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  Volume 4 - Issue 07 JULY 2006
 
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THE UNESCO STORY


Here is a brief introduction to the UNESCO affair. It all started with a big conference on value-based education, planned to be held here in Prashanti Nilayam in the year, 2000. The prime mover behind that conference was the Institute for Sathya Sai Education in Thailand, and UNESCO was supposed to be the co-sponsor. Elaborate arrangements were made for the conference and everyone was keenly looking forward to the deliberations. However, on the morning of the opening day, just before inauguration, the UNESCO office in Delhi issued a press statement dissociating itself with the Conference and withdrawing its support. It was later learnt that this happened because some anti-Sai people wrote to the UNESCO, urging it to withdraw. As a sequel, the UNESCO posted a Media Advisory on its web site, which was very uncomplimentary to Swami, His Ashram, His Organisation, etc.

Now it is one thing for tabloid newspapers to sling mud and quite another for a UN body like the UNESCO to do something similar. It was incredible that this UN body did not even bother to cross check. Obviously, this sort of insult could not be left unchallenged. What was worse, this anti-Sai group were now trying to thwart the water education programs being pursued in Africa by our most respected Brother Mr. Victor Kanu, in association with Mr. Kalyan Ray, then serving in the UN Habitat.

A plan was then evolved to take up the matter at the highest quarters. Mr. Kalyan Ray who was then on a visit to India, sought and obtained an appointment with Mr. Yashwant Sinha, then India’s Foreign Minister or Minister for External Affairs, as we say in India. Mr Sinha is a devotee of Swami and has visited Puttaparthi on a few occasions. Mr Sinha gave Kalyan Ray a careful hearing and was appalled to hear about the UNESCO affair.

Meanwhile, I also happened to meet Mr. Rasgotra, former Foreign Secretary. Mr. Rasgotra had, at one time, served as India’s Ambassador to France during which time he was also India’s representative to the UNESCO. Thus, Mr. Rasgotora had contacts at the UNESCO, and I told him that he must do something to make the UNESCO appreciate that they cannot act irresponsibly and put objectionable matters in their website merely based on hearsay.

Both these approaches clicked. The long and short of it was that the Government of India asked the Indian representative to UNESCO to take up the entire matter with concerned officials at the other end. Thus, the Indian representative wrote a letter, somewhere in early 2004 I believe, from which I quote a part. The letter said:

The media Advisory dated September 15th 2000, and viewable at the address: www.unesco.org/education/highlights/media_advisory is posted to explain UNESCO’s inability to participate in a Conference organised by the Institute of Sathya Sai Education [Thailand]. In doing so, it attempts to gravely tarnish the reputation of the Sathya Sai movement by casting aspersions on the personal integrity and character of its leader, based on hearsay, and unconfirmed reports.

 Shri Sathya Sai Baba is a highly respected spiritual leader and public figure in India and abroad. It is well known that the life and message of Shri Sathya Sai Baba has been devoted to promoting peace, non-violence, social harmony and is a moving force behind numerous philanthropic social projects. In this context, it is pertinent to mention that the UN Settlements Project [UN-HABITAT] launched a major education initiative three years ago, using human values approach propounded by Shri Sathya Sai Baba, to introduce a values-based water education programme though the national curriculum in Africa. The initiative has been widely accepted at high political levels and among educationists in Africa and is now being replicated by the UN-HABITAT and the Asian Development Bank in Asia and the Pacific. You will agree that issuance of a casual and negligent press release by the UNESCO cannot but do disservice to such valuable projects.

 Government of India considers Shri Sathya Sai Baba and his movement a national asset and takes strong exception to UNESCO press release, which spreads wholly unfounded and unsubstantiated allegation against Shri Sathya Sai Baba.

 I would therefore request you to take immediate steps to remove the objectionable press advisory from the UNESCO website. I would also appreciate an expression of regret for the damage caused to one of India ’s revered public figures, without first verifying the facts and any consultations with Indian authorities.

 Now that was a strong letter at the official level, was it not? So you see, we here were not always keeping quiet or taking it lying down. If it was the riff-raff resorting to slander, we chose to ignore. But if allegations came from responsible quarters, we did what we could. In the case of the Times of London, since it is not answerable to anyone, it chose to ignore us. But with the UNESCO, it was different. It is governed by protocol and all that, and it simply could not ignore legitimate protest by a member country, which India is. So the UNESCO was obliged to respond, and this is what its representative said in part in the reply:

I do appreciate this concern and wish to inform you that following your personal intervention, the media advisory in question was immediately withdrawn from the archives of the UNESCO’s website for education.

 I should also like to take this opportunity to say how much the Organisation regrets this unfortunate incident and to reiterate to you, on behalf of the Director General, that the Organisation attaches the greatest importance to the varied forms of fruitful collaboration that we have enjoyed with your country for many years.

