Paedophilia claims made against "living god"
Tuesday, November 7, 2006
Allegations of paedophilia made against Indian guru, Sathya Sai Baba are back in the limelight again, after the UK's Sai Youth movement was recognised as an accredited partner of The Duke of Edinburgh's Award Scheme.
The Baba's followers deny the allegations, and the Sai Youth UK's National Co-ordinator called them "totally unfounded". Sai Baba attracts followers from many countries around the world who revere him as a "living god".
Around 200 youth are due to fly to India on November 13th after receiving a "divine commandment" to carry out a month-long "humanitarian pilgrimage" that will coincide with the birthday celebrations of Sai Baba, who will be 81 on November 23rd.
Pressure has been mounting on the Duke of Edinburgh award scheme charity to break its association with the Baba's organisation.
Claims of sexual abuse by Sai Baba have been circulating for several decades, stating that such abuse takes place during private interviews at his base in Puttaparthi, Andhra Pradesh.
Large numbers of youth have travelled to India to visit the holy man and hear his teachings. Followers say that their experiences were "spiritually enriching". Some former devotees who were interviewed in a BBC programme, The Secret Swami, claimed that the religious guru massaged their testicles with oil and coerced them into oral sex. During the last youth group pilgrimage in 2004, group interviews were granted to several young people although no abuse was reported.
The allegations are denied by the Baba's followers and Sai Baba has never been charged with any offenses. The US State Department, however, issued a travel advisory in 2001 that warned of "inappropriate sexual behaviour by a prominent local religious leader", which refers to the Baba, as officials confirm.
Duke of Edinburgh Awards
In July the UK Sai Organisation was awarded a certificate for their "invaluable contribution" to the Awards scheme at a garden party in Buckingham Palace. An official Sai Baba website hosted a news story about this event that was later removed after a personal intervention by Peter Westgarth, who stated that it contained misrepresentations of the events.
In the posting, Shitu Chudasama (National Co-ordinator for Sai Youth UK and a devotee) had spoken of giving a speech to "various dignitaries, diplomats, ministers [and] famous celebrities" at Buckingham Palace, and related that every listener was "hanging on to his every word". Chudasama had also claimed to have had a private audience with HRH Prince Philip at St. James's Palace sometime last year, where he attributed the inspiration and motivation of the Sai Youth to their leader.
The humanitarian work carried out by the youth will consist chiefly of providing medical aid, and will earn them a Duke of Edinburgh award that is bestowed for projects that enhance personal development and welfare work.
In a response to DNA, an unnamed public relations officer representing Sathya Sai Baba confirmed that the youth would be arriving at the ashram in a fortnight. Speaking about the sex abuse allegations, he said: "We do not care what the [US State Dept.] advisory says. People and organisations can write whatever they want to believe. We have no more to say on this issue."
Shitu Chudasama also stated that the pilgrimage was merely a humanitarian mission for the benefit of the improverished people in the local area, and that the sexual abuse allegations levelled against the Baba were "totally unfounded". He continued: "We hope to have an interview with Sai Baba but it's not guaranteed. If he wants to see us, he'll call us."
Tom Sackville, a former Home Office minister and chairman of FAIR told the Guardian: ""It is appallingly naive for the award scheme to involve young people and the royal family with an organisation whose leader is accused of paedophilia. Parents who plan to send their children on this month's pilgrimage ... should be aware of the danger their children are being exposed to."
However, Peter Westgarth, chief executive of the Awards charity, said: "This is not the only religion accused of paedophilia. Young people who are participating on these trips are doing so because they choose to." He continued: "The awards accredit the good work they do for poor people in India. We make no judgment about their religion. We would no sooner intervene here than we would the Church Lads' and Girls' Brigade."
Conservative MP Hon. Michael Gove stated that he would compose a letter to the charity urging them to consider stricter controls and monitoring of organisations that they associate and work with. "As a society we need a more determined effort to identify and expose those religious cults and extremists that pose a direct threat to people, so that they do not enjoy patronage that should be directed elsewhere," he said.
- Paul Lewis. "The Indian living god, the paedophilia claims and the Duke of Edinburgh awards" — The Guardian, November 4, 2006
- Ginnie Mahajan/Brajesh Kumar. "A holy furore rages in Britain" — Daily News & Analysis, November 5, 2006
- "Uproar over charity's link to guru in abuse scandal" — Taipei Times, November 5, 2006