mask and co-extend with deeds so heinous is surely of especial concern. That they markedly influence countless thousands of people in the highest echelons of power round the world is something worth questioning. (I shall publish about these matters elsewhere. In fact, in November 1991, I resigned from my college teaching job in Australia and worked full time for three years writing a book on my direct experiences of such phenomena). For twenty-five years, I adored and served him. At the beginning of 1978, I volunteered my services to him and taught English for two years at his Whitefield College, just outside India’s fifth largest city, Bangalore. Mostly very happily, I lived round him for periods of three years; eighteen months; and eight months (1977-80; 1981-82; 1997-98).
Until the NEXUS article, mentioned below, I dismissed for many years as absurd no fewer than nine accounts of sexual abuse by Sai Baba, five of which I had heard between 1978 and 1982, and two shortly before I read the article, the rest between 1997 and 2000.
My first hearing of a story relating Sai Baba to sexual misconduct was in 1978. My friend Bob Lowenberg, the South African articled clerk at law and author of four books on Sai Baba, directly investigated a story involving a young Anglo-Indian named Patrick who lived in Whitefield, where Bob also lived for a number of years. The American author Tal Brooke reported Patrick’s story in his book LORD OF THE AIR, (long banned in India, owing, it seems, to the influence of Sai Baba’s devotees) which I looked at but casually a few years later. The noted former Sai Baba devotee of twenty-six years Glen Meloy has called Brooke "the first whistleblower." Many of us ignored the whistle. It seemed shrill, and certainly not related to the marvellous beauty and enormous outreach in compassionate works directed towards all regardless of race, class or creed.
Between 1979 and 1982 I heard four stories relating Sai Baba to homosexuality: from Joseph (U.S.A.) in 1979 (see below); Donna (U.S.A.), perhaps in the same year; Connie Raadsma, a close neighbour of mine in Australia 1981; and an Australian woman who spoke to me at Puttaparthi Sai Baba’s chief residence, in 1982. Like myself, Joseph and Donna were of the tiny handful of long-stay Westerners Sai Baba then permitted to live around Sai Baba, mostly in Whitefield. Donna, who Sai Baba had long not permitted within ashram precincts, claimed that she had spoken to older Puttaparthi residents who said that Sai Baba had been homosexual even as a boy. It appears to me now that Donna may have opened her mouth a bit too widely.
SILENCING OF RAISED VOICES
In 1979, in the crowd awaiting Sai Baba’s public appearance (darshan), Joseph, one of three or so - including Om (U.S.A.) and Trevor Freeman (U.K.) who remained after the hippies and others had departed from Sai Baba in the late sixties, began to talk out aloud – very audibly. I sat very near. With ever-increasing upset - indeed moral outrage - he repeated that some college boys had told him that Sai Baba had asked a number of them (in Joseph’s words) to "line up and masturbate." On the third or so day of Joseph’s dark rumblings, six hefty Indian male service volunteers came and carried him out, ordering him not to return. None of the thousand or so who were present can ever forget the struggle that the immensely powerful Joseph put up, shouting out the accusations no doubt for all to hear. An hour afterwards, one of the same volunteers told me that his duty (which he clearly regretted) was “like wrestling a tiger.” A very distressed Indian man said to me, "If Sai Baba is God, why do they need to use all this violence against this man?"
For the next few days, Joseph then daily climbed a tree outside the ashram wall, and cried forth the allegations for us all to hear. Then, he was gone. I heard from a close friend and local resident, S. Subramanian, a Tamilian who knew some of the Tamil officers, that the Kadugodi police had thrashed Joseph, and sent him on his way. So much, then, for the cardinal doctrine of ahimsa or non-violence – in the land that on almost all sides still daily venerates Mahatma Gandhi, the principle’s towering apostle, alongside the Dalai Lama, during the twentieth century. Sai Baba everywhere preaches it but does he practise it? Will devotees finally admit that they harbour dark memories of brutal corrupt people like Kumar, the betel nut chewing stick wielding ex superintendent of police, who was Sai Baba’s gatekeeper at Puttaparthi for many years? A woman in the Connie Simmons’ group at Ammamor, Queensland Australia, told me of a traumatic experience of seeing terrible violence perpetrated by some of Sai Baba’s assistants. She said it presented her with great doubts about Sai Baba but felt that she could not speak further. Her story is one of many such. I call to all of you who can document such stories with as much confirmatory evidence as possible – dates, times, places, any witnesses, events, to get your stories to me and to others who will research AND act, and get them out into the public domain.