 So this was one case, where we succeeded in setting the record straight. However, the story did not quite end there. I wrote about all this in Heart2Heart in May 2004, I believe, and that stirred a hornet’s nest.

You see what happened was this. The mud-slingers are keen browsers of our website – they are always on the lookout for items they can pounce on – and they read what I had written in Heart2Heart. One of the ring leaders then became hopping mad – no surprise in that. Full of fury, he shot off an angry e-mail to the UNESCO about how dare they buckle to what he called official pressure? About how they could choose to ignore the testimony of reputed Vice Chancellors from Australia who had lent their support to the allegations made against Sai Baba etc., etc. The UNESCO was perturbed and wanted to know how their correspondence with the Indian representative had become public etc. This concern of the UNESCO came to my attention, along with information about the vituperative counter attack by the anti-Sai gang.

I thought about this for a while. Here was the UNESCO perturbed because we had quoted from the correspondence exchanged between it and the Indian representative. By the way, I did not go round hunting for this correspondence. In fact, I was not even aware of the exchange of letters. However, copies of this correspondence were sent to us by our contacts in Delhi, without our even asking for it. And this correspondence was not marked secret or even confidential. So I asked myself: “The UNESCO couldn’t care less when it hurt all our feelings by publicly tarnishing the reputation of Swami but it becomes upset when I try to explain to our devotees how the UNESCO has been forced to take back its words.”

At that point, I wrote a long fourteen-page letter to the Director, Bureau of Public Information of the UNESCO. That letter is published below.

LETTER TO THE DIRECTOR, BUREAU OF PUBLIC INFORMATION, UNESCO

From

Prof. G.Venkataraman
Ex Vice Chancellor
Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning
Prashantinilayam, 515 134
Anantapur Dist. A.P., India

To

Ms Elke Salas Rossenbach
Director, Bureau of Public Information
UNESCO, Paris

SUB: UNESCO Media Advisory on Sai Baba

Dear Madam,

I write this concerning the recent withdrawal of the Media Advisory on Sathya Sai Baba. I would not have ventured to trouble you but am constrained to do so, because it appears that my name has been mentioned in communications addressed to you besides which, an article I wrote for our radio magazine, has been forwarded to you. I am attaching at the end of my letter, a brief profile of myself so that you have some idea of my background as well credentials. I am sorry my letter is a bit long but even so, I do hope that in the interest of getting some idea about Sathya Sai Baba and his organisation, especially from one with direct and personal knowledge, you would be so kind as to give this letter a careful and patient reading.

I retired from service as a scientist in October 1992, having first spent over three decades in the Department of Atomic Energy, and thereafter several years in the Defence Research and Development Organisation. At the time of retirement, my boss was Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, now the President of India. Dr. Kalam asked me continue for some more time but I declined saying that I would like to go Sai Baba’s Ashram, and serve in Baba’s University in an honorary capacity. Dr. Kalam then told me, “You are lucky; you are going to a sacred place.” I came to the Ashram in late November 1992, and have been there ever since, rendering service of various kinds. I have to mention all this so that you can place what follows in the proper perspective.

CONCERNING BABA AND EDUCATION

In a recent communication addressed to you, a reference has been made to two Vice Chancellors from Australia and many heads of institutions [none named], and it is stated that they all have lent credence to the demand made for the issue of Media Advisory. I have been in continuous residence in the Ashram for twelve years, and I always meet senior educationists visiting this place. I simply cannot recall any visit by any Vice Chancellor from Australia. I have to mention this because I wonder how in such a serious matter as this, senior educationists lent their name without any direct personal knowledge of either the person involved i.e., Sathya Sai Baba or the place, i.e., the Ashram [both of which you are being asked to warn about]. Since educationists have been mentioned, let me state some facts that might not be known to you before.

In November, 1996 the Parliamentary Standing Committee for Human Resource Development visited the University founded by Baba, the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning. I was then the Vice Chancellor and it was my duty to not only make a presentation but also answer all the questions put by the Committee. The Committee was then touring the country visiting many Universities and institutions, particularly those connected with value-based education. The Committee was headed by a senior Parliamentarian, who had earlier served several times as a Cabinet Minister. The Committee put searching questions to me for over two hours and later visited the Institute Campus as also the Ashram. When the time came for the Committee to write a report, it adopted the core values of our Institute namely, Truth, Righteousness, Peace, Love and Non-violence as the basis for its main recommendations. The Government of India accepted the report and subsequently, in connection with some case before it, the Supreme Court of India upheld the principle that all students do need to be given a strong exposure to basic human values [highlighted by the Parliamentary Committee] so that they later become good citizens.

