Thursday, June 8, 2017

Tragic event (possible suicide) in Prasanthi Nilayam, Puttaparthi ashram yesterday - 7th June 2017

Last updated on 20th June 2017

[Warning: Those who don't like to read unpleasant news regarding Prasanthi Nilayam, Puttaparthi ashram may please skip reading this post.]

Telugu TV news channels, including ETV Andhra Pradesh have confirmed that a young lady was found dead hanging (seems to be suicide) in a facility within Prasanthi Nilayam ashram yesterday (7th June 2017).

It is very sad to know that this event happened. Police are investigating the matter. I pray to Bhagavan to shower His Grace on the soul of the young lady, and give strength to her friends and family to bear this loss.

I decided to put up this post as I think that in this 21st century with Internet facility on mobile phones/computers providing easy and cheap way to send reports of events with pics and/or video to interested people worldwide within minutes, it is transparency and accountability that will help Prasanthi Nilayam ashram to protect its fair name and reputation from rumour-mongers' attempts to sully its name and reputation.

I know from experience of living in Puttaparthi for nearly fifteen years now that significant number of people who come to, and stay in, Prasanthi Nilayam/Puttaparthi, have some emotional and other kind of problems which they hope will get resolved by coming to Prasanthi Nilayam ashram/Puttaparthi. It would be the same, I guess, in other ashram systems/towns in India. Sometimes things don't work out for such people and then a few of them do consider the tragic step of giving up their life, in ashram systems/towns in India.

I do hope that the police investigation provides a truthful report to the public about what happened while maintaining the tough balancing act of protecting sensitive information about the young lady and meeting the police's duty to inform the community about what happened. Such truthful reports will play a major role in preventing rumour mongering, especially rumour mongering aimed at harming the reputation of Prasanthi Nilayam.

I also think that Prasanthi Nilayam ashram authorities, based on police reports and other information related to this tragic event, should see if they can incorporate some mechanisms to reduce occurrence of such tragedies. I think prevention of such tragedies may well be impossible as it is very difficult to prevent somebody from taking their own life, whether in ashram systems or the regular world outside.

For those who would like to view the ETV Andhra Pradesh (mainstream Telugu news channel) 20 second report in Telugu which has a blurred video of the scene, and so is not that graphic, here's the video link: I was shocked to see a non mainstream Telugu news channel youtube video which has a clear (not blurred) video of the tragic scene - of course, there is no way I will share such a link in my public posts.
Update: I felt it appropriate to mention that the lady's name is reported to be Sai Prabha Patnaik who hails from Delhi (some say Orissa), and who was employed with the Sri Sathya Sai Vidya Vahini project, an online school education project, till recently. She is reported to have resigned in March this year. She is reported to have committed suicide in a facility (office rooms) in Prasanthi Nilayam ashram that is reportedly managed by the Sri Sathya Sai Vidya Vahini project.

Given below are some of my comments (slightly edited) on associated Facebook post of mine,

I felt that putting up this post will help readers get the truthful info. as gathered by me mainly through reputed news media MINUS sensationalist allegations without evidence. Sometimes if such info. is not available from regular sources in Sai social media circles, people tend to then believe the sensationalist accounts even if those accounts do not provide any evidence for any sensational allegations they make.

I think the Vidya Vahini top management team as well as the Vidya Vahini team in general would be in great shock over this tragic incident.

I am quite sure that if any of the top management team of Vidya Vahini had an inkling of this tragic act that the young lady was planning to do, they would have gone out of their way to help avoid it, and also help her at a human level. Project related issues, job related issues etc. are a different matter. I have no idea about the circumstances that led to the lady reportedly resigning from Vidya Vahini project in March this year. But I guess that it is possible that there were some work related/performance related issues. That is sometimes unavoidable.

I pray to Bhagavan to give strength to the Vidya Vahini top management team as well as the Vidya Vahini team in general to face this tragic incident and overcome it following the core principles that Bhagavan has taught us to follow - Sathya, Dharma, Shanti, Prema and Ahimsa. [I should also say here that I personally make an exception for aggressive action for self-defense purposes.]

I also repeat my prayer to Bhagavan to shower His Grace on the soul of the young lady, and to give strength to her family and friends to bear this loss.