Tal Brooke has now generously shared crucial information with me, some of which I have been able to confirm from my own independent knowledge. Many Sai devotees dismissed him too as an angry young man with a grudge. He tells me that he intends to release significant data that has come to him over the years, which will significantly further the exposure of Sai Baba. As a very active evangelical Christian who has excellent and powerful connections, he has assured Glen Meloy and me that he will substantially assist in bringing our cause to note when we are ready to tackle the TV and other media before audiences of ever greater millions.
I have begun to uncover the case of an admired and quite close teaching colleague of mine, P.K. Mohanti, at the Sathya Sai College at Whitefield. Sadly, he was instantly removed from the college before we could say our goodbyes. Again, it seems to relate to being ejected for speaking out against abuses.
Surely, we witness the silencing of conscience-raised voices. I wish I were able to warmly shake the hands of Joseph and P.K (as many students affectionately called that very caring teacher). Joseph, the thought of your thrashing also fuels my own determination. That let me tell you!
In 1981, after I had returned to Australia from spending three years around Sai Baba, a neighbour Connie Raadsma of Cooma, inspired by stories told to her by Gerry Gibson (still my closest friend and Godfather to our son Sai Isa) decided to visit Sai Baba. On her stopover in Malaysia, she visited a family with a history of Sai Baba devotion, whose address had been given to her by one of us, Steve Turol. She told us that she heard a disturbingly authentic cassette tape of an Indian Malaysian boy’s account of sexual molestation by Sai Baba at Whitefield College. His horrified parents had, it seems, withdrawn him from the institution. (We now learn that, over the years, MANY concerned parents have withdrawn their children from the Sai Baba’s educational institutions). Disgusted, Connie cancelled her trip. In a great piece of synchronicity, shortly before I read the NEXUS article’s publication, my wife and I heard from a close friend, Karuna Tohow (who is a respected professional with no Sai Baba connection whatever) that she had been host to a mother and son, and that the mother had told her, very convincingly that Sai Baba had sexually molested her son. Unfortunately, Karuna no longer has the contact details of these people. At the same time, my wife Shanti's mother Barbara, who travelled extensively in India during the sixties, told me that every now and then in her extensive travels in India she had heard stories that "Sai Baba likes young boys."
Even as I was writing this article, as though corners of my mind are still grappling with the problem of acceptance, I found myself excluding two cases, which surely should be included. In the one case, shortly before Christmas 1997, a dear friend Maria Quoos, came anxiously to me. Maria is still a key Polish leader in Sai Baba’s organization. We worked as volunteers at the Puttaparthi orphanage, producing a Christmas play, among other duties. She brought one of her group to me to assist in his distress and confusion, and he recounted that in their recent interview with him, Sai Baba had covertly grasped his penis. In the other case, in her interview in April 1998, my wife Shanti saw Sai Baba covertly grasp the penis of a young man, Michael, a member of an Australian group. Straight after the interview, Shanti spoke to Michael, who told her and the group that he was "spun out by it all" (highly confused). This group was led by Valmai Worthington of Queensland. Here, I note that I have confirmed from Dr Terry Gallagher that he has spent many hours with Mrs Worthington extensively going through extensive evidence of Sai Baba’s sexual molestation. However, she has continued to lead groups to Sai Baba including young men. Former devotees are increasingly aware of other leaders in various countries who have been responsibly informed that sexual abuse of boys and young men is perpetrated by Sai Baba yet continue to lead groups of all ages to him. For example, repeated concerns have been expressed which relate to groups led by Hal Honig of New York, one of the many major Sai Organization leaders who have ignored allegations against Sai Baba presented to them by well-known, highly respected former devotees in the U.S.
That is, nine denials on my part.