About two years ago, the National Accreditation and Assessment Committee [NAAC] of the University Grants Commission [UGC] visited our Institute as a part of its countrywide assessment of Universities. It spent several days, visited each department, talked to teachers and asked many questions. It also met students in camera, without any faculty member or University staff present so that it could form an independent opinion about the quality of students and the training they receive. When NAAC gave its final report it not only commended highly the integral system of education [catering to the body, the Mind and the Spirit] followed in the Institute but also hailed it as the “Crown Jewel of Indian Education”. It further recommended to the UGC that the integral system of education followed in our Institute is worthy of emulation all across the country.

About eight months ago, the University Grants Commission organised a special Seminar of Vice Chancellors on Value-based Education, and conferred the honour of hosting that Seminar to Baba’s Institute. Over thirty Vice Chancellors gathered here for the deliberations, apart from Mr. Ranganath Mishra, the former Chief Justice of India and former Head of the Human Rights Commission of India. He was a special invitee because of his keen interest in promoting value-based education. The meeting was presided over by the Chairman of the University Grants Commission. The Seminar lasted three days during which our Institute students were wholly in charge of the hospitality service. So impressed were the delegates that they insisted on visiting the students’ hostel to see for themselves the kind of training given.

Our Institute enjoys a very high reputation on account of the strong emphasis laid on character development, and thanks to its uniqueness in this respect, many distinguished leaders of the country have readily agreed to be the Chief Guest at our annual Convocation ceremonies. Thus, we have had the pleasure of having President R. Venkataraman, President Dr. Shankar Dayal Sharma, President Dr. A.P.J Abdul Kalam, Vice President Krishna Kant, Vice President Bhachawat, Prime Minister P.V.Narasimha Rao, and Prime Minister A.B.Vajpayee, among others, as our Convocation Guest.

By the way, I should not omit to mention that education in Baba’s educational institutions is absolutely FREE, not one cent is charged. You can confirm this with thousands and thousands of parents who have sent their children here and are continuing to do so. I might also add that every year, the number of applications we receive from students seeking admission is about eight to ten times the number actually selected. That says something about our credibility, does it not?

Please consider: Is it even remotely possible that all that I have stated above [completely verifiable] could have happened if the founder of the Institute, namely Baba, was a person given to child molesting as is being alleged?

Let me state some more pertinent facts relating to the Institute before moving on to other matters. Consider the kind of people who come and teach regularly in our Institute on an honorary basis. Here are some names: Professor David Gries, Professor of Computer Science, Cornell University, Prof George Ordal, Professor of Bio Chemistry, Illinois University, Prof Somanth Mishra, Professor of Chemistry, New Jersey Institute of Technology, Prof. M.K.Sundaresan, Professor of Physics, Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada. These are some of the people who come regularly and teach in Baba’s Institute for periods ranging from three weeks to three months. They come entirely at their own expense, and willingly do service just for the sheer joy of it. I know each and every one of them personally. What draws them here? Baba’s philosophy of Selfless Love and his great experiment in blending character development with modern education. Would they come voluntarily, if allegations about child molestation are true? These are academics of integrity belonging to reputed universities and surely they would not tolerate child abuse, would they?

Few realise that Baba’s colleges have been running for over thirty years, and his school for over twenty years, Thousands, yes, literally thousands have passed through the portals of the school and the colleges, and how come there has not been all these years, a single accusation against him by the people of this country? On the contrary, it is astonishing to see how the students are impelled, out of love for Baba, to do social service wherever they are, long after they have left. Examples of this, with documentary evidence, is presented separately.

Baba is held in such high esteem and his Institute is so highly regarded that many corporate employers now turn to our Institute for hiring. As a policy, we do not have a placement-service, as we believe that would deflect the attention of students while they are studying. Yet, leading organisations like Maruti Udyog [the country’s biggest auto manufacturer], a host of industries run by the TVS group [famous in the country for their staunch commitment to honesty and transparency], the HDFC Bank, and the CITIBANK, to name a few, have sought our students. Why? Because they know they are Baba’s students. Many executives from these corporations get to know about our students when they come to give guest lectures in the Business School of the Institute. When they see the tremendous discipline of our students, they invariably become impressed. Increasingly, business corporations have now come to realise that mere skills alone are not enough and that character is an equally important virtue if not more important than technical abilities – that is why our students are in great demand from discerning employers who set much store by character.

Having watched our students in service, lately many of these corporate executives have themselves become regular visitors to the Ashram. Baba’s detractors claim that it is not safe to visit the Ashram; then how is it that these people come spontaneously, as do thousands every single day, indeed from so many countries round the world?

