Sunday, July 23, 2017

How should Prasanthi Nilayam, Puttaparthi ashram system prevent future Saiprabha Patnaik type staff suicide?

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

Over the past few days I was expecting to see some report from Anantapur CCS police about their investigation of Saiprabha Patnaik suicide case which got transferred to them from Puttaparthi Urban police station, on 28th June 2017 (the suicide happened in a Prasanthi Nilayam ashram project office on June 6th night/June 7th early morning (in) 2017; for more see http://ravisiyer.blogspot.com/2017/06/tragic-event-possible-suicide-in.html).

But so far I have not come across any report in local Telugu news media on the matter. Perhaps their investigation needs more time than the around three weeks that have passed so far since Anantapur CCS took up the case.

Meanwhile the suicide matter is receding into the background as newer events have been taking centre stage in Prasanthi Nilayam. Therefore I decided to write this post now before the suicide case is almost fully forgotten.

I think that all genuine Sai devotees including Prasanthi Nilayam bosses will not want such an unhappy incident of a young lady staff (recently resigned staff, to be precise) committing suicide in a Prasanthi Nilayam project office, to occur again anywhere in Prasanthi Nilayam (PN) ashram system. It is with such an intention to help prevent recurrence of such tragedies in PN that I am writing this post.

Now my focus in this article is on workplace harassment in PN. The police investigation into the Saiprabha Patnaik suicide case would involve examination of whether any crimes under Indian law like abetment of suicide were committed. This article is not concerned with such police investigation matters of possible abetment of suicide at all. This article, I repeat, focuses on workplace harassment in Prasanthi Nilayam ashram system.

Ideally we should first know whether Saiprabha Patnaik suffered from abuse of power, mental harassment and/or humiliation as staff of Sri Sathya Sai Vidya Vahini (SSSVV) project from her bosses in SSSVV project. For that we would need to know about any complaint letters Saiprabha Patnaik wrote on this matter, and the view of those complaints from her bosses - we would then have both sides of the story. Then somebody could do an internal SSSVV project investigation and arrive at a conclusion regarding the matters raised in the complaint.

But the chances of getting such a public report from PN ashram in the near future, or even in the distant future, seem to be close to zero! I think PN bosses may have decided not to do anything till the police investigation is complete, which seems to be a safe decision. After all a young lady lost her life and so it is best for PN bosses to play safe in this matter and wait for the police investigation to complete. But as now close to two months have passed with the police investigation yet to be completed, PN ashram system would have lost any interest it might have had in conducting any internal investigation on workplace harassment (after police investigation is complete). PN ashram system life is like that.

My (somewhat informed) guess is that Saiprabha Patnaik would have complained about abuse of power, mental harassment and/or humiliation in her job as staff of SSSVV. Whether her complaint is valid or not is another matter. There certainly is a possibility that she imagined that she was being harassed by her boss(es) but which was not the case. But she would have felt, rightly or wrongly, that injustice was done to her by SSSVV top manager(s) and that is why she decided to take revenge on them by committing the very tragic act of giving up her precious young life in SSSVV office.

But are there other instances of workplace harassment in PN ashram? Are such cases documented so that it can be verified, and if found to be true, can they serve as case-studies for workplace harassment and power abuse in PN ashram system? Can norms be evolved to prevent/reduce such cases of workplace harassment and power abuse in PN ashram system in future?

Prior to Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba's Mahasamadhi in April 2011, there was fear among all bosses, I repeat all bosses, of Prasanthi Nilayam system, that if they abused their power and mentally harassed their subordinates, those subordinates could offer a complaint letter to Bhagavan during darshan. If Bhagavan did accept the letter it could turn out to be a severe embarrassment for the concerned boss or worse than just severe embarrassment. However, sometimes it could backfire on the complainant. Now I am not saying that because of this fear there was no workplace harassment in PN system before Bhagavan's Mahasamadhi. But I am saying that this fear was there and that this fear prevented bosses and department heads to indulge in large levels of workplace harassment of staff of PN system.