PUBLICATION OF THREE NEXUS ARTICLES, AUSTRALIA, 2000
In 2000, there came the jolting publication of three articles in the Australian magazine (September-October). So credible were they that I contacted the authors, Dr Terry Gallagher, Hans de Kraker (Australia) and Jens Sethi (Germany). As my investigation unfolded, I spoke to many males, and others they had entrusted with their sad accounts. Sai Baba, it seemed, was a serial sexual molester on a huge scale, both of minors and young men from his educational institutions and from around the world. Like so many others, my wife and I ridded our house of Sai Baba artefacts. Our hearts were very heavy.
After months of investigation, I found Sai Baba molestation accounts ranging from genital oiling to oral sex and, in fewer cases, to anal sex. Some accusers were minors; some were young men. Some respondents suppressed their stories until recently, when they are rather older. A few courageous individuals have come out with their shocking stories of being sexually molested by Sai Baba - such as Afshin Khorramshahgol (Iran), Jed Geyerhahn, Sathya Purcell, John Bright (U.S.A.), Conny Larsson (Sweden), Dr Naresh Kumar Bhatia (India), Hans de Kraker (Australia), Jens Sethi (Germany), Keith Ord, David Paul (U.K.), Edwin Reu rings – who, for now, prefers his name spelt in this way, Matthijs van der Meer (Netherlands), Marc-Andre St Jean (Canada)…
I thought, how many men, mostly still young, have to cry out in awful darkness before anyone will heed them? Both high-ranking and rank-and-file members of the Sai Organization have attacked those who have gone on public record, such as these persons, calling them "scurrilous," "slanderous," "irresponsible," "liars" ... Let us see.
The following cases (although many more could be cited) remind us that no matter how well known and well-regarded within Sai Baba’s fold were the individuals and their families, the denial by the Sai organization has all along been absolute. They also show that, although there have been concerted attempts by males to come out with their molestation stories, the social sensitivity of the topic is so great that they have discovered extreme caution needs to be exercised. There can be a world of difference between cowardice and prudence.
When I first came to Sai Baba’s ashram at Whitefield in December 1977, shortly before I commenced my lectures at his College, I noted that an American boy and his family left very suddenly. I can now imagine why. Recently, his mother widely disseminated an account involving her son’s molestation, and then fell silent, even though (in a note posted on the Web) she at first welcomed sincere enquiries. As he is now in his forties, this man’s current professional status (which has to do with the law) seems to be a factor in his not speaking out.
In October 2000 Mick Brown, senior correspondent for the London TELEGRAPH, wrote about the family and their son whom he visited in the U.S. Pseudonyms were used to protect the boy’s identity. See: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/et?ac=003709198...10/28/tlbaba28.html
Many devotees, particularly in California, knew these staunch devotees of over twenty years who received extensive attentions from Sai Baba. "Sam," as Mick Brown calls him, had some twenty-five private interviews, and reports that Sai Baba showered him with jewellery and approximately $10,000 in cash, while being sexually abused by him. Investigations round the world repeatedly uncover such patterns of bribery by Sai Baba. Likewise, being told “This is your good chance,” and threats and promises clearly designed to hold the boys and young men to silence. This young man is now at college. His father has written to me saying: "He, his Mother and the rest of the family do not wish to disclose his name in public venues that could endanger his life, and his reputation in the professional sector. That is his choice." Even so, this family, along with many others, has made many efforts - and indeed at very high governmental and other levels - to bring Sai Baba to accountability.
Could there be danger to life? Sai Baba has millions of followers. Always there will be hotheads and the mentally disturbed to take matters into their own hands. For many years Dr Bhatia, who now works in a hospital in New Delhi, was a prominent doctor (head of the Blood Bank at Puttaparthi) in Sai Baba’s vast medical establishment. He informs us that he, as Connie Larsson alleges in his own case, was a homosexual lover of Sai Baba. Dr Bhatia, who tells me that he still cannot shake off his belief that Sai Baba is Divine, says that the latter has sexually abused very many of his (Sai Baba’s) students. Dr Bhatia informs me that the threat to life is very real, especially that of a young boy who he professionally believes was badly sodomized by Sai Baba. For this reason, he says, he has modified his earlier public stance that can be seen in David and Faye Bailey’s The Findings (circa late 2000), which make many accusations of a both a criminal and hypocritical nature against Sai Baba. He has also clarified a misunderstanding. It had earlier been said that this boy was seven years old when very badly sexually abused by Sai Baba. Dr Bhatia confirms to me that the boy was not seven but was then in Level 7 at Sai Baba's school at Puttaparthi. He has also confirmed all of the above to my fellow Australian Stephen Carthew, who visited him in New Delhi 200. He writes to me that:
“I found Dr Bhatia delightful and most welcoming, notwithstanding the bind he is in. His own ambivalence regarding the spiritual nature of his Guru, and the pressures coming from many sources to keep quiet, makes it difficult for him to do more than tell his story when asked. Certainly, he believed he was threatened and harassed during his rushed departure from Puttapaparthi, after criticizing Sai Baba to his face.”