A BRIEF ROSTER

Let me now give you some idea of the type of people who come to Baba. Leaving aside the ordinary folk who flock daily in thousands, here are a few names:

Mr. A. B. Vajpayee, currently the Prime Minister. Mr. Vajpayee has been coming to Baba since 1977, when he was the Foreign Minister. At that time, Vajpayee came to give a course of lectures to our college students during a Summer Course. He stayed in the college guesthouse, and I have pictures taken on that occasion. Later I personally saw him once calling on Baba in Bangalore, somewhere around 1994 or 1995. At that time, he was just a plain Member of Parliament, and his party had just two seats. Subsequently I have seen him come again and again, and just this year, he came once in March and once more in April. What draws him? It is Baba’s spirit of universal and selfless love.

Justice Bhagavathi, former Chief Justice of India, former Head of the Human Rights Commission of India, and Member UN Committee on Human Rights. Justice Bhagavathi has been coming to Baba for over thirty years, and is also a Member of the Sri Sathya Sai Central Trust as well as the Institute Trust. One can unfailingly see him every year, in splendorous robe, marching along with the Academic Procession during the Convocation of the Institute. Please consider: Has Justice Bhagavathi allowed himself to be fooled for over thirty years? Is it ever conceivable that one who is so well known for his strong advocacy of human rights would ever associate with someone who is supposed to be a child molester? Would he lend his name to organisations founded by a person of questionable reputation?

Several distinguished service officers have been coming to Baba regularly, starting with late Field Marshal Cariappa, free India’s first Indian Army Chief and also our first Field Marshal. Later, Air Chief Marshal Mehra, Air Chief Marshal Suri started coming regularly; they still do. While Mehra after retirement served as Governor of two States, Suri is even now busy spreading Baba’s message in England, which he visits regularly. From the army, Lt. Gen [retd] Malhotra, Lt. Gen [retd] Chibber, Lt. Gen. [retd] Mehta, are all not only regular visitors but come for long stays in the Ashram. Incidentally, Lt. Gen Chibber is the Director of the Sri Sathya Sai International Centre in Delhi . He often visits Pakistan on peace missions, and his friends there include his military counterparts in that country. Air Chief Marshal Mehra and Lt. Gen Malhotra are serving members on the Council of the Sai International Centre in Delhi. By the way, I might here mention that a few months ago, the Dalai Lama gave a special lecture at the Delhi Centre. Do you think the Dalai Lama would accept an invitation from a shady organisation? Is it at all conceivable? Lt.Gen [retd] Mehta whose name I mentioned earlier, retired as the Commander of the prestigious Indian Military Academy in Dehra Dun. He has for many years, trained our students in various aero-sports.

From the armed services let me now turn to administrative and police services. I shall start with late Dr. Ramakrishna Rao, who first served as the Governor of Kerala and later as the Governor of Uttar Pradesh. He was a regular visitor and not only that; he made Baba tour the States he was the Governor of extensively, bringing His message to the ordinary people.

Next let me mention Mr. Rasgotra, the doyen of our diplomatic service. He served in many posts, and it might interest you to note that he was once our Ambassador in Paris as also our representative in the UNESCO. Later he rose to the highest career post, that of the Foreign Secretary, and after retirement, he served as India’s High Commissioner in London, a Cabinet level post. Mr. Rasgotra has been coming to Baba for over thirty years. He is, incidentally, also a Member of Council of the Sri Sathya Sai International Centre in Delhi.

Then there is Mr. Vijay Kelkar, who served as our Finance Secretary, and thereafter went to the IMF. He is a regular visitor.

Dr. Arjun Sengupta who was once in the Planning Commission and now is teaching partly in India and partly at Harvard, he too is a regular visitor.

There are many such names but two I must mention, even if I skip the others. The first is that of Mr. K.Charavarthi. Mr Chakravarthi entered the prestigious Indian Administrate Service [IAS] in 1966 or so. As a member of the service, he once was posted to the Anantapur District of the State of Andhra Pradesh. Baba’s native village Puttaparthi belongs to this District, and was under the jurisdiction of Mr. Chakravarthi when he was the Collector of the District. In his tours, he visited Puttaparthi and saw Baba. The call of selfless service was irresistible. Mr. Chakravarthi then took premature retirement from IAS despite the attractive future it held, and has been with Baba for over twenty five years. He first served as the Registrar of Baba’s Institute and is currently the Secretary of the Sri Sathya Sai Central Trust. If there is one person who has day-to-day contact with Baba, it is Mr. Chakravarthi, and he has been having this for decades.

Another distinguished member of the IAS whose name must be mentioned at this juncture is that of Mr. S. V. Giri. He was Mr. Chakravarthi’s batch mate [they both joined IAS in the same year]. Mr. Giri has served in Andhra and has been coming to Baba for decades. Unlike Mr. Chakravarthi, he did not retire prematurely from the IAS. His work took him to Delhi, where he served in many capacities, including as the Education Secretary [a job that involves liaison with the UGC and dealing with all universities in the country]. After he retired from the IAS, the Government appointed him the Central Vigilance Commissioner, a most sensitive post as a well as a prestigious one. In mid 1996, Baba asked Mr. Giri if he would come down to serve as the Vice Chancellor of his university – my term was coming to an end and a new appointment had to be made. Mr. Giri unhesitatingly relinquished office immediately to rush to Puttaparthi. He took over from me in August 1996 and is currently in his second term as the Vice Chancellor.

