Police file case as controversy over ‘hugging saint’ rages
February 21 2014 10:33 PM

The Kerala Police have registered a case against netizens who have made derogatory remarks against ‘hugging saint’ Mata Amritanandamayi Devi who has millions of followers worldwide.

The controversy erupted after a section of the regional media carried excerpts from a book by a former aide to Amritanandamayi. The book, published last year, accused Amritanandamayi of debauchery, violence and stashing away money donated by followers in foreign banks.

The book Holy Hell: A Memoir of Faith, Devotion, and Pure Madness by Gail Treadwell, available on Amazon, is trending on Facebook, especially among users from Kerala.

The Mata Amritanandamayi Math (MAM) runs several educational institutions under a deemed university and a super specialty hospital. Amritanandamayi’s charity is engaged in relief activities across the globe.

“The police have registered a case based on complaints by Amritanandamayi’s followers who felt insulted at the lewd comments,” said Kerala Home Minister Ramesh Chennithala.

“However, we cannot register a case against the MAM based on allegations in a book published abroad,” the minister added.

Interestingly, mainstream political parties, including the dominant Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), are yet to react to the controversy or the police action. The case has been registered under the Information Technology Act at Karunagapally, close to Amritanandamayi’s headquarters in Kollam district, some 88km from here.

Police sources said the case would be referred to its cyber cell for a detailed investigation and follow-up action.

“When there is a complaint against postings in social networking sites, police have to conduct a probe under the cyber laws. But the government need not bother about the content of the book,” Chennithala told reporters in Kochi.

Treadwell, who claims she had been a close disciple of Amritanandamayi, said she was repeatedly raped by a top aide of the ‘hugging saint’ at the ashram.

In the book, the Australian, who spent 20 years with the ashram before she was disrobed in 1999, also describes the sexual liaisons of Amritanandamayi with other senior functionaries of the MAM, including the man who allegedly raped her. Treadwell also accused Amritanandamayi of physically and verbally assaulting her.

Meanwhile, the ashram has said that a claim that it has between $100mn-$400mn parked in foreign bank accounts was not true and was based on “chat-group analysis of publicly available records of financial contributions to MAM from sources outside India.

“As per the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act reports, the total foreign funds accumulated by MAM as of end 2011-12 was $50.53mn,” said Mathrudas Chaitanya, head of accounts. “Whenever MAM receives a donation earmarked for a specific project, it is put towards that project,” Chaitanya added.

Meanwhile, another account by Amritanandamayi’s personal assistant from Holland, Lakshmi, also appeared in a blog contradicting Treadwell and alleging that she had tried to kill the saint twice before she was removed from her room and discharged from personal duties.

“She ruled over Amritanandamayi’s parents, sisters, brothers, relatives, followers and ashram residents. Gail always favoured a small clique of people - the people who obeyed her. Like a dictator, she trampled upon everyone else around her without the least concern for their feelings,” the blog stated.

According to Lakshmi, Treadwell had been in love with one of Amritanandamayi’s followers and had unsuccessfully tried to lure him. Contrary to the claim made in Tredwell’s book that she left the ashram secretively, the blog said she was given financial assistance by the Mata Amritanandamayi Centre in San Ramon, California, at the time of her departure and was provided health insurance by the same organisation for approximately two years.

Furthermore, for the first full year upon her departure, she was provided with free room and board in the house of a follower, the ashram claimed.

“During that year, Tredwell also willingly met in a friendly manner with senior members of the organisation, including the one she now has made accusations about. She even sent him a letter thanking him for his constant kindness and support,” it said. “Today, proof of Tredwell’s marriage and subsequent divorce since leaving the organisation is publicly available”.

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