Thursday, April 07, 2005

Professor Baba Booster

File under: Hands Where They Don't Belong and Hagiographic Circus

The National Endowment for the Humanities has awarded University of California, Davis, associate anthropology professor Smriti Srinivas a payoff one-year research fellowship to write a white wash book on the Sathya Sai Baba movement. We're happy to help her with her research. Just click on the links, Ms. Srinivas:
Although he lives a modest lifestyle, Satya Sai Baba has managed to become a religious guru for over 10 million devotees worldwide, according to Smriti Srinivas, associate professor in anthropology.

Sai Baba has attracted followers from various social and religious backgrounds, a movement Srinivas said to be a "transnational phenomenon."

After 10 years of research and field work in India, Kenya and the United States, Srinivas said she is ready to finish her book on this religious guru and his global influence.

Besides finishing her book on the international Sai Baba movement, Srinivas is currently doing field study for her next book on the Sai Baba movement, specifically in Colombo, Sri Lanka.
We're inclined to question Ms. Srinivas' objectivity, as the California Aggie article makes no mention of any of the substantial controversy surrounding the Baba.

We never have to worry about our own objectivity, though. It just doesn't exist in these matters. Sort of like Fox News, we suppose.

2 Comments:

At 4/11/2005 3:27 AM, Anonymous Brian Steel said...

Hi from down under (geographically).

I was also surprised at the article about Prof. Srinivas's research and sent the following email to the reporter, Ms S. Zou, believing her to be the innocent carrier of outdated propaganda for the guru SSB.
Sincerely,
Brian Steel
***
(copy of email sent 2 days ago):

A reading of your article 'Professor nets fellowship' (in The Californian Aggie) prompts me to
write to you to point out that you have unwittingly presented information from or about yr
interviewee that is both misleading and in conflict with evidence available on the Internet.

Firstly, there are TWO quite separate 'Sai Baba' Movements flourishing in India and overseas. The
senior of these is that of Shirdi Sai Baba (died 1918) and the more recent one is the that of Sathya
Sai Baba (born 1926). The latter of these - the more highly publicised of the two outside India -
appears to be the focus of Professor Srinivas's research. Referring to 'Sai Baba' and the 'Sai Baba
Movement' is therefore ambiguous and in this case could be offensive to devotees of Shirdi Sai
Baba.

The Sathya Sai Organisation (SSO), which has been operating for over 40 years, is well worth
careful academic study in both thesis and book forms. However, what concerns me in your article
is that Professor Srinivas's approach to her subject shows subjective bias. For instance, by
suggesting that Sathya Sai Baba is "regarded by many as a divine being", she is concealing the real
fact (which she must know) that, after declaring himself to be the reincarnation of Shirdi Sai Baba,
this guru claimed unequivocally (and often) during the first 20 years of his Mission that he is God
on Earth, with full Divine powers. His devotees believe him and refer to him in this way, and his
Organisation proclaims these 'facts' on its much-visited websites. The SSO even set up a lavish
Museum in India in 2000, partly to endorse these divine claims for posterity. Was Prof. Srinivas
silent about such issues in your conversation?

Paradoxically, since a controversy erupted in 2000, the SSO representatives in several overseas
countries (particularly in USA) have been in 'damage control mode' and in the past 2 years have
conducted a costly publicity campaign in their own countries, presenting SSB to the world at large
merely as "a revered spiritual leader" (as Prof. Srinivas also does) rather than as the self-styled
'Avatar of the Age', who also claimed in a famous Discourse long ago that Jesus Himself predicted
his (i.e. SSB's) Advent. ETC. (There are other inaccuracies and tendentious points in Prof. S's
reported remarks but they can await another occasion.)

Perhaps you would like to check what I am saying by looking at Wikipedia (BOTH sides) and
critical websites like www.exbaba,.com . (If you also check 'Shirdi Sai Baba' on Wikipedia, you
will see that this is a completely separate organisation and that no controversy surrounds that
name.)

So it seems that it may be time for the professor to embark on some more basic research to achieve
a balanced study.

FYI, I offer below a relevant excerpt about another journalist who, apparently naively, presented a
one-sided view of SSB in the pages of the NYT and is now quoted on pro-SSB websites.

I would welcome your comment.
Best wishes,
Brian Steel
***

Copyright excerpt from an article on the New York Times 'Blair Affair',
2003:

"One NYT reporting anomaly (albeit of very minor significance compared to Blair's whoppers)
known to a number of disgruntled NYT readers is an article by one of the 'Old Gray Lady's senior
reporters, Keith Bradsher. His well-written article, enhanced by exotic photographs provided by
local photographers and full of interest and appeal was titled 'A Friend in India to All the World'. It
introduced to American readers the prominent Hindu guru, Sathya Sai Baba, on the occasion of a
courtesy visit to his ashram by the new Muslim President of India, Dr Kalam.

"This very positive presentation of the spiritual leader and his devotees to the American public,
endorsed by the name and prestige of the New York Times (motto, remember? 'All the News that's
Fit to Print') was extremely simpatico.

"Unfortunately, the colourful description and background information offered by Bradsher
(including explanations by the guru's close devotees), was incomplete and therefore potentially
misleading to NYT readers. What Bradsher had failed to mention, and perhaps did not even
research, was that, in spite of Sathya Sai Baba's undisputed appeal, massive charisma, and
beneficent charitable Trust, he has become the focus of a great deal of media and Internet
controversy and allegations over the past three years, and many of his disaffected ex-devotees are
Americans. Some are readers of the NYT and some of them feel very aggrieved.

"The allegations (mainly of sexual misconduct) and the controversies surrounding this guru's claims
to be God on Earth have surfaced and proliferated on the Internet. The sexual allegations have been
aired in newspapers like the The Times and Daily Telegraph of London as well as other
newspapers and magazines in India, Canada, Holland, Scandinavia, Argentina, Australia, and
Colombia, and also in TV documentaries in several countries.
...

"Like most other information these days, news of these controversies ... is freely available on the
Internet to any surfer. It seems that the NYT's Mr Bradsher (a Pulitzer Prize finalist, and the NYT's
Bureau Chief in Hong Kong) either failed to take this basic research step or chose to ignore or
dismiss the controversy and rely on what he found out and was officially told at the ashram in
India."
(Brian Steel, 2003)
***

 
At 4/11/2005 9:32 AM, Blogger jody said...

Great work, Brian.

Thanks for sharing it with us.

 

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