To the police now, and let me start with Mr. Kandaswami, Indian Police Service [IPS]. Mr. Kandaswami joined the Police service during the British days, served in what was then Madras Presidency. Later he was called to Delhi, where he occupied the highest position as the Director of the Criminal Bureau of Investigation [CBI]. He is now past ninety. He has gifted away his house to Baba’s Trust and is now living alone, by choice, in Baba’s Ashram, unwilling to be with his children or grandchildren. How come? Because he says he is under Baba’s care; indeed, Baba is taking care of him in every possible way. Mr. Kandaswami earned a very high reputation as an officer of great integrity.

Then there is Mr. H.Dora, also of the IPS. He rose to be the Inspector General of Police in Andhra Pradesh, went to Delhi and is now a member of the Central Vigilance Commission.

From the services let me swing to the other extreme and mention a few names from the world of music and sport. Music, and let me start with Mrs. M. S. Subbalakshmi, a most talented and gifted singer who has once even gave a special concert in the United Nations in New York. She has won the nation’s highest award, and has been hailed as the Queen of Classical South Indian music. This noble lady, till she became bedridden, used to regularly come to our Ashram and I have personally heard her sing for and before Baba. Such is her respect and reverence for him. Then there is the Sarod maestro, Ustad Amjad Ali Khan and that vocalist with a remarkable voice, Begum Parveen Sultana [both Muslims] who seize every opportunity they can to perform before Baba. They come for the sheer honour and joy of singing in Baba’s presence. There are many other musicians of great repute who have been coming regularly to Baba but I shall skip that list, having made my point.

In the world of sport, it is enough to mention just one name, that of Sunil Gavaskar, an international legend in his own times in the field of cricket, a man with many unbeatable records. He comes regularly, as do many other cricketers of repute.

OVERSEAS VISITORS

Right from the fifties, Baba has attracted many from overseas, especially those in spiritual quest. One of the earliest to come was Howard Murphet of Australia [whom Baba used to refer to as the Old Australian Tiger]. He was a regular visitor till he turned ninety and could no longer travel.

Then came Dr. John Hislop [Ph.D] of United States. For many years his spiritual hunger took him to many lands until he “discovered” Baba, I think somewhere in the late sixties. He then became totally absorbed in Baba’s spiritual teachings, which greatly appealed to him as they had a refreshing quality of universality. Hislop used to have long sessions with Baba, trying to absorb all he could; later he shared that knowledge extensively with people in all the countries he travelled to. Late in life [around 1994 or so] he was stricken with cancer and became quite ill. Yet, out of love for Baba he travelled to Japan and New Zealand to give talks on Baba’s teachings.

Dr. Samuel Sandweiss of San Diego, a psychiatrist, came to Baba in the early seventies. He came as a sceptic, just for the sheer heck of it as they say. But what happened? He was completely captivated by Baba’s philosophy of Total Love so much so he made love a corner stone of his psychiatric treatment, with amazing results naturally. He has been coming regularly for over thirty years and his cumulative stay with Baba is about a year and half – that is a lot of contact.

There are many others and I shall not list all of them. But a few important references cannot be omitted. There is, for example, a member of the Belgian royal family – I have seen her many times but unfortunately do not know her name; for all of us in the Ashram she is just the Belgian Princess! She comes regularly with her son.

Some years ago, Dr. Jum Sai of Thailand went to Kazhakstan and gave a talk on Education based on the five basic human values that Baba holds as supreme. The First Lady heard about the talk and then sent for Dr. Jum Sai who told her all about Sai Baba and his approach to education. Sometime later, the First Lady chartered a flight and flew direct from Almati to Puttaparthi, something unheard of. In fact, in order to accommodate the First Lady, the Government of India declared Puttaparthi Air Port a Port of Entry for the duration of her visit! Imagine that, the First Lady coming all the way, not for a State visit but just to find out about Sai Baba’s approach to education. Later, she sent a full-fledged delegation to study our methods in detail and I was among those who held discussions with this delegation.

I have to mention next Dr.Noah Samara of Washington who heads the WorldSpace Corporation that does satellite digital radio broadcasting. Dr. Samara has come a few times earlier but three years ago when he came, he spontaneously offered FREE a radio channel on his satellite Asiastar. Subsequently, he has offered a similar channel on his other satellite the Afristar. Why? Because he wanted Baba’s message of peace and love to be heard constantly around this conflict-torn world, that is why. Radio time was made available on all the three beams of both satellites, 24 hours a day, throughout the year. The commercial rates for these would be about a million dollars per satellite but Dr. Samara has offered it free for the cause of global harmony [which is why we have named our service Radio Sai Global Harmony].

