Prof G. Venkataraman Writes About The Sai Controversy
NOTE: All links located in the following article by Prof G. Venkataraman were added by Gerald Joe Moreno and were not included in the original article. Due to the length of this article, it has been divided into three pages (links for pages 1, 2, 3 are located at the bottom of the page).
GOD, THE AVATAR AND THE DOUBTING THOMAS
By Prof. G. VENKATARAMAN
Below is an article, specially prepared, [a bit long perhaps], which offers a detailed, strongly reasoned and emphatic rebuttal of the false and malicious allegations made recently against Swami and His Mission. This article is the result of many letters we received. We hope that devotees would not only take time to study the points made in this article, but also use them to rebuff disinformation, should they be presented with it. An appeal is also made to devotees to give this WIDE circulation, especially among the younger set, so that they become better informed about the Avatar, and what He has done and is continuing to do, for the benefit of mankind.
Unfortunately, there is not sufficient awareness of Swami’s Missions as well as His teachings. No doubt Swami has come down to shower His Love. But we should not merely enjoy His Love; we are also expected to regard it as His Prasaadam and share it with as many as possible. We hope that by reading this carefully, you would get a better appreciation of the Sri Sathya Sai Avatar, His Glory, and His Mission.
I had no intention of writing this article but have been forced to in view of a couple of nasty anti-Swami articles in the press and a talk show in which many anti-Swami views were expressed. Elsewhere, I have offered philosophical reflections on such incidents that appear to occur with increasing frequency. In this article, I shall deal specifically with some of the comments made against Swami, because they too need some rebuttal.
Attacks on Swami have been made by many. While the original spear-headers of the campaign were inconsequential men of obscure and even shady credentials, not all can be dismissed similarly. On the other hand, the fact that they join the motivated mud-slingers merely shows that even normal people can become blinded when they do not enquire sufficiently and become slave to prejudice. A prejudiced person, however intelligent that person may be, is as much a bigot as the one who rushes to conclusion without a second thought.
There are basically three sets of comments I would like to dwell upon. One set by Vir Sanghvi in the Hindustan Times, another set by Swami Agnivesh in the NDTV talk show and third by magician P. C. Sorcar, once again in the talk show just referred to.
Some of these comments are not new, for example the one about Swami saying He is God, and the other about miracles. In fact, such comments go back many, many decades. The somewhat “new” allegations are related to “assaults,” a campaign of slander started some years ago by people with a sick mind.
Let me start with the “assaults” business. Sanghvi says that the lists of complaints run into triple figures, and that even if some of the complainants are liars, not all can be liars. Let me say this. All these years, I have stayed away from this nonsense because I have absolutely no reason to believe a single word of it. For years, I have enjoyed close proximity to Swami, and that is something none of these people who throw accusations can claim. I can say with all the emphasis at my command, that there is absolutely no basis, indeed not even an iota, for such foul and motivated accusations. Of course, critics will bash me for saying this but I am not bothered.
There is a reason why I am bringing this up, although I refrained from writing about this nonsense all these years. Recently, an ex-student dropped in to see me – old students do this all the time. During our conversation, I was shocked to hear from this old student that he was in the list of people supposed to have been “attacked”. I asked him what he was doing about it, since the allegations were totally false. Helplessly he said, “I really do not know how to respond.” He then added, “If you see the net, you would be surprised to learn that not only me but so many of our old students are in the list. It appears someone has just got the list of alumni and simply typed in many names – that is all!”
I was stunned. Trained to be careful and thorough by my profession, I did, after this ex-student left, a search in the internet and was stunned it threw up names of many who are actually employed here in various capacities. These are people whom I know very well, indeed for years. In fact, I have even recorded for our archives, their recollections of their student days. And everyone of them is absolutely devoted to Swami. These boys recalled wonderful moments from the past, I mean going back as much as 25 years, and with what love they relived every single moment of those days! It was stunning for me to see that these boys are being cited glibly by the perpetrators of the myth. Mr. Sanghvi, committed as he perhaps is to his point of view, might dismiss me, but I would like to assert that in my entire life of seventy-five years, I have adhered to truth and have nothing to gain by being a party to falsehood. He may believe I have been hoodwinked, but I prefer to believe in what I have seen and experienced living continuously here for fifteen years now since my superannuation. Moreover, I personally know so many of these boys whose names figure in the internet lists. In fact, many of them do not even know that they are in such lists.
