Millions of people worship Sai Baba as God incarnate. More and more say the Indian guru is also a pedophile.
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By Michelle Goldberg
July 25, 2001 | PUTTAPARTHI, India -- One of the most powerful holy men in India presides over the world's biggest ashram, Prasanthi Nilayam, or Abode of Peace, in a remote town located in a barren corner of Andhra Pradesh, a desperately poor state in a desperately poor country.
"Sai Baba was my God -- who dares to refuse God? He was free to do whatever he wanted to do with me; he had my trust, my faith, my love and my friendship; he had me in totality," says Iranian-American former follower Said Khorramshahgol. What Sai Baba chose to do with him, Khorramshahgol says, was to repeatedly call him into private interviews and order him to drop his pants and massage his penis. Other former devotees contend Sai Baba did even more. No matter -- in this part of the world, faith is absolute. Believers don't refuse God, and they don't question him.
The stories about Sai Baba's sexual misconduct are all remarkably similar. "During my 'private audiences' with Sai Baba, Sai Baba used to touch my private parts and regularly massage my private parts, indicating that this was for spiritual purposes," wrote Dutchman Hans de Kraker in a letter sent to French journalist Virginie Saurel. In December 1996, when de Kraker was 24, Sai Baba allegedly asked him to perform oral sex: "He grabbed my head and pushed it into his groin area. He made moaning sounds," de Kraker wrote. "As soon as he took the pressure off my head and I lifted my head, Sai Baba lifted his dress and presented me a semi-erect member, telling me that this was my good luck chance, and jousted his hips towards my face." When de Kraker reported to others what had happened, he was thrown out of the ashram.
American Jed Geyerhahn, who was 16 when Sai Baba started coming on to him, echoes de Kraker's account: "Each time I saw Baba, his hand would gradually make more prominent connections to my groin." The stories are endless, and endlessly alike, concerning mostly boys and men from their midteens to their mid-20s.
Most of "The Findings" consists of testimony of sexual harassment and sexual abuse. "Whilst still at the ashram, the worst thing for me -- as a mother of sons -- occurred when a young man, a college student, came to our room, to plead with David, 'Please Sir, do something to stop him sexually abusing us,'" Faye writes. "These sons of devotees, unable to bear their untenable position of being unwilling participants in a paedophile situation any longer, yet unable to share this with their parents because they would be disbelieved, placed their trust in David; a trust which had built over his five years as a visiting professor of music to the Sai college." These pleas eroded the Baileys' faith and finally made them go public.
Since then, the movement against Sai Baba has been snowballing. In the past few months, ex-devotees have contacted the FBI, Interpol, the Indian Supreme Court and a host of other agencies, hoping for help in their battle against the guru. A California man named Glen Meloy, who spent 26 years as a Sai devotee, is trying to organize a class-action lawsuit against Sai Organization leaders in America, modeled on the one recently launched against the Hare Krishnas.
His faith was shattered when he was shown excerpts from the diary of his close friend's 15-year-old son, detailing several incidents of molestation. The child of devotees, the boy had been raised to worship Sai Baba as God, and obliged when the master reportedly ordered his disciple to suck his penis. "You've got all these kids who are scared to death to do anything that will do disrespect to their parents, in a room with someone they believe to be the creator of the whole universe," said Meloy, his voice choked with fury. "This isn't just any child abuse; this is God himself claiming to do this."
Hari Sampath, an Indian software professional now living in Chicago and a former volunteer in the ashram's security service, is petitioning India's Supreme Court to order the central government to investigate Sai Baba. His greatest concern is for Sai Baba's Indian victims, who generally have a much more difficult time speaking out than Westerners do. During his time at Prasanthi Nilayam, he said, many students at the ashram's college told him they were pressured to have sex with the guru. "I've spoken to 20 or 30 boys who have been abused, and that's just the tip of the iceberg. There are 14-year-old kids made to live in his room and made to think it's a blessing. In most cases, their parents have been followers for 20 years and are not going to believe them," Sampath said by phone from Chicago. "Westerners have little to lose by coming forward. The Indians have to go on living among Sai Baba devotees."
Sai Baba, who hardly ever grants media interviews, alluded to the allegations himself at an address last year, saying, "Some devotees seem to be disturbed over these false statements. They are not true devotees at all. Having known the mighty power of Sai, why should you be afraid of the 'cawing of crows'? All that is written on walls [or] said in political meetings, or the vulgar tales carried by the print media, should not carry one away."
But the guru's alleged interest in his followers' phalli is pretty much an open secret among old hands at the ashram. The eerie thing about this story isn't just the evidence of widespread sexual abuse in one of the world's biggest cults -- after all, between the Roman Catholic Church and the Hare Krishnas, one is seldom surprised to find perversity in the shadow of piety these days. What's also strange is that many of Sai's followers seem to accept that their chastity-preaching guru takes young men, including minors, into a private chamber, asks them to drop their pants, masturbates them and occasionally demands blow jobs. They believe the stories, and they believe that he's God.
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