One of the members on the Board of WorldSpace is Dr. Michael Nobel, the great grand nephew of the famous Alfred Nobel, and head of the Nobel Family. He wears many hats, and among other things he is Chairman, Appeal of Nobel Laureates Foundation. He has come to Baba a few times and I have had the honour to talk to him in depth once on various matters. In the course of that conversation, I bluntly asked him, “A few people are going round making many allegations about Sai Baba. Their number is small but they seem to be getting the ear of many. What is your view about it, especially now that you have come here and seen things for yourself?” His answer was categorical, “These people are talking rubbish and I do not believe a word of it, certainly not after having personally visited this place and seen the set up.” There are many other things complimentary about Sai Baba that he said but I shall not go into that. More to the point is that a man of Dr. Nobel’s credentials has personally come here, seen and dismissed all allegations as nonsense.

The remarks about overseas visitors would not be complete without at least a brief reference to Buddhists who come for celebrating Buddha Poornima festival in Baba’s presence, to Christians who come for celebrating Christmas in his presence, and to a group from Iran that, at great risk to itself, comes with unfailing regularity every year to spend a month or so in Baba’s presence.

THE PRESS

The Indian press is very free and does not hesitate to expose frauds and charlatans. However, not a single paper, especially the national newspapers like the Times of India, the Indian Express, the Hindu, the Statesman and so on has ever written one critical word about Baba, especially on the matter on which allegations are being made to you. On the contrary a noted journalist like Kushwant Singh, who is a distilled hard-boiled, no-nonsense type of journalist, a non-believer, etc., has not hesitated to hail Sai Baba for his good work to the community.

While on this subject, I should not omit to mention the name of late R.K.Karanjia, editor of a tabloid weekly named Blitz published from Bombay. Karanjia was a staunch leftist, and a non-believer. In the seventies he wrote many critical articles on Sai Baba, [not about child molestation though] about what he [Karanjia] believed was the way in which Baba drew people to him. One day someone asked Karanjia, “You say you are a journalist. A journalist must be objective. You have never seen Sai Baba nor talked to him. You know nothing about him and yet you are attacking him. Is this objective journalism?” This stung Karanjia, and the next thing he did was to come to Puttaparthi. Having come here and seen for himself what was going on, he then sought an audience with Baba, which was given, not merely one but many. Later Karanjia wrote a book, completely revising his opinion about Baba.

Please consider: Do you think that our Press would have kept quiet if child molesting has taken place, especially where a major public figure like Baba is involved? If allegations about Sai Baba are posted on the internet and are there for the whole world to see, do you mean to say that the Press which is ever on the look out for “stories” would have missed this, especially where a very popular public figure like Sai Baba is involved? Could it not be that the Indian Press, which is right here, knows for sure that publishing pure falsehood is non-productive and serves no purpose? Do you think Police Officers of the calibre of Mr. Kandaswami and Mr. Dora, both of whom are men of great integrity would have associated themselves with Baba? And do you think men of great probity like Mr. Chakravarthi and Mr. Giri would be here? Do I have to say more?

BABA’S SERVICE TO SOCIETY

This I shall make brief but please, are you aware of the following?

  • That Baba has set up a tertiary care hospital in Puttaparthi [inaugurated by Prime Minister Narasimha Rao in 1991] where cardiac and urological treatment is offered completely FREE, including surgery? Over 12,000 heart operations have been performed absolutely free. About 99 % of the beneficiaries are poor and lower middle-class people who cannot even afford consultation fees, let alone fees for surgery.

I can mention one case from direct personal experience. Many years ago a poor employee in public school I was once associated with approached me and sought help to admit his wife in Baba’s Super Speciality Hospital in Puttaparthi. I did the needful. Later, his wife was operated and given a new lease of life and this man did not have to pay a penny – he could not have ever paid for the operation.