After Bhagavan's Mahasamadhi that fear vanished in a very short time. Suddenly some people in powerful positions in PN ashram system started becoming dictatorial and, very sadly, got into rather horrendous abuse of power, mental harassment and humiliation of staff working for them. Let me share my own sad and traumatic experience somewhat briefly.

I was providing free service in the Sai university (Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning) from Jan. 2003 to March 2012, with designations of Honorary Staff, Honorary Faculty and Visiting Faculty. I personally experienced horrendous abuse of power, mental harassment and humiliation in the period Jun/Jul 2011 to May 2012 from then vice-chancellor of Sai university - Sashidhara Prasad, then (and current) Registrar - Naren Ramji, then Director of Prasanthi Nilayam campus - Sudhir Bhaskar and then Head of Department of Mathematics & Computer Science - V. Chandrasekaran. I have documented this in detail in my blog post: My May 2012 service record & record tampering related correspondence with Sai university (SSSIHL) administrators, http://ravisiyer.blogspot.com/2015/11/my-may-2012-service-record-record.html.

I felt it appropriate to mention here, one particular aspect of abuse of power that was committed against me by Sai university administrators, which is documented in the blog post mentioned above. A criminal offence of record tampering and malicious defamation was committed against me (and two other free service teachers) by showing me (and these two other teachers) as a Teaching Assistant in a document titled, "Annual Quality Assurance Report (AQAR) for the year 2009-10 submitted by Internal Quality Assurance Cell (IQAC)". This document was signed by the vice-chancellor, Sashidhara Prasad, and another person from the Sai university.

I chose not to file a police and court complaint against Sai university administrators for this criminal offence of record tampering and malicious defamation they committed against me, out of my great respect and great gratitude to the founder of Sai university, my beloved and revered Gurudev, Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba. The Sai university bears his name and I did not want that name to get dragged into police stations and criminal courts of law.

But the fact is that such a crime under the Indian Penal Code was committed against me. I hold Registrar - Naren Ramji as the main culprit for this crime. Vice-chancellor Sashidhara Prasad and Director Prasanthi Nilayam campus Sudhir Bhaskar were accessories to cover up the crime and try to bully me by saying I was making poisonous statements, and trying to find fault with me. I don't know whether HOD V.Chandrasekaran can be viewed as somebody who aided and abetted in this crime under the Indian Penal Code as I don't know whether he has signed on these tampered-records related to my designation. But V. Chandrasekaran is the person who mentally harassed and humiliated me over this. He taunted me saying that the designation of Visiting Faculty I had then on an Identity Card duly signed by Principal, Prasanthi Nilayam campus, Prof. U.S. Rao, was wrong! So obviously he was aware of me being shown as a Teaching Assistant in some university records! Instead of fighting for me and shouting at the Registrar for having such a lowly designation for an international software consultant like me in his records, HOD Chandrasekaran seemed to enjoy that the Registrar had records showing me that way (as well as another senior free service faculty in the dept.)! Sadistic is the word that springs to mind to describe the horrendous mental harassment attitude of the HOD V. Chandrasekaran towards me.

When I met Registrar Naren Ramji in early March 2012 in the Registrar's office, he said that I was "Seva Dal" and not "Visiting Faculty"! Another sadistic behaviour incident, this time from Registrar Naren Ramji! That led me to terminate my association with the Sai university (Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning) as I felt that it had become a madhouse under these top administrators of the university, in a short period of around a year after Bhagavan's Mahasamadhi.

So, to put it in a nutshell, I have been a DIRECT VICTIM of abuse of power, mental harassment and humiliation by multiple top administrators of the Sai university in the period of a year or so after Mahasamadhi. And my above blog post documents it in detail with a lot of documentary proof. This abuse of power, mental harassment and humiliation impacted my mental and physical health.

I know for sure that there have been quite a few other such cases of abuse of power, mental harassment and humiliation suffered by staff of Prasanthi Nilayam system in the years after Mahasamadhi. However, almost all such people prefer to privately share their grievance with their close friends (and perhaps family), but publicly say nothing. In my case I have documented it publicly. And in Saiprabha Patnaik's case though we do not have any documentation shared publicly as of now, her very tragic and extreme act of committing suicide in the Prasanthi Nilayam ashram office where she had served as staff, speaks volumes.