Another American boy tells of extensive molestation when he was fifteen years old by Sai Baba in September of 1999. For the text from his handwritten diary, see under Witnesses, Statement of a Fifteen Year Old Victim, http://www.exbaba.com/witnesses/boy.html
His mother, G., wrote a searing account outlining her son’s molestation to every Sathya Sai Organization Council member, regional officer and centre president in the United States. This whole organization, then, to say nothing of the lack of compassion, is culpable of non-disclosure to civil authorities! The rules of many religious organizations throughout the world mandate reportage. The Sai Organization suppresses our representations, and needs to be exposed for years of cover-up. Former devotees will continue to take stringent and prolonged action to expose its dereliction of duty. This is our solemn promise. Later in this article, I shall line up a few, in my opinion, very guilty men. (You will notice the EXTREME male-domination of the Sai Organization).
G’s letter was accompanied by her son’s handwritten account, Jed Geyerhahn’s story of his own molestation, and the website details for The Findings. A close personal observer in this boy’s case was Shirley Pike, who resigned from the Sathya Sai Organization as Zonal Convenor of a large area of the U.S. Ms Pike is a Nationally Certified School Psychologist. She has a specialist Master’s Degree (with forty five graduate units beyond the typical Master’s Degree). She works with children who have severe emotional and behavioural concerns, many of whom have been sexually and otherwise abused. Sathya Sai Baba and his organization face sworn testimony not only from first-hand witnesses but also from an array of sexual abuse professionals such as Ms Pike.
In mid 1982, at Puttaparthi, I voiced concerns about the rumours of homosexual activity by Sai Baba. This was partly from a sense of duty on behalf of the Australian woman (mentioned above) who had just spoken to me, partly because I wondered what on earth was happening! She had come to me distressed and I listened to her story in the middle of the Puttaparthi ashram. Within hours, the same assistant to the ashram manager, who had seen me talking to her, came to my room to say that the manager wanted to speak to me straight away. I went and his complaint was that I had been seen talking to a woman!
I spoke of the woman’s concern (not mentioning her) only to Richard Bayer, then a high official in Sai Baba’s U.S. organization, and Howard Murphet, Australian journalist and renowned author of several books on Sai Baba. Murphet was typically gracious but Bayer was shockingly rude, chastising me for daring to breathe such a topic, then turning angrily on his heel and striding away. Repeatedly, I hear from wide sources that Richard Bayer has been high-handed with many other followers of Sai Baba. Indeed, many Sai devotees realize and quietly lament the highly egotistical nature of some of the leaders Sai Baba appoints, passing it off as “Baba’s Leela,” and the like. The list is quite formidable! Richard Bayer has much to answer for in general, since we have clear documentation that he was one of the officials present at times when reports alleging sexual molestation of males were presented to Dr Hislop and others. We now have written evidence that, as far back as 1980-1, when regional director, Richard Bayer told the mother of one abused male youth that the boy was lying.
Almost immediately, on a dismal series of patently absurd pretexts, Kutumb Rao, then the Puttaparthi ashram manager, a former Judge of Sai Baba’s state Andhra Pradesh, called me yet again to his office. On his fourth summons within a week, he said Sai Baba had instructed that I be expelled from the Puttaparthi and Whitefield ashrams, never to return. The time was about 7 p.m. With high-handedness - here was that Sai Baba leadership quality again - he demanded that I be gone that same night. An observer of my drastic leaving that night was my friend of many years Dr Simon Madin of Melbourne, Australia.
