The ‘Secret’ Behind the BBC’s Secret Swami
By Ranbir Singh ( Hindu Human Rights UK )
In 2004 Hindu Human Rights Group contacted the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation )over its tabloid programme Secret Swami which portrayed India’s venerated Guru Sri Sathya Sai Baba in an ill founded, malicious light. However this elicited no response from BBC and it is interesting to note that the aforementioned documentary by journalist Tanya Datta is still continuing to be used as the basis for allegations regarding inappropriate behaviour by Sathya Sai Baba. These allegations mainly centre around sex abuse. Yet as is usual with such exposés what the BBC included in its documentary is as important and relevant as what was conveniently ignored. Since Sathya Sai Baba’s death and after the emergence of counter evidence in the last seven years that absolve him of any such allegations, this entirely negative and therefore non-objective portrayal has, instead of being discontinued, only been enhanced by the litany of obituaries which almost in unison denounce India ’s most revered guru and humanitarian as a sinister con-man. The BBC by making and promoting such a documentary has thus displayed lack of professionalism and balanced perspective taking that would fairly examine all sides of a debate, as any other objective investigative journalism would provide. Instead we have a rather odd collection of neo-intellectuals who seem to lack even balance in the mental sphere as they seem unable to distinguish between opinion and fact, between rational documentary making and sensational cinema creation.
This Secret Swami documentary was aired by BBC2 on 18 June 2004. The programme, compered and led by reporter Tanya Datta, was not just blatantly superficial but sensationally demeaning in its content. Ms Datta breached all standards of objective journalism by displaying her bias at selecting only those subjective testimonies and presenting only that information which would support and drive home her viewpoint of portraying Sathya Sai Baba as a sex-offender. One would logically question whether Ms Datta was trying to ‘make’ news or report it? She frequently made references to Satya Sai Baba as being deemed to be “God” by gullible Hindus (millions of them) without explaining what is meant by the term “God” in Hinduism or even what a basic word such as “Swami” represents in the Hindu lexicon. In fact by using the word “Swami” in its title the BBC ensured that the ordinary British viewer links the expression to Hinduism thus making explicit a connection between “Swami”, “Hinduism” and sexual misdemeanours, fraud and even murder.
Furthermore the self-proclaimed experts that were employed to substantiate the stand taken by this documentary would be dismissed by any rational jury as lacking any sense of authority, integrity or credibility for the case to be argued. The first to be presented was Mr Khushwant Singh (journalist and author) who was asked about his expert opinion on Sathya Sai Baba’s alleged sexual behaviour. What we were not told however was that Mr Singh, acknowledged in India for the often implicit sexual innuendoes in his writings has been known for basing all his so-called expert reviews of Sathya Sai Baba on his American friend Tal Brooke who is further well-known as a Christian fundamentalist and fanatic author, who believes that ‘enlightenment is an evil path to Satan and that God-Men and Gurus are in a state of perfect demonic possession’. Moreover, Tal Brooke has also been known to claim “out of body experiences”, hearing the voices of “spirit guides”, seeing spiritual entities and having “demonic encounters” on the astral realm and has also personally admitted to experimenting with LSD and being involved with a pro-LSD organization (i.e., Neo-American Church).
The other “expert” presented was the amateur magician and conspiracy theorist Basava Premanand, parading under the title of “rationalist”. Interestingly, Premanand, who was called India’s leading Guru buster, and who had placed himself on the high pedestal of rationalism went on to endorse, promote and publish a book by a well-known charlatan, ‘psychic trance medium’ and ‘psychic pet healer’ Conny Larsson, who in turn had openly claimed that he contacted the spirits of the deceased and even channelled the spirit of Vedic sage Veda Vyasa.
What was then glaringly missing from this assembled cast of highly questionable characters was any practicing and respected Hindu scholar (which Khushwant Singh and Premananda were clearly not) who might have been able to give an informed opinion on the matter. Instead Ms Datta chose to portray this as a government conspiracy in a country of a billion-strong democracy. One would wonder why the BBC felt itself well endorsed to make so-called serious programmes which revolve around the Hindu world and its adherents without a single inside view.
