Can Spiritual Betrayal Be Addressed in India? 


Posted: Tuesday, July 4, 2006

Author: Barry Pittard (Former Lecturer in English, Sathya Sai College, Whitefield) 

Since everyone in India suffers from it, the issue of corruption is fairly easy to talk about there. It is the way things are done, including getting non-corrupt matters done. But to address spiritual betrayal in a land steeped in guru worship or to speak out about the ravages of pedophilia or police killings in a guru’s bedroom may not be consonant with getting to or staying at the top of the Indian power structure - or of the local one.  (For a list of related online readings see, 

The institution of family may be viewed as a microcosm of the wider society. If an Indian boy or girl candidate for an arranged marriage were known to have been sexually abused, would it not devalue that individual as ‘damaged goods’? The Indian family institution works by several complex levels of alliance. The boy does not so much marry the girl, or vice versa, as marry a joint family alliance. Is there, then, a soul destroying silence on sexual abuse endemic throughout all levels of Indian society?  

Will shady guru affiliations tarnish India’s image worldwide? Right now, it is pressing hard to get Shashi Tharoor installed as United Nations Secretary-General when Kofi Annan retires at the end of 2006. Yet, despite worldwide allegations against Sathya Sai Baba of serial, wide-scale male paedophilia and implication in and cover-up of police executions in Sai Baba’s bedroom on June 6, 1993, the same Tharoor has highly praised him in an article (December 3, 2003 in the International Herald Tribune: ex-baba/engels/articles/taroorsarticle.html. Far differently from Shashi Tharoor’s praises, V.P.B. Nair, former Home Secretary of Andhra Pradesh, told the BBC in ‘The Secret Swami’ (2004) that the police killings in Sai Baba’s private quarters were “absolute cold-blooded murder”.  The picture that emerges is one of massive local, state and central Indian government cover-up: see and

The Indian media very seldom rocks the boat on the issue of pedophilia, and this seems especially so when religious sects are involved. I have discussed the matter with some Indian human rights/social workers, who admitted shame and commented on how much more advanced we are in the West in dealing with issues of rape, incest, etc. Yet sadly when I talk to abuse workers in Western countries they complain about professional overloads, burn-out and vast obstacles created by unenlightened police, legal systems and an unenlightened general public.  

Of course, no matter what the progress in Western countries in addressing issues of private or corporate corruption, or unmasking pedophiles, there are still many tragic shortfalls. Researchers hold that most sexual abuse still goes unreported. Survivors are ashamed and frightened to come forward. They speak of the barbarity and self-aggrandizement of lawyers defending those accused of sex abuses, who use technicalities rather than the truth to get their offending clients off the hook. These lawyers go all out to trip victims up over problems of testimony, which – by the nature of the crime – often cannot be proven by victim-witnesses. In the adversarial attacking style of many legal jurisdictions, victims are made to appear to be liars or hallucinatory. They speak of their ordeal in such terms as ‘it was like being raped all over again’.  

In my years in India, I sometimes heard that India is soon going to lead the world in spirituality. With the West still struggling to establish profound social justice, it would appear that India is going to have to produce a moral ‘miracle’ to match its incredible economic emergence. Will the economic prerogative kill whatever there may be of the ethical and spiritual one? Do we see India’s new or old rich endowing foundations that can study and address outrages such as sexual abuse, via public education, legal and government reform, funding of bona fide support groups, provision of professional counseling etc.? Extraordinarily many leading Indian industrialists and other power brokers are devotees of Sathya Sai Baba – would they be likely to want to initiate any genuine enquiry into the allegations against him of serial sexual abuse of boys and young men or complicity in police killings on June 6, 1993?  Unless they were directly to threaten these sectors, would India’s power brokers be prepared to take the risk of confronting Sathya Sai Baba or his powerful apparatus?

A most effective way to sanction corruption is not to speak out against it. Do religionists in India overwhelmingly stand back for fear of getting involved in controversy on corruption in religious institutions and about seemingly all-powerful ‘holy’ figures? Single-handedly and without general support, Indian rationalists and humanists have faced huge difficulties in challenging the morals of gurus in India, including those of Sathya Sai Baba. Perhaps the immense pan-India interest in the prosecution of Shankaracharya Jayendra Saraswati, a ‘pope’ for millions of Indians, promises a coming change. 

One main reason for persisting in presenting the facts about Sathya Sai Baba is that many of his former devotees who have painstakingly investigated the allegations feel the need to make a strong stand for the sake of the victims, their rights and the heart and truth of the matter. Almost all have withstood, without retaliation, shocking misrepresentation of their stance, personal attacks on their integrity, harassment in their private lives, and, in some cases, most serious libels. In various countries, they have attempted to raise the allegations with the top leaders in the Sathya Sai Organisation, who rebuffed them and concealed these serious and responsibly-made accusations from their rank-and-file members. Their attempts to suppress any enquiry are known to the leading media, such as the BBC, DR, SBS, CBC, India Today, Times of London, Daily Telegraph, etc. In their recruitment presentations in expensive venues around the world the Sathya Sai Organisation does not tell the public of the allegations confronting their guru. Yet it seeks links with mainstream civic and religious organizations. See:  

Should any guru be exempt from proper and lawful processes? If standards of conduct have been called into question, should not - for the sake of the most fundamental justice - the concerns be aired and properly investigated?