Baba: God-man or con man?
Basava Premanand is
India's leading guru-buster.
He believes that the
country's biggest spiritual leader, Sri Satya Sai Baba, is a charlatan
and must be exposed.
Premanand says Sai Baba's 'miracles' are just magic tricks
Basava Premanand has
been burgled... again.
It is the third time in
just one month. But he is in no doubt of the thieves' motives.
He suspects they were
looking for evidence that he has collected for over 30 years against
India's leading spiritual guru, Sri Satya Sai Baba.
Mr Premanand believes
this evidence proves the self-proclaimed "God-man", Sai Baba, is not
just a fraud, but a dangerous sexual abuser.
"Sai Baba is nothing
but a mafia man, conning the people and making himself rich", he says of
his bete noire.
17 June, 2004
BBC Two, 2100 BST
in the UK
As India's leading
guru-buster, Basava Premanand is the scourge of all miracle-makers.
He is the founder of
the Federation of Indian Rationalist Associations and the editor of a
monthly periodical called The Indian Sceptic.
He believes that it is
his duty to dispel the "curse of gullibility blighting his country in
the form of myth and superstition", and replace it instead with the
"gospel of pure, scientific understanding".
Since 1976, he has
waged a bitter war against Sai Baba, a man who commands a following of
millions both in India and abroad. His devotees believe him to be an
Avatar, or incarnation of God in human form.
But to Mr Premanand,
this God is anything but holy.
Rumours about Sai Baba
sexually abusing young male devotees have been circulating for years.
In 1976 a former
American follower,Tal Brooke, wrote a book called Avatar of the Night:
The Hidden Side of Sai Baba. In it, he referred to the guru's sexual
allegations were dismissed out of hand by the tightly controlled Sai
Dr Michael Goldstein,
chairman of the international Sai Baba organisation, admitted he had
heard rumours, but told us that he did not believe them. He said: "My
heart and my conscience tell me that it is not possible."
The attacks on Sai Baba are wild,
reckless and concocted
Former Indian PM Vajpayee
But in the last four
years, and with the growth of the internet, the tide of claims against
Sai Baba has become a groundswell.
Former devotees such as
Alaya Rahm and Mark Roche, featured in the the BBC film Secret Swami,
are coming forward with increasingly graphic stories of the guru's
serious sexual exploitation.
Their own experiences
bear an uncanny resemblance, yet span a time frame of almost
Both had been subjected
to Sai Baba rubbing oil on their genitals.
"He took me aside",
said Alaya Rahm, "put the oil on his hands, told me to drop my pants and
rubbed my genitals with the oil. I was really taken aback."
All the allegations
against Sai Baba so far have been made by Westerners.
But Mr Premanand says
that there are many Indians who also claim to have been abused but are
too afraid to speak out.
It is no surprise that
Indian victims are scared of reprisals. Sai Baba's influence among the
power elite of India is impressive.
presidents, judges and generals, have all come to the ashram (religious
retreat) in Puttaparthi in southern India, to pay their respects.
Baba often performs 'miracles' for his devotees in the ashram
The previous prime
minister of India, Mr Atal Vajpayee, once issued a letter on his
official notepaper calling the attacks on Sai Baba "wild, reckless and
Sai Baba also enjoys a
close relationship with the state police. A former head of police once
acted as his personal chauffeur.
None of this, however,
deters Mr Premanand who has doggedly pursued Sai Baba over the years
through the courts, the media and several embarrassing books and
Little wonder that his
campaign has enraged some of the holy man's supporters.
To date, Basava
Premanand has survived four murder attempts and bears the scars from
several savage beatings.
In 1986, he was
arrested by the police for marching to Puttaparthi with 500 volunteers
for a well-publicised confrontation with Sai Baba.
Four male devotees broke into Sai Baba's private quarters
late at night armed with knives
year, he took Sai Baba to court for violating the Gold Control Act by
producing gold necklaces out of thin air without the permission of a
Gold Control Administrator.
case was dismissed, Mr Premanand appealed on the grounds that spiritual
power is not a defence recognised in law.
1993, the peace of the ashram was shattered when a gruesome incident
devotees, who were close to Sai Baba, broke into their guru's private
quarters late at night armed with knives.
motives are unclear. Some say they were going to warn their guru about
corruption among the higher echelons of the ashram. Others say they were
going to kidnap or even kill Sai Baba.
stopped by Sai Baba's personal attendants and in the violent struggle
that ensued, two of the attendants were killed and two left seriously
Premanand is determined to continue with his lone crusade
Baba managed to escape through a secret flight of stairs and raise the
Just before the police
arrived, the four men escaped to Sai Baba's bedroom. It was there, the
police say, they shot the intruders out of self defence.
Mr Premanand claimed a
cover up and went to court.
He says: "The central
government stopped the investigation, because if the investigation takes
place, a lot of things will come out like economic offences and sex
He was outraged that
Sai Baba - one of the key witnesses to the events of that night - had
not been questioned.
Over the next three
years, he took his case all the way to the Supreme Court, before he was
Today, this sprightly
septuagenarian is as busy as ever, collecting and collating more
information. Mr Premanand is preparing for another battle.
"This", he says
mischievously, "is going to be the greatest fight of my life."
Secret Swami was
broadcast on Thursday, 17 June, 2004 in the UK at 2100 on BBC Two.