Robert Priddy who was one of those who started much of this slander claimed that two Vice Chancellors of Universities in Australia supported the allegations. The wide world accepted this. But I would like to ask: “Did these Vice Chancellors ever visit this place even once? Did they talk to any of ourteachers and students?” I do not believe they have; in fact their names and affiliations are not given; and we are supposed to believe what this man says. I have served as a Vice Chancellor here for one term and have been a teacher for the entire stay of fifteen years. Even now I teach. Are my words supposed to be less credible than those of unnamed persons who have never even visited?
I am most reluctant to state this but Mr. Sanghvi can talk to senior members of the Indian Physics Community, including the Indian Academy of Sciences and the Indian National Academy [of both of which I am an elected Fellow], and check my credentials as well as my integrity. He can visit BARC, IGCAR in Kalpakkam, and ANURAG in DRDO Hyderabad to find out about me and what people have to say about my passionate commitment to values. In particular, my credentials and integrity can be checked with all the surviving Chairmen of the Atomic Commission, all people who have served Director of BARC, and in particular with Dr. Vinod Sahni, Director, Raja Ramanna Centre for Advanced Technology as also Professor A. K Sood, [winner of many awards including the Bhatnagar Award] now at the Indian Institute of Science. All this is not to boast about myself but to stress that I am not hiding behind any cloak of anonymity.
When I reached the age of super-annuation, the Government actually offered me two years extension of service. I politely declined since I wanted to come here to Puttaparthi so that I could serve the public. Why did I make that choice? Because I was inspired by Baba. He did not ask me to but what I saw of this place was enough for me.
I am not the only one who has preferred such a change. There is Dr. Safaya, who for eighteen long years served in the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in Delhi. In 1991, he took voluntary retirement [he was then serving as the Director] to come here to head the Super-speciality Hospital. And he has been here ever since. Somehow, our credibility does not seem to count for anything. But people seem to believe allegations when they come from people in the “advanced” countries because they are so “open”. They may be open but when it comes to certain matters like child abuse, a person is guilty first and then only innocent after they are convinced. Thus, the unnamed Australian Vice Chancellors appear to have straight away associated themselves with false allegations because they seemed so true. Actually, I doubt if there were really two such Vice Chancellors. Once again I ask: If there were really two such Vice Chancellors, then why were their names and affiliations not disclosed?
Mr. Sanghvi alleges that at least some of the allegations must be true. Is he aware that one such person who starred in the notorious BBC documentary, making all sorts of allegations, filed a case in a California Court and when confronted with a witness who exposed inconsistencies in his allegations actually withdrew his case? Mind you, this was the star witness, and everyone touted this by saying: “Here is this fellow who has gone before TV cameras. Do you mean to say he is lying?” I ask: “If his allegations are true, then what happened in the Court? Why, if he had a cast-iron case, did this person withdraw, agreeing never to file such a case again in any American or Indian Court?” [By the way, we have reported in detail the withdrawal of this case inH2H.]
Somehow, if people of dubious credentials make allegations, the allegations must be immediately investigated. But if people like me refute, then we are all interested parties, or that we have been hoodwinked, or we are dumb idiots. The manner in which Sanghvi contemptuously dismisses Dr. Kalam says it all. I have no desire to drag our President into all this, but since I have known Dr.Kalam for nearly twenty years, I feel it my duty to tell Mr. Sanghvi a thing or two. Dr. Kalam has done the country proud far more than a hundred people who consider they have done a great service with their unresearched journalistic writings. For years, I have seen Dr. Kalam provide inspired leadership while he was in service. After he became President, I was wondering how he would fit into such a different job. And he has answered my doubt in a brilliant way, by constantly meeting with young students and firing up their minds. Every single day, he meets at least five hundred of them. By the way, Kalam has always been like this – idealistic. I recall that when Agni was test fired successfully for the first time, Dr. Arunachalam, the then Scientific Advisor to the Defence Minister simply embraced Dr. Kalam and said, “You have done us all proud. What do you want? Ask and I shall do it.” Do you know what Dr. Kalam said in reply? He said, “I want the funds to plant thirty thousand trees in our Hyderabad lab complex and have a deer park there!” That is Dr. Kalam, whose name has been unnecessarily dragged by Vir Sanghvi. The purveyors of half-truths on the other hand simply poison young minds and perhaps also old minds.