  • In 2004, Baba opened a second Super Speciality Hospital in Bangalore , which was inaugurated by Prime Minister Vajpayee. In this hospital too, treatment is completely FREE, and the specialities of this hospital include cardiology and neurology. Since its inception, thousands have received advanced surgical treatment without having to spend any money on medical charges of any kind.
  • While on the subject of Baba’s hospitals, I must mention three important facts. Firstly, when Baba launched his Puttaparthi Hospital, he invited an eminent doctor named Dr. Safaya to come and head his new hospital. At that time, Dr. Safaya was the Director of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences [AIIMS], Asia’s biggest Super Speciality Hospital with 35 specialities. The post of Director of AIIMS is very prestigious, and yet Dr. Safaya chose to give that up in order to come and serve Baba in an honorary capacity in a hospital for poor set up in rural area. And he has been here for 13 years now.
  • Attracted by the opportunity to do service, many doctors from overseas [particularly America] regularly come to Baba’s super speciality hospitals to offer help.
  • As if this is not enough, about 50 graduates from Baba’s Institute have joined the two hospitals as staff members and are engaged in support service, even though outside they could, with their management and computer science degrees, command much higher salaries. Why have they chosen to sacrifice thus? Out of love for Baba who has not only given them free education but showered much love on them.
  • Two years ago, two of Baba’s students were sent to the Loma Linda University in California for training in Hospital Administration. Over there, they not only won the hearts of staff and students alike with their impeccable conduct and behaviour, but, more important, enthused the Dean and an Administrator to come to Puttaparthi to see the environment from which they [Baba’s students] have come. And these American doctors saw for themselves what produces quality students. By the way, these two students not only got the top rank, but were also among the few top students in the whole country that year and for that reason received a letter of commendation from the President of America.

Between 1995 and 2000, Baba spent over eighty five million dollars on a massive drinking water scheme that has brought safe drinking water to over a million people spread over a thousand villages in the parched districts of the State of Andhra Pradesh. And starting 2002, Baba is engaged on a massive project to bring water from the river Krishna to the water-starved metropolitan city of Madras. All this is public knowledge in India, but I wonder whether the detractors of Baba and those who have lent their names to support this negative campaign are aware of even a tiny bit of what Baba has done over the decades for Society and is continuing to do.

THE SIGNATURE OF BABA’S INSTITUTE 

Again and again, Baba stresses that the end of education must be character. We are what we are because of Society and when students go out into life, their foremost concern must be: How to express gratitude to Society and pay back the debts they owe? If students are to acquire this attitude of service and sacrifice, then the end of education must be character – no escape from that. Students must study not with the intention of using their knowledge for making money in life but for living as a good human being, and being of use to humanity. It is this philosophy of Baba that has moved me most.

There are innumerable examples that can be cited to illustrate how Baba’s students have always stuck to the path of righteousness even under the most adverse circumstances but I shall not bother you with those. However, this I must call your attention to. There are thousands of Baba’s students, scattered all over the globe in fact, and wherever they are, they do not fail to engage in service that is beneficial to the community. This, I submit, is something unique [though unfortunately the world knows little about it]. Enclosed are two articles on the subject of service by our old boys that have appeared in our Radio magazine Heart2Heart. I would strongly urge you to go through them to get a feel for the kind of students our Institute produces.

Madam, culture, they say, is manifested through refinement. Is not compassion a noble sentiment that is an index of human refinement? Noted physicist Victor Weisskopf [born in Austria and later Professor in MIT] once said: “[Scientific] knowledge without compassion is inhuman while compassion without knowledge is ineffective.” In our Institute, we make it a special point to impart education blending knowledge and compassion. We are not aware of others who are consciously and consistently making such an effort in a sustained manner. And please remember that Baba has been doing this for over three decades. Incidentally, as a scientist, it is the practical demonstration by Baba of the efficacy of such blending that has made me dedicate myself totally to the cause of the Institute founded by Baba.

Madam, your organisation the UNESCO is concerned with education, science and culture. You therefore ought to be more than interested in what Baba is doing. The people of India are becoming increasingly aware of what is going on. The leaders of India are drawn to Baba because it only when humanism is blended with material progress that there can be true Peace. And students love Baba because no one loves them as much as he does – this you can ascertain from them directly if you so choose. If any proof is needed, one has just to see how old students repeatedly come to see Baba in large numbers from all over the world, just as they would come to their parents. That is their special bond of love, unmatched anywhere in the world. I have seen many universities in the world but I know of none where the alumni have consistently and in such a sustained manner dedicated themselves to the service of the suffering.

SOME PERSONAL NOTES AND CONCLUDING REMARKS

Allow me please, at this juncture, to add a few personal notes. My wife and I lost our only son nearly two decades ago. His death was sudden and tragic and that produced a deep vacuum in our lives. That was when we both were drawn to Baba, and soon the emptiness of that vacuum was replaced by the sense of fulfilment attained by serving humanity under his umbrella. A few years ago my wife also passed away and now I am all by myself. Deeply desirous of dedicating every single available moment of my life [I am now 72] to the mission of Baba, I have reduced my possessions to just my clothes, books and a computer. I live in the Ashram where Baba has been kind enough to provide me with a room. My wants are few and my needs are simple. I am at work every single day and believe me I have not taken a vacation in 12 years. That is how Baba inspires us.