Moreover it is indeed alarming that the BBC would show such a programme based on allegations alone. One would not expect that charges which are so highly serious and disturbing as the ones made would be based on allegations alone and on flawed sources of information, without substantiated evidence or the testimony of the accused. The BBC has had ample experience of going undercover to gain hard corroboration to highlight all kinds of abuse and fraud and yet it had not done so in this instance. Satya Sai Baba had been tried and found guilty on the basis of allegations alone and on the basis of trial by camera. (One would wonder if the BBC would also have gone so far as to apply for a government charter to sentence this man?) More importantly, India with its own vast internal security, intelligence agencies and its judicial system would have enforced its own laws (in the last seventy years when Baba started his social work) of investigating and even convicting Sathya Sai Baba had they found any shred of evidence that implicated him for such alleged crimes. Instead, the then Prime Minister of India released a letter that officially reinstated the innocence and honour of Sathya Sai Baba:
“We are deeply pained and anguished by the wild, reckless and concocted allegations made by certain vested interests and people against Sri Sathya Sai Baba. We would normally expect that responsible media would ascertain the true facts before printing such calumny – especially when the person is revered globally as an embodiment of love and selfless service to humanity. Since this professional ethic has not been observed by a section of the media, we have elected to go public with this signed statement.”
(Excerpt from the letter released by A.B Vajpayee, former Prime Minister of India, 1st December, 2001, signed by former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of India and the National Human Rights Commissioner)
Even today the same level of respect and honour is still meted out to Sathya Sai Baba by other eminent political figures of India. Former President of India, A.P.J Abdul Kalam wrote a tribute to Sathya Sai Baba in the Hindustan Times on April 22nd, called ‘Sathya Sai Baba: The Divine Legend’, honouring Baba for all the philanthropic work he has done. Current Prime Minister of India, Dr. Manmohan Singh, also said during the funeral ceremony of Sai Baba that “Sri Sathya Sai Baba as a preacher of the highest human values was an iconic figure for over five decades”.
Now we find that much of the information provided in the documentary would be considered inadmissible in any court of law for lack of corroborating evidence. The US Department of State- Bureau of Consular Affairs (which was mentioned in the documentary for having taken a concerned stand against Sathya Sai Baba) withdrew its indirect and erroneous reference to Sathya Sai Baba from their official website on July 17th, 2007. UNESCO which withdrew from a conference that it was due to co-organize with the Institute of Sathya Sai Education in 2000 by releasing an official statement (due to being e-bombed and victimized by the same anti-Sai propaganda and misinformation campaigns) later withdrew their statement while expressing regret over their blunder. Even the British Consular (that was approached by anti-Sai activists) refused to issue a travel warning (against Sathya Sai Baba) as there was never any police investigation underway and as they never received any complaint against Sathya Sai Baba or the Sai organization.
Yet today, even after all suspected claims and accusatory information in the documentary has been falsified, even after the main victim Alaya Rahm (presented in documentary) a self-confessed alcoholic and drug abuser, has withdrawn his own allegations, even after no charge or implication for sexual abuse by Sathya Sai Baba has been made in any court of law or the Indian embassy, even after no single case of abuse has been confirmed or proved anywhere, the documentary continues to remain in circulation and the BBC turns a convenient blind eye to the facts and counter-information that now destroys the case and subjective findings of its documentary. By not legally withdrawing their documentary or apologizing for the obvious errors made, the BBC’s rigid stand and intentions could easily be questioned on grounds of harbouring a non-secular and venomous anti-hindu bias which aids the endemic prejudice and propaganda directed towards marring the image of Hinduism’s gurus and traditions.
We also find that by ignoring the refutation of their reported allegations against Sathya Sai Baba and by further adding insult to injury the BBC continues their smear campaign by still weaving the same web of lies and slander with Ms Datta’s recent obituary on Sai Baba that presents Alaya Rahm’s testimony even after he has withdrawn his case (Case No. 05cc01931). Ms Datta even goes as far as to question the integrity of India by accusing the Indian government of being involved in some malicious conspiracy that provides a cover-up for Sathya Sai Baba. “He was a fraudster,” she writes in her obituary, “dogged for years by controversial allegations of sexual abuse yet protected from prosecution by virtue of his powerful political sway… The lack of any legal proceedings against the guru was perhaps not surprising in light of the level of influence that he commanded”. So from all parts of the political spectrum, the Indian politicians according to Ms Datta’s reasoning are tied up together and lack better judgment or worse yet they defend Sathya Sai Baba because they have some deep, dark and sinister secrets to hide. What credibility can one attribute to a journalist and a news network that subliminally disseminates conjured theories and misinformation not very different from the ones spun by the psychologically impaired about the world being taken over by aliens?
Moreover, recently in 2007 the same Alaya Rahm was trying to provide an alibi for a crack cocaine drug dealer friend, however despite his alibi his friend got convicted for thirty years, in return throwing light on Alaya Rahm’s dubious and questionable character which Ms Dutta had conveniently ignored.