It is not just Dr. Kalam who has been drawn to Swami. It goes back a long time to Field Marshal Cariappa. From the armed services itself, I can count so many who have come to Bhagavan, all top men. Similarly, from the Judiciary I can again count so many starting from Justice Bhagavathi, who by the way became, after serving as the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, the Chairman of the Human Rights Commission. I ask Mr. Sanghvi and his likes: “Are you seriously suggesting that a man like Mr. Bhagavati would associate himself with a person and an organisation like that of Sai Baba, if there was even an iota of truth in the allegations? Would he not worry about his own reputation?” Does Mr. Sanghvi know that not only Bhagavathi but also late Mr. Nani Palkhivala were members of the Trust that oversees the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning, the University founded by Baba?
Dear reader, I am simply unable to understand why intelligent men suspend their intelligence and without thinking readily swallow the line peddled by mediocre men with vested interests. Is it their line that all men must prove themselves before the public just because X or Y says something? Even if they believe that, should they, I ask, write nasty things without examining allegations themselves? Rusi Karanjia, an arch critic of Baba did precisely that. He had the professional integrity to do so. What happened to ethics of journalism or have they become irrelevant in this internet age?
SWAMI’s SOCIAL PROJECTS – THE SUPER HOSPITALS
I next wish to refer to the supercilious comments made by some of these critics on the social projects of Swami. Sanghvi says: “I accept that he has built hospitals, colleges [and, incongruously enough, a planetarium] for the people of Puttaparthi. But all that proves is that he is a philanthropist of some description. Nor is religious philosophy novel to Hinduism. The Ramakrishna Mission does much more than Sai Baba has ever done or ever will.” Sanghvi adds some more acerbic remarks but I shall ignore them.
It is lucky for Vir Sanghvi that he has open to him the pages of a newspaper that is uncritical. I can tell you that in the scientific world, we just cannot get away with that kind of sheer nonsense. I should know because I have nearly seventy scientific papers in peer-reviewed journals published all over the world. In the scientific world, if one writes untenable things the paper is summarily rejected. It is astonishing that journalism prides itself on integrity and what not. However, current standards seem to allow people to say anything they want, just because they are a brand name. I can tell you in the scientific world, we are far more objective. A man might have won the Nobel Prize, but the next paper he writes is refereed as critically as that of anyone else.
Let us consider some of the remarks quoted above. Sanghvi says that Swami has built the Hospitals for the people of Puttaparthi. It is certainly true the Hospitals are physically located in Puttaparthi, but where the General Hospital is concerned, people from all over the State of Andhra Pradesh come there. As for the Super Speciality Hospital, I am sure all readers of H2H know what the score is. Yet, for the sake of record I must mention that not only do people come from almost all the States of India but even from Nepal. Everyone who comes is treated, including people from other countries, irrespective of caste, creed, race or religion. We had recently a Marxist from West Bengal. He too underwent a heart procedure just like other patients who had a similar complaint. Mr. Sanghvi, Love knows no boundaries. It is a pity you write irresponsibly about Baba the Embodiment of limitless Love, without having the faintest idea of what it really means.
Mr. Sanghvi appears to dismiss Swami’s Hospital as if it is just a routine affair. Does he know, for example, that in the fifteen years of its existence over fifteen thousand cardiac surgeries have been performed in the Puttaparthi Hospital alone?
Here are some numbers, which, I hope opens eyes of the public as also that of detractors, who wish to down play this Himalayan gesture of compassion.