My dearly loved friend the late V.K. Narasimhan (d. March 9, 2000) followed Professor N. Kasturi as the Editor of “SANATHANA SARATHI,” the official organ of the Sathya Sai Central Trust. I had the privilege of editing some of his last writings. VKN (as he was affectionately known) was renowned for something rare around Sai Baba – not being a ‘yes man.’ Many Indians consider him one of the greatest and most courageous newspaper Editors in India’s history. He shared with me stories of the terrible intimidation Kutumb Rao would meet out, even to humble defenceless people. He also told me, with visible sadness, how cruelly Sai Baba treated Professor Kasturi in the latter part of his life. A friend of mine, an academic who also knew VKN well, tells that the latter was also shocked, for example, by the barrack room bawdiness of one of the closest of Sai Baba’s lieutenants. We both attest that he had little if any regard for the integrity of any number of the men Sai Baba collects closely around him. However, I conclude, sadly, that Sai Baba ingeniously kept the occasional person around him like VKN, so as to give a semblance of freedom, and fearlessness of speech. I also think that, amid all the fawning and the power plays, he needed someone like VKN around as a reality refreshant, who could be quite fearless, outspoken and truthful. Robert Priddy has written perceptively and frankly on this deeply mutual friend of ours. See, http://www.saibaba-x.org.uk/16/index.html.
Why Kutumb Rao’s indecent haste? Until the NEXUS article, I did not in the least connect my casting out with my mentioning the allegations of homosexual activity by Sai Baba. As I read Jens and Gurprit Sethi’s harrowing story, I now suspected that it was feared that I would spread my concerns, and that to prevent this I was being got rid of as fast as possible. More and more stories of others who have been forced out of Puttaparthi and Whitefield now suggest the reasonableness of such a surmise.
I may add that stories about the harsh conduct of top Ashram Management, past and present, are exceptionally well known to many devotees. When they are collected and published, I suggest that these alone will starkly reveal the darkness behind the charming façades of Sai Baba’s empire. Not least his fleet of luxury cars, his golden throne, the pomp and circumstance, the magnificent architecture... Sadly, too, all the immeasurably good work hides the darkness in and around Sai Baba.
AMAZING GRACE HIDES ASTOUNDING DISGRACE
Fifteen and a half years later, I did return to Puttaparthi, in November 1997. For months on end, Sai Baba treated me very graciously and granted me an interview on July 14, 1998 with six other Australians in a group co-ordinated by Glen Hart from Adelaide, a young man whose intimate playing with Sai Baba’s hands and prolonged lying in his lap frankly amazed me, as I had never seen such physical intimacy in play with Sai Baba.
Countless Sai Baba devotees, including many top leaders, have said that dissenting former devotees act out of personal frustration or disgruntlement. I am in regular touch with many of the latter, and have not noticed it. Certainly, it was not so in my case. My dissent came with the publication of the NEXUS article, when I began - very extensively - to probe worldwide. I had commenced some explorations before I left for India on November 14, 1997. However, I could not reconcile my own experiences of the Sai phenomenon with the Internet accounts. The most disturbing for me then were not the allegations of pedophilia, which I found confusingly written (of course, most people are not practised writers and, no doubt, pedophilia DOES confuse!). Rather, it was the careful analysis of Sai Baba mistakes regarding historical data for which too much evidence exists.
I saw my casting out, stunning though it was at first, as a further step in the reduction of my ego, a precious gift from the spiritual teacher. Indeed, to think this way is part of a strong ethos around Sai Baba and any number of other spiritual teachers. Simply, I went on loving and serving him in wider spheres of volunteer social service, especially among the poor in the Kodagu (Coorg) District of Karnataka for a number of years, which brought great meaning and joy to me.
I wish to note:
The nature of the ever-mounting accusations, which we now see to have been made at least as far back as the sixties
How top leaders of Sai Baba’s vast worldwide multi-billion dollar organization have responded to them by suppression and vilification
The thwarting of legal and other actions owing to his incredible influence within ALL Indian power structures, where countless individuals worship him as God incarnate. This tradition of Guru worship is hard to interpret to many other cultures, especially that of the West.
The attempt by former devotees to expose the Sai Organization’s cover-up of the allegations
My opinion that Sai Baba uses smoke-screening tactics to thwart investigation