Given that it is established that abuse of power, mental harassment and humiliation (workplace harassment) of staff by some bosses/dept. heads DOES HAPPEN in Prasanthi Nilayam ashram after the Mahasamadhi of Bhagavan (April 2011), how can PN ashram system prevent future Saiprabha Patnaik type staff suicide due to actual or perceived workplace harassment?

I think there needs to be a workplace harassment complaint center in PN ashram system which provides easy and anonymous access to PN ashram system staff. This center should also have some knowledge on suicide prevention and perhaps have a tie-up with any well known suicide prevention group in Andhra Pradesh recognized by Andhra Pradesh govt. & police, who can be contacted for help whenever there are serious concerns about somebody getting into suicidal tendencies due to workplace harassment.

Of course, there is a danger that normal disciplinary action for misdeeds done by staff, disappointment over lack of promotion/regularization etc. could be exaggerated and misrepresented by some as workplace harassment. The workplace harassment complaint center should be able to reject such exaggerated and misrepresented cases.

In cases which are deemed as genuine, top PN ashram bosses should be informed of the matter so that the concerned lower level bosses/dept. heads who have indulged in abuse of power, mental harassment and/or humiliation of staff working under them, are given an appropriate warning and told to change their behaviour, and also told that their behaviour will be under observation for any repeat offences. If some dept. heads/bosses repeatedly indulge in such workplace harassment of their subordinates, they should be dismissed from service, no matter how important a position they hold. No dept. head/boss is so important to PN ashram system that we should tolerate one more staff suicide in PN ashram system! For the long-term good of PN ashram system, such a dept. head/boss, no matter how important he/she is, simply has to be removed. Period.

Finally, some words about emotional and spiritual closure to such workplace harassment cases. I think this aspect is important in Prasanthi Nilayam ashram system as it is a spiritual ashram system and not a worldly commercial office system. Genuine remorse from the workplace harassment offender, instead of bullying and bluffing and acting as if he/she has committed no mistakes, along with a seeking of forgiveness by him/her from the sufferer, can be a vital healing balm for the offender. In the face of such remorse being expressed and forgiveness being sought, especially in a spiritual ashram environment, I think the sufferer's pain and suffering would reduce and he/she may provide the forgiveness. That then would help to bring emotional and spiritual closure to the matter.

Lack of remorse from the workplace harassment offender, and worse, bullying and bluffing, to perhaps save their face in the ashram community, does not help in any way towards emotional and spiritual closure of the problem. And my belief is that the workplace harassment offender will eventually suffer more from the negative karmic consequences of his/her workplace harassment offences against his/her subordinates than if he/she had shown genuine remorse for their offences and sought forgiveness from those they harmed.
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Given below are some comment from my Facebook post, https://www.facebook.com/ravi.s.iyer.7/posts/1942607499289151, associated with this post.

Ravi S. Iyer wrote (slightly edited):
--Name-snipped-- sir. What sympathy have you shown sir to Saiprabha Patnaik and her family & friends? Was she not a daughter doted on by her parents and loved by her friends?

Facebook has emerged as a primary platform for OPEN DEMOCRATIC discussion on such matters happening in post-Mahasamadhi Sathya Sai mission. Don't forget sir that it was via Facebook platform primarily that details about how Muddenahalli group was dividing Sathya Sai mission got shared and discussed about in the Sathya Sai fraternity. Their false belief in so called communicator Madhusudan Rao Naidu was also exposed via Facebook. So your saying that "You cannot expect sympathy by writing on a face book platform." is not justified, in my humble view.

Regarding talk without any basis, I have provided documentatary evidence to support what I have said. Some things were oral interactions for which I am willing to testify under oath in an Indian court of law OR make an affidavit. So if my statements are untruthful (proved to be untruthful would be more accurate I guess) I think I can be subject to legal penalty. So I am NOT talking without any basis.

You made reference to Mr. Ganti. I have no connection or interaction with Mr. Ganti for the past few months since I last blocked him on Facebook. You will have to ask Mr. Ganti about his recent Facebook posts & comments and NOT me.