CONCERNING THE SUPER SPECIALITY HOSPITAL IN PUTTAPARTHI
[From inception on 22/11/1991 to 30/09/2006]
Total number of patients who attended Cardiology Dept. OPD: 6,85,731
Total number of cardiac surgeries: 15,844
The break up of this number 15,844 is as follows:
Bypass surgeries: 1,997
Valve surgeries: 6,178
Congenital surgeries: 6,988
Aortic aneurysms: 55
Cardiac tumours: 171
Other surgeries: 495
Total number of Urology Surgeries[From 22/11/1992 to 30/09/2006]: 30,020
Total number of Ophthalmology Surgeries [From 22/11/1994 to 30/09/2006]: 29,564
Total number of Laser Surgeries in Ophthalmology: 6,328
CONCERNING THE SUPER SPECIALITY HOSPITAL IN BANGALORE
[From inception on 21/01/2001 to 30/09/2006]
Total number of patients who attended Cadiology Dept. OPD: 2,58,734
Total number of patients who attended Neurology and Neuro Surgery Dept. OPD: 1, 37,742
Total number of cardiac surgeries: 7,063
Total number of Neuro surgeries: 6,326
The above is just a bit of the iceberg of statistics, full details of which would be published elsewhere. The point about these details of treatment offered is that it is hundred percent free. No charge for OPD consultation. No charge for Echo and Doppler scans, blood tests etc., for catheterisation, for medicines, for doctor’s consultation, for surgeries, for stay in the wards, including ICU, for food, etc. People have walked in without a wallet and walked out without a wallet. Dear reader, please check out how much it would cost in a private hospital in Bangalore of Mumbai or Delhi, for a surgery involving heart valve replacement, including the cost of the original consultancy, the various tests prior to the surgery, the surgery itself, the medicines administered, the ward charges and so on. And don’t forget the tips that are mercilessly extracted by the lower minions in the hospital. Some of you might remember we did an entire Sunday Special on that entitled Inhospitable Hospitals, based on a Guest Editorial by Shobha De in a Sunday Times.
I challenge Sanghvi to show me one private Hospital any where in the world from the North to the South Pole, where such free treatment is offered to one and all on such a large scale. By the way, there is no two tier system with the people who can afford being charged and others who cannot being exempted from payment. Mr. Sanghvi, would you have the intellectual honesty to pay a visit, if you want incognito and see where the cash counter is? If you did, you would find not only is there no cash counter in the Hospital, but also constant announcements in Hindi, Telugu, Tamil, Kannada, Malayalam etc advising patients all the time that the treatment is completely free and that if anyone tries to collect money the matter must be immediately reported to the authorities. Once again, there are absolutely no fees charged for examination, for investigations like CT scan etc, for procedures like angiography or even valve replacements, that there are no ward charges, nor charges for medicines, that diet is given to the patients absolutely free, as prescribed. And, you will also not find one single notice board any where soliciting any funds.
Indeed, if you come to the Ashram, there too you would not find any such announcement seeking or soliciting funds. We broadcast 24/7. Have you ever heard us carry any appeal for funds ever? Does our TV program on Sanskar channel ever carry appeal for funds? [By contrast, so many others who present programs on the same channel regularly appeal for funds.] Similarly the Sanathana Sarathi does not ever carry a single appeal for donation, even if there is a tsunami. [By the way, during the tsunami, over a crore was spent for relief and we have published detailed accounts of that in H2H.] Indeed, throughout the world, there are no collection boxes in any Sai Centre. That single fact not only amazes many overseas devotees, but also draws a lot of them to the Centre.
Continuing on the medical theme, does Mr. Sanghvi know that there is a mobile clinic that goes out every day for the first twenty days of the month to many villages near Puttaparthi, along with a team of eight doctors, who render free service? That these doctors are from a panel of six hundred doctors from the State of AP alone? That this van has a Doppler scan unit and a x-ray unit? That the service is absolutely free?