Ravi S. Iyer wrote:
Shivam Saxena, my considered view is that if some people feel there is mental harassment of volunteers and staff that is going on in Vidya Vahini, then it should be brought out in the public. This will give the Vidya Vahini team management a chance to respond with their view PUBLICLY.

Given the fact that a lady staff of Vidya Vahini (ex staff who resigned recently, to be more precise) committed suicide, steps should be taken by Vidya Vahini team management as well as by people who oversee the Vidya Vahini project in the Sri Sathya Sai Central Trust, to resolve such mental harassment issues and create a safe and healthy workplace environment in Vidya Vahini. Further, the Sathya Sai fraternity should be publicly informed of such efforts (to resolve mental harassment issues and create a safe and healthy workplace environment).

Ravi S. Iyer wrote:
Shivam Saxena, I think it is good that you are speaking up now. You wrote, "All I can say is in 2014 I was in the same place where the humiliation and mental torture was so huge that I wanted to end my life to end the pain that was caused to me.
I lost my job because I was more focused on vidya vahini work."

I think that is very worrying.

Now, based on what you have said I will not jump to the conclusion that your manager(s) at Vidya Vahini were at fault. They too will have their side of the story.

But as I personally have experienced humiliation and Hitler-Stalin type dominance behaviour at the Sai university (Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning) in the period Jun/Jul 2011 to May 2012 from the then HOD of the Dept. of Mathematics & Computer Science, the then (and current) Registrar and then vice-chancellor of the Sai university, and the then director of Prasanthi Nilayam campus of Sai university, I can relate to what you have experienced. I terminated my association with the Sai university in disgust in March 2012 expressing my views about it privately over email to then colleagues and friends. NONE of my former colleagues were willing to intervene in this matter!!! I think they were scared that if they intervene they might be thrown out of their jobs by the above Hitler-Stalins of the Sai university. But I stayed PUBLICLY silent about it then as I did not want to contribute to adverse publicity to one of the most vital institutions founded by Bhagavan, the Sai university.

However, in end 2015 I started publicly documenting the gross abuse of power that had happened to me then as I felt it was necessary to bring accountability and fear to administrators of Sai university. In particular, I wanted these administrators to know that they now have to follow Indian law and are answerable to police and judicial authorities in India for their actions, and that they are also accountable & answerable to the University Grants Commission and the Ministry of Human Resource Development which have top-level oversight of most universities in India including the Sai university.

Further, I had become a social media writer on spirituality & religion and felt that my documentation of this may help others who are contemplating joining an ashram system. In case you want to see my documentation of my problems then here is that blog post: My May 2012 service record & record tampering related correspondence with Sai university (SSSIHL) administrators,

One of the issues involved is that we get attached to the service we do in such Swami institutions as we revere it as Swami's work. That certainly was the case with me as I had prayed to Swami for service opportunity with Swami accepting my letter about it in end 2002 in Sai Kulwant Hall. Some weeks, perhaps a month or two later, I was given the opportunity to do this service. I started my free service (Seva) offering in the Sai university in Jan. 2003 with informal designation as Systems Manager and formal designation as Honorary Staff (later the formal designation was changed to Honorary Faculty and then Visiting Faculty).

I think there needs to be a good mechanism to prevent our attachment to such Seva activities from becoming so strong that we lose sight of other priorities in life. Imperfections are there in all systems, in ashram systems like Prasanthi Nilayam as well as in commercial systems in the outside world. If our Seva activity is turning out to be a big mental burden and we start feeling harassed then we should simply QUIT that activity. It perhaps is that simple when looked at from a top-level perspective. Perhaps some counselor who helps people to get mentally detached from these Seva activities would be of great help.

I mean, Saiprabha Patnaik surely could have contributed elsewhere in Prasanthi Nilayam system or elsewhere in outside ashram Puttaparthi (which is where I am based now; I rarely visit Prasanthi Nilayam ashram) or elsewhere in the wide world. A counselor who is available for people who feel that they are being mentally harassed and abused in their service activity (free or paid) in Prasanthi Nilayam, may have ensured that Saiprabha is still alive and further is contributing elsewhere in the ashram system or outside world!

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