One would basically have expected the international media to have much higher standards of objectivity, sophistication and investigation in such sensitive matters but it stands to reason that such irresponsible and partial reporting exposes not only BBC’s keen flair for the dramatic but also its concealed potential for deception. Such irresponsibility and conscious misleading has the power to cause trauma to devotees all over the world as this documentary is still being used and promoted as leverage and ammunition to target devotees and attack them on their religious beliefs rendering them as objects of ridicule. Moreover, not only has this unintelligent initiative by the BBC raked up unfounded controversies and indirectly insulted the Indian Government and millions of people from all walks of life who paid respect to Sathya Sai Baba but it has also indirectly and as a chain result brought under attack a wider institution of humanitarian work established by Sathya Sai Baba that has been over many years aiding and uplifting millions of poor in India. Baba’s devotees all around the world have over the years been known for their zealous dedication to voluntary service towards uplifting humanity. Furthermore, Baba’s charitable organizations and networks have taken up some of the biggest projects in India that have established super-specialty hospitals with state-of-the-art technology providing all services, including open-heart surgeries for free. These hospitals have been a boon and refuge to millions of people from thousands of villages and poverty stricken areas in India and beyond. Baba’s social welfare programmes have also constantly worked at providing free quality medical care to all. Not only hospitals but Baba’s work extended to the education sector where he established schools providing comprehensive education from kindergarten to post-graduate level, with all tuition made available for free. Every year these schools have known to yield the finest graduates of India excelling not only in superior academic intelligence but in strong values of self-discipline, integrity and spiritual wisdom. There are also many Sathya Sai Baba schools operating in other countries and over five hundred schools in the world utilizing Baba’s ‘Education in Human Values’ curriculum. In addition to this Sathya Sai Baba created vast water supply systems and canals for draught-stricken areas in South India that has been providing water to millions of people.
By haughtily attacking Sathya Sai Baba and demeaning him not on rational grounds but on baseless arguments and false allegations of the kind that one could expect of insensitive sociopaths and cowardly critics who excel at sitting on the fence, the BBC has in similar resultant effect debased Baba’s work, his philanthropic organizations and disgraced and demoralized thousands of individuals who inspired by Baba still selflessly carry on his charitable work.
In the final analysis, it is extremely shocking to see that a well-known and well-established international corporation such as the BBC renders its viewers and the British television license payers the dishonour of financing a broadcasting organisation which along with the bulk of the western media uses so-called evidence from disgruntled ex devotees, mentally unstable drug addicts, UFO watchers,conspiracy theorists, shape-shifting believers , New Age pseudo spiritualists, Christian fundamentalists and even white supremacists. As is usual the Hindu element is omitted just as it was with the original documentary when the BBC did not even have the decency to reply to HHR’s concerns and enquiries on the matter. This has inadvertently lead us to believe that the BBC has had no respect for India’s culture and traditions and as usual has used the Hindu community as a soft target which it has felt does not merit respect and so has not applied the same rigorous standards of journalism and broadcasting to issues pertaining to Hinduism and Hindu society.
Over ten years of its experience in this field HHR has found that there still lingers this disrespectful outlook and selective bias of a persisting colonial mentality that seems to shape the perceptions and general attitude of the western media and academia as a whole which unreasonably judges and intellectually tramples upon the faith and cultural ethos of those unlike itself. Instead of understanding the diversity of traditions and transcending socio-cultural barriers to bring people together the media rather uses discriminatory standards of reporting that divides people on the basis of their faith, ethnic background and culture.
Such overt bias cannot but deepen the prejudice with which Hindus are perceived in the west, in manner not meted out to any other community, religion, culture and civilisation where the media is always very careful not to cause any controversy which may be deemed offensive, even if it means compromising objective analysis. On the other hand where Hindus are concerned almost any Hindu perspective even if it is brought in, has always been deemed as insignificant. Terms such as extremist, right-wing and fascist are still the favourite swear words used to deny Hindus even legitimacy in issues which concerns them.
Given the years of injustice and slander seeded by the documentary and in light of the damage caused by BBC’s incorrect portrayal of Sathya Sai Baba, it would only be befitting and fair of the BBC to now issue an official public apology and legally withdraw the program from being broadcasted on various public channels such as YouTube, etc. apart from also withdrawing all direct and indirect references (of the false allegations) made on their official websites. Instead, and as an act of professional compensation for the damage and defamation engendered the BBC should direct its future efforts at making more honest and educative programs that provide accurate information on Sathya Sai Baba, his work and organizations and on Hinduism as a whole to educate the ignorant masses about the authentic Hindu culture and its ethos, thus setting an honest precedent for future standards of international journalism.
( Note : Hindu Human Rights is not directly or indirectly associated with any Sathya Sai Baba organisations)