Is Mr. Sanghvi aware that medical camps are routinely run by the Sri Sathya Sai Seva Organisation not only in all parts of India but even abroad? That, for example, medical teams from New Zealand visit Fiji to run medical camps there? That doctors from UK goes to Africa to run Medical camps there? In fact in 2005 [the year of Swami’s Eightieth Birthday], there was a year long campaign by UK doctors during which they performed in all 8,000 eye operations spread over many countries of Africa, all under the auspices of the Sai Organisation in Africa. Similarly, in Kenya, there is a project called Sai Net the purpose of which is to distribute special treated mosquito nets to the poor as a part of the malaria prevention campaign. Indeed medical camps are run all over Latin America too, throughout the year.
SWAMI’s SOCIAL PROJECTS – THE DRINKING WATER PROJECTS
Consider next the Drinking Water Projects of Swami. One gentleman contemptuously dismissed this in the NDTV program by saying, “Oh yes Sai Baba supplies some water through pipes.” This is not merely an irresponsible statement, but a crime in as much as the person has no right to talk in public with zero facts. What are the facts? We have presented them all earlier [inH2H] but let me highlight once again a few of them so that readers appreciate how glibly Swami is attacked without even the slightest basis.
During the years 1994-1996, Swami did His first major Drinking Water Project in Anantapur District. About Rs. 300 crores were spent, and as a result, over nine hundred villages got safe drinking water. This involved the construction of seven huge summer storage tanks, laying about 2,500 km of pipes some of them about 20 inches in diameter. Also, water had to be brought from theNorth to the South against a gradient of nearly 500 feet which meant a lot of pumping. This was a massive project. After completion and operating the system for one year, the entire project was handed over to the people of the State on October 19, 1997. Not one paisa was charged. It was a gift of Love. I was present on that occasion and it still makes my hair stand on end when I think of that occasion, almost ten years later.
Anantapur was just the beginning. After that came Medak and Mahabubnagar, following which came the Chennai Project. You know what happened in the case of the Chennai Project? Something phenomenal but the world hardly bothers to know that, partly because we hardly bother to tell. So let me now put it all in black and white.
Chennai always had a huge water problem even in the British days. As early as 1954, it was realised that the only hope was to bring water from the Krishna River in far away Andhra. Politics came in the way, and finally in 1983, a project was launched, with much fanfare of course, dominated by three famous personalities, Indira Gandhi, N.T. Rama Rao and MGR. About a dozen years later, a crucial canal, the Kandaleru – Poondi canal as it was then called, a part of the Telugu Ganga scheme was completed, but little water flowed to Chennai. Reason? The canal was entirely of earth work and simply inadequate to transport huge quantities of water over a 150 km distance. There were huge losses due to silting, seepage and erosion of the canal walls. Over five hundred crores had been spent but Chennai continued to be thirsty. Meanwhile, the NE Monsoon failed repeatedly and Chennai was in real deep trouble such as it had never before gone through.
And then, on January 19, 2002, Swami announced that He would bring water to Chennai. The rest is history. Within about fourteen months a brand new canal was built, on the ruins of the old one, employing the latest in technology. And on Swami’s 79th Birthday, water was released into the new canal for the first time. Four days later, it reached the Tamil Nadu border and since then if there is water in the Krishna, there is also water for Chennai. For the first time in seven years, water flowed out of taps in the houses of Chennai. No more need to buy dirty and polluted tanker water at high costs. By the way, Chennai’s population is seven million.
Subsequently, Swami has done the wonderful Godavari Drinking Water Project that has, within the short span of about fourteen months, brought safe and treated drinking water from the river Godavari to about five hundred villages in East and West Godavari Districts. East Godavari was a particularly difficult place to work in. Not only is the place hilly but also heavily forested. A lot of tribals live there, which presumably is part of the reason for its long neglect. A lot of water flows through the Godavari all the way to the sea, but the tribals had none of it. It was Swami who built collection wells, filtration plants and an elaborate network of pipes in difficult terrain to bring water to the tribals and other villagers. You know something? When the project was completed, there was no inaugural function, no VVIPs, no speech making no nothing. People did Bhajans, opened the taps and collected water.
