British law against Sai Baba sought


By: Rashmee Z. Ahmed


Date: August 27, 2001


LONDON: Campaigners against religious cults across western Europe are trying to persuade the British government to follow the French and legislate against movements such as Sai Baba and the Moonies.

Tom Sackville, a former British minister and current chairman of the anti-cult organisation Family Action Information and Resource (FAIR), told The Times of India, "the French legislation of two months ago has enormously encouraged my 15-year battle against exploitative cults such as that of Sai Baba".

The anti-cult campaign comes even as The Times, London, carried extensive reportage of Sai Baba on Monday, questioning his role in the "mysterious deaths of three British men", which campaigners admit are hard to prove were directly caused by the guru.

The newspaper, which flagged its investigation as "exclusive", said "Sai Baba’s activities are being studied by the (British) Foreign Office, which is considering issuing an unprecedented warning against the guru to travellers".

It said one of the men had "complained of being repeatedly sexually molested by Sai Baba at his ashram in Puttaparthi near Bangalore".

There is growing British press interest in the man they describe as "Indian mystic and miracle worker" to the rich, famous and titled such as the Duchess of York and an architect known to be close to Prince Charles.

Commentators say this is largely because Sai Baba has a substantial European fan following, alongside a growing number of hostile and vocal former devotees who accuse him of physical, mental and monetary abuse.

The Internet war launched by former devotees across western Europe, including David Bailey, a Welsh concert pianist once considered to be Sai Baba’s right-hand man, has focussed unsavoury publicity on Sai Baba.

However, Sai Baba’s London headquarters continues to reject all the allegations.

Several parliamentary questions in the last five years have drawn the British government’s attention to Sai Baba’s alleged misconduct. But, British MPs and anti-cult campaigners say the government has always maintained that the number of British cases are too few to merit action.

But now, a new area of concern has arisen according to The Times, which says Sai Baba has infiltrated the British school system in a dangerous catch ‘em young policy.

The newspaper says more than 500 British schools are being taught according to "Sai Baba-influenced educational programmes". It says the programmes are promoted by two charities, the Sathya Sai Education in Human Values Trust UK and the Human Values Foundation.

Former minister Sackville says the development is worrying because "it is just like we wouldn’t want or allow far-right groups such as the British National Party (BNP) to be talking to our children in school".

Admitting the BNP was an extreme example, he said "the principle we are keen to impress on the British government is that just like the French, we have to make it a criminal offence to exploit people in vulnerable situations".

Anti-cult campaigners say that their cause has been strengthened because UNESCO pulled out of an educational conference at Puttaparthi last year.

They say that if the French legislation is followed by other European countries, it could eventually become European Union law and would severely limit the activities of movements such as that of Sai Baba.