These have been the best years of my life when I have been able to do something for others without bothering to do something for myself – that freedom is so refreshing, and added to that is the joy of working with Baba’s students. It is their enthusiasm that enables me to work harder than ever before.

I teach and do many other things besides, including various instrumentation projects for Baba’s hospitals. Every single piece of working is most fulfilling, and I have come to realise, as St. Francis said, that is in giving that we truly receive.

Madam, I deeply apologise to you for the length of this letter, but please consider: Those challenging you about the withdrawal ask for a debate. I put it to you: why should there be a debate just because a handful of people [if you examine carefully, it is the same three or four who are actively engaged in this vilification campaign] make frivolous accusations? Are we on trial? Are we to be presumed guilty unless we go through fire and establish our purity? What are the credentials of the people levelling the charges, as opposed to the credentials of people who have been coming to Baba for decades and are associated with him? There is an accusation of cover up. Where is the cover up? I would instead say that it is those slinging mud that are covering up, brushing away the credibility of Presidents and Prime Ministers down to diplomats, doctors and thousands of students.

The question may be asked: why did we not speak before? The answer is to be found in the letter written by Baba in 1947, quoted in my article, which has been forwarded to you. We simply do not allow ourselves to be deflected by frivolity; instead we focus on our work.

Maybe at this juncture I should mention that I have nothing personally against the academics that have been cited in support of the Advisory. Child molestation is such a horrific crime that naturally every one is rightly concerned about it. I think it is probably that concern that has translated itself into support. I am sure that if these academics, whom I respect [since I too belong to that community], had the faintest knowledge of what I have placed before you, they would not have lent their names to supporting a frivolous complaint.

You also have this to consider: You are told about credibility etc. Is the Government of India, which has made the representation to the UNESCO irresponsible? Are we to seriously believe that the Government of India too is involved in a massive cover up as is being alleged? Or is the Government gullible and has been misled? Do these people who are making the allegations know that the Trusts of Baba [as indeed all charitable trusts in India] are under CONSTANT scrutiny by various governmental monitoring agencies besides the tax authorities? Do you think they would grant tax exemptions to Baba’s Trusts if there was even an iota of truth in the kind of unfounded allegations that are being made? Are they also supposed to be involved in the alleged cover-up? And pray, what are they supposed to get by doing so?

I am sending herewith a set of brochures that profile briefly Sai Baba and works connected with his mission of compassion. Please study them carefully and examine the photographic evidence presented therein and ask yourself: Is not the Government of India justified in taking exception as it did, against the vilification of one of the most venerated citizens of the country, who has also served it so well? Also, what has the writer who is angrily challenging you for removing the Advisory got to say about the thousands of free cardiac and neuro surgeries performed? I rest my submission here.

With my deepest apologies for taking so much of your time,

I remain,
Yours faithfully,
G.VENKATARAMAN

A THUMBNAIL SKETCH OF MYSELF

Academic degrees: Honours degree in Physics from the University of Madras, and Ph.D in Physics from the University of Bombay.

Career summary: Served in the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, Bombay, of the Department of Atomic Energy, from 1955 to 1973 as Scientist. From 1973 to 1987, served in the Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research, Kalpakkam, of the Department of Atomic Energy, as Director Physics and Electronics Group, Head of the Computer Centre, Head Library and Information Service, from 1978 to 1992 as Director ANURAG in the Defence Research and Development Organisation, holding the rank of a Distinguished Scientist. Retired from that post on superannuation.

Publications: About eighty [80] original papers and review articles in leading physics journals published in America, England, Europe and India.

Books and monographs: One monograph published by MIT Press, Boston, one monograph published by Springer Verlag, Berlin, the official Raman centenary scientific biography of Nobel Prize winner Sir C.V.Raman, commissioned by the Indian Academy of Science and released in October 1988 by Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, and 14 books on physics in a series entitled VIGNETTES IN PHYSICS.

Fellowship: Elected Fellow, Indian Academy of Science, elected Fellow, Indian National Science Academy, elected Fellow, National Academy of Sciences India.

Professional Awards: Sir C.V.Raman Medal of the University Grants Commission, Raman Centenary Medal of the Indian Academy of Science, Indira Gandhi Award of the Indian National Science Academy, and the Sir C.V.Raman Medal of the Indian Science Congress.

Other honours: Jawaharlal Nehru Fellowship conferred by the Nehru Foundation, and the Padma Shri conferred by the President of India.

Participation in international scientific activities: Have presented papers in many international conferences, have chaired sessions in international conferences, have been on the organising committee for international conferences, have lectured in many universities in India and abroad [from McMaster University in Canada to Victoria University in New Zealand], have refereed papers for journals and served on editorial boards of journals.

Well, that about wraps up the UNESCO affair!


- Heart2Heart Team.

 
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Vol 4 Issue 07 - JULY 2006
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