That simplicity, by the way, prevailed also when the Puttaparthi Hospital was opened. I was present then. Boys in their hundreds chanted Vedas, the then PM Mr. Narasimha Rao flew in, entered the hospital premises, did namaskaram to Swami, cut the tape and the door was opened. He then entered the Hospital along with Swami who then lit a lamp. After that, both went upstairs to where the OT was. There inside the OT, a patient was ready for heart surgery. Anaesthesia had already been administered, and Dr. Venugopal [now Director AIIMS] was waiting to make the incision. From outside, Swami blessed, and the surgeons knife touched the skin of the patient. No speeches, no fanfare. Four operations were done on that day. And the saga of free cardiac surgery in a village that in 1945 did not even have a road leading to it had begun.
By the way, Sanghvi sarcastically remarks about the Planetarium. Does heknow about a University here and that the Planetarium is an asset of the University? Is it a crime for a University to have a Planetarium? Literally, hundreds of thousands of people come to Puttaparthi every year. In fact, they come from all parts of the world. They go the Planetarium and see the show there, presented by our University staff. Many of the visitors are poor villagers. Are poor villagers unworthy of seeing Planetarium shows? Should Planetariums be located only in the Metro cities and is it only the city folk who have the privilege to see them? What utter contempt this man seems to have for the villages of India!
Sanghvi makes a reference to the Ramakrishna Mission [RM] and I have to respond to that. Let me for a start say that I have the greatest of respect for that Mission and hold it in the highest esteem. Way back in the forties of the twentieth century, my father used to work in Karachi. He then regularly attended the lectures of Swami Ranganathananda, who was then stationed there. Subsequently, my father was transferred to Madras, and I did my last two years of schooling in the Ramakrishna Mission High School in T. Nagar Madras, a well known school, I might add. I have from time to time, bought many books published by the Mission and even today read occasionally some of its journals. I have read the teachings of Ramakrishna and have felt inspired by them, even as I have felt and continue to feel electrified by the speeches and writings of Swami Vivekananda. I might also add that many I know here have come to Swami via the Ramakrishna Mission. Perhaps the most famous example among such people is late Mr. Kasturi.
SWAMI TRANSCENDS RELIGIONS
I am all for the RM being given the highest of praise. However, using the RM to slight what Baba has done is gross injustice. The objectives of the two are different. Mr. Sanghvi may cast Swami as a Hindu philanthropist, but we know that Swami rises above religions to the higher realm of Spirituality. How many know that in the mid seventies, Swami built a Mosque in Puttaparthi so that the Muslims of this place did not have to walk six kilometres to Bukkapatnam to say prayers in a Mosque there?
Mr. Sanghvi, please be informed that people of all religions come here, including people form Israel. The First Lady of Kazakhstan has come here twice by a chartered flight direct from Almati to Puttaparthi! People come here regularly from Iran and Turkey. Buddhists come here to celebrate Buddha Poornima. Chinese come here to welcome their New Year. Just a few days ago, not only was Christmas celebrated with much religious fervour [as always] but Father Charles of Nigeria [now in Zambia] celebrated mass here! I mention all this to stress that there is a cultural as well as spiritual difference between the RM and the Ashram here. Of course, Vedanta always receives the highest attention since it is so comprehensive, but all religions are respected and recognised as based on Love, forming thus equally valid pathways to One God. Which is why Swami tells Christians, “Be a good Christian.” Similarly, to a Muslim He says, “Be a good Muslim.” Which is also why Begum Parveen Sultana and Ustad Amjad Ali Khan regularly come here to have Darshan and offer Musical concerts. Which is also why we have now regularly, symphony orchestras performing here once every six months. And to remind everyone that Prashanti Nilayam is for all, there is a beautiful Sarva Dharma Stupa here. Similarly, there are in the Poornachandra Auditorium, depictions from major religions. In the Hill View Stadium, one can similarly find statues of Buddha, Jesus and Zoroaster. Murals representing the spirit of different religions similarly adorn the walls of the auditorium of the College here. By the way, I might also mention that we have run articles on various religions in H2H at various times; in fact, our article on Zoroastrianism attracted special attention from Parsis the world over, many of whom wrote to say that they learnt more about their religion from this article than from other sources.