--Name-snipped-- sir, I have written this unpleasant post FOR THE LONG-TERM GOOD OF PRASANTHI NILAYAM system. Fear of physical form Bhagavan has to be replaced now by fear of disciplinary action against anybody in Prasanthi Nilayam system who misuses his/her position of power.

I know a lot about Prasanthi Nilayam system as I was serving in it (free service) for around nine years and I still live in Puttaparthi (outside ashram). So I get to hear about many things including abuse of power, harassment and humiliation cases.

I DON'T WANT another staff (or student/research scholar) workplace harassment related suicide to happen in Prasanthi Nilayam system. Do you get that sir??? That is the primary intent of this post of mine. A complaint center for workplace harassment in Prasanthi Nilayam system may be a wonderful step towards prevention of any future workplace harassment related suicide in Prasanthi Nilayam system.

I am trying to HELP PN system and am not, to use your words, "bent up in pulling down the very structures built by an Avatar." I am simply pointing out flaws in the system AND SUGGESTING REMEDIES for it. That is not pulling down any structure.

You wrote, "Are you more powerful than the Very Kaliyuga Avatar? Does He not know as to what is going behind him after His Mama Samandhi?" Well, sir, the first question I don't think deserves an answer. Regarding the second question, the question is that are we supposed to just sit back and watch doing nothing, relying completely on Bhagavan to do everything? Your view may be that and you are entitled to your view. My view is that we also have to do our bit in helping PN system stabilize and get rid of any flaws that may have developed in it in the immediate years after Mahasamadhi.

And BTW that is why I wrote extensively on Facebook in 2015 & 2016 criticizing the claims of Madhusudan Rao Naidu who was endorsed by B.N. Narasimhamurthy, for which I was attacked viciously by some Muddenahalli group fake Facebook Id cowards, bullies and conspirators. I did not take the view that Bhagavan will take care of everything that is happening after Mahasamadhi as Bhagavan himself has taught that just saying Potato-Chapatti, Potato-Chapatti is not going to provide Potato-Chapatti to eat, and that we have to do our actions towards achieving that goal too.

Thanks and Jai Sairam!
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--Name-snipped-- wrote:
Sairam Anna, You are right. I too agree, when Swami was physically present, staff & top bosses had fear that their complaint may go to Swami. So they were on their guard. Post-Mahasamadhi, all of them have become free-birds. I'm not saying, everybody in PN system are haughty. There are some good people also. I can say this as i have some good friends over there, who are good human beings. As you said, Flaws in the system should be corrected. Well, it's for their own good.
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Ravi S. Iyer wrote (slightly edited):
--Name-snipped-- sir, I think today in 2017, PN system has recovered very much after coming under tremendous divisive onslaught from Muddenahalli group right from July 2011 onwards. Very tragically, the Sai university was under STRONG Muddenahalli group influence (effective HIJACK by Muddenahalli group) from Jul 2011 till Nov. 2014 as the vice-chancellor in this period, Sashidhara Prasad, had become a devoted follower of B.N. Narasimhamurthy and was rejecting the views of key trustees of SSSCT to not believe in Narasimhamurthy. That crippled PN system as Sai university and its alumni community are a very vital part of PN system. His stepping down as VC in Nov. 2014 was the turning point for PN system.

I think that from around 2015 onwards, SSSCT trustees have played a major role in PN system quite aggressively overcoming the divisive challenge from Muddenahalli group and so they deserve special credit for these efforts of theirs. I wholeheartedly appreciate their efforts in this regard.

I disagree with your view that sharing my experience of abuse of power, mental harassment and humiliation from Sai university administrators in 2011 & 2012 is bad for PN system. I believe in transparency and accountability. I do not believe in sweeping matters under the carpet. I think it is transparency and accountability that will help PN system in the long-run in this post-Mahasamadhi phase. You seem to have a different view. We will have to simply accept that we have different points of view on this.

Regarding the possibility of us meeting, I am a very reclusive person. So let us leave that to Bhagavan's will. Thanks sir. Jai Sairam!
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