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The CM, Oommen

Chandy, has ruled


out any probe
against Ammas
organisation on the
basis of mere
Books
MAGAZINE | MAR 10, 2014
Lot s of hugs Mata Amrithanandamayi with devotees in Delhi, 2013
CONTROVERSY : MATA AMRITHANANDAMAYI
Careless Whispers
Hugging saint in a spot of bother, ex-disciple alleges abuse in tell-all book
PRITHAM SENGUPTA
The Charges
Tredwell says Amma used to kick, pinch and hit her, even abuse her emotionally. Outside, she was kind and lovingthe hugging saintbut behind closed doors she
could turn demonic.
Amma used fear tactics to manipulate, control and protect her flock.
In the mid-80s, Balu, a powerful devotee, starts to target Tredwell, harassing her for sex. He even rapes her a number of times in Ammas room...after he has
massaged Ammas legs.
Tredwell claims she carried ashram money and jewellery to Ammas family. It was packed in an ice-box so that no one would suspect.
***
You are in line and as you get close to Amma, a couple of her close devotees, often foreigners, clean your face with tissue paper. When its your
turn, she clasps you to her bosom and whispers in your ear. Many are in ecstasy as they come away. The queue to get a hug is often labyrinth-
ine, but Amrithanandamayis darshan, her smile and her hug make the hours of waiting worthwhile, say devotees.
This becalming picture, though, has seen some turmoil in the last few weeks. Revelations in a book by Ammas former personal assistant Gail
Tredwell (she left the ashram in 1999) have put the godwoman in the centre of a raging controversy, with even political leaders in her home state
Kerala forced to weigh the implications. The book, Holy Hell: A Mem oir of Faith, Devotion and Pure Mad ness, alleges that Tredwellwho now
lives in Hawaiiwas sexually exploited and even rapedby a senior swami (who she calls Balu) during the 1980s, when she was serving as
Ammas assistant.
Tredwell was 20 when she came to India from Australia in 1978 seeking spiritual enlightenment. Amma was relatively unknown then and was in
search of a personal assistant, while Tredwell was in search of a guru. So Tredwell took on an Indian name, Gayathri, and stayed on with Amma
till 1999. The story of a young womans journey to becoming a world-renowned saint, Tredwells personal journey as a disciple, the growth of the
Amma empireits all well documented in the book. However, it soon moves on to describe Tredwells disillusionment with the ashram and with
Amma. Tredwell even alleges that she acted as a conduit to carry ashram donations to Ammas family. Interestingly, all this isnt new, much of it
has been circulating on the net since 2012, the first time Tredwell went public on a post.
Curiously, the mainstream print media in Kerala, or for that matter nationally, did not pick up the story. The book came out last year, but it
was only recently, after Malayalam newspaper Madhyamam dec ided to publish excerpts, that the storm erupted in social media. The reason,
of course, is not difficult to fathom for, over the years, Amma has made many friends and influenced a lot of people. Her website says the
number of people shes huggedaround the worldis some 32 million and counting. Those numbers have translated to huge monetary gains
too: donations and gifts have poured in from the world over. The ashram is now a multi-million dollar enterprise, comprising colleges, the high-
tech AIMS hospital off Kochi, a township Amritapuri in Kollam district in Kerala and properties worldwide. Amma is revered and res pected in
the state, perhaps much more than any other religious head or even politician.
allegations.

After the social media storm, TV channels too picked up the story. Initially, the ashram chose to ignore the allegations, but with the scandal
showing no signs of going away, Amma came out with a statement. To quote: I am an open book. All the rumours being spread are untrue.
Because certain desires of theirs went unfulfilled, they have started making all sorts of allegations. Someone, somewhere, with an agenda is
trying to stir up religious conflicts, making people fight each other, trying to start a war.On the allegations of financial irregularities, the statement says: Every year, the
ashram submits its accounts without fail. If we had the millions that they allege, I would have already wiped out poverty, both in India and throughout the world. No religion or
any specific community donates to the ashram, nor do we collect any membership fees.
Being election season, the states politicians are treading very carefully indeed. CM Oommen Chandy very categorically told the press that Ammas organisation would not
be investigated based on mere allegations. The UDF home minister, Ramesh Chennithala, and the CPI(M) leader of the Opposition, V.S. Achuthanandan, too have decided to
play it safe, stating that they are still studying the matter. CPI(M) state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan was one of the few to come out and say that the charges made by the
former Amma aide are quite serious and need to be probed.
At the time of the horrific Delhi rape case, Amma had told Outlook in an interview: Some people still live in the past. In olden times, men were protectors of women, but
things have changed. For all you know, the girl might have even fallen at the rapists feet and asked for kindness. But were those animals even in a state of mind to listen?
Now, with serious allegations of sexual misconduct levelled at some of her own ashram devotees, we can only hope that she will not let these charges